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Chris Chapman
18
Talented youngsters Rapport Building and Communicating

We Are Family

UK Coaching's Talent and Performance Development Lead Officer Chris Chapman gives his stance on the coach/parent relationship

When we discuss the talent and performance pathway, invariably the topic of parents is raised by a number of coaches as being a ‘challenge’. I often reply to their worries a simple mantra that ‘parents do the wrong thing for the right reasons’. What do I mean by this? Well parents want to support their children; they want them to achieve and be successful, as well as take away any risk, uncertainty and pain.

As Anne Pankhurst states 'parents, as key stakeholders in their child’s development, have the right to be informed and consistently kept up to date with information'. As many of you may have experienced as a coach, if you don’t keep parents informed they ‘fill in the gaps’ and this can be problematic.

Thankfully, the days of ‘leave them at the door’ and ‘doing it to the parent’ have gone. The role of the coach is now to work with and guide parents in the requirements and demands of the talent and performance pathway.

Much is said about what parents need to do to support their child along the pathway. But do we as coaches spend time developing parents' understanding. 

  1. How many of you have considered the Coach/Athlete/Parent triad?
  2. When do you speak to your athletes' parents? Is it only at the beginning of a year, when there is an issue?
  3. How do you communicate with your athletes' parents?

 

Elia Viviani of Italy celebrates with his parents after the final of the men's 40km Omnium points race at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games

 

At a recent talent coaches event, the question was asked: Do your athletes' parents really know what it takes to be successful in your sport? Do you explain this to them or is it something we assume they know? The reality was that most coaches at the event assumed they knew. Very few talented athletes’ parents have experienced the talent pathway as an athlete themselves, so they are trying to work it out for the first time, and a lot have never had a son or a daughter involved in a talent system before, so again how could they know?

As coaches within the talent development system, we have a responsibility to support and develop parents to allow them to support their daughter or son. For the last 10 years, talent system research has highlighted the need to optimise parental support.

So what does this actually look like? It starts with communication, regular communication. Keep parents informed about the pathway by asking yourself questions like is my webpage up to date? Do I have an orientation/induction evening every year or at every phase? What happens to the parents of athletes who join midway through my programme? Do I have a system and process to ensure they are given the advice and support they need?

It's important that parents build connections and feel settled in your coaching environment.

Have you considered using 'Parent Advocates' - those parents who have already had a child come through the pathway could be asked to help guide a ‘newbie’ parent through the first few weeks. This could be as simple as sharing a coffee, adding them to the parents' What’s App group or discussing car pools. It's important that parents build connections and feel settled in your coaching environment.

How do you communicate? Nothing can replace face to face time with a parent but that is not always possible. Have you considered an email newsletter, Facebook page, group text, noticeboard updates or a combination of these?  I know what you’re thinking, I don’t have the time!  Nonetheless, this is an investment that will yield a massive return. I was speaking to a senior international athlete recently, and they were really pleased that in the build up to Rio their coaches had communicated to family and friends, highlighting the increased pressure and expectations on them as athletes. She said, "it made it much easier to explain why I am missing a family christening, or that going on an ‘odd’ night-out does matter."

There are many things that you can consider sharing with your parents, including education and understanding on growth and maturation; their role as a parent and how this may shift on the ‘bus’; the pathway: phases and progression; why you approach things in a different way…the list is endless.

The role of a parent changes, but it doesn’t disappear.

I am going to focus on two examples: I mentioned the ‘bus’... parents arrive on the talent and performance pathway as the driver of the bus, they ferry their child around; decide who, what and where, and they make the big decisions. But as their child develops through their coach's guidance they no longer want to sit at the back of the bus whilst their parents drive, they want to drive their own bus, taking responsibility, ownership and becoming adaptable and resilient. Have we considered how this makes parents feel? They may feel pushed out, rejected, fired even!  We need to explain their role is no longer to lead but support; explain that this is a crucial aspect of the pathway. Young athletes need to take responsibility, become accountable and learn from their mistakes. The role of a parent changes, but it doesn’t disappear.

The second aspect is around coaching practice, what if you are wanting to encourage self-generated (intrinsic) feedback from your athletes and as a result you are introducing strategies such as fading feedback (where the coach gradually reduces or ‘fades’ the amount of feedback offered encouraging their athletes to consider this for themselves) or bandwidth feedback (when the coach sets a bandwidth of feedback on an aspect of coaching and will only give feedback to athletes when they are outside the bandwidth). By framing the bandwidth with the players initially, the coach raises their awareness and athletes begin to internally check themselves. However, what could this look like to parents on the side line, deckside or track side? Perhaps they might start to think that you are no longer interested in their son/daughter. 'He’s ignoring her again. I am paying for this session and they haven’t spoken for 15 minutes.'  Likewise, if you introduce movement skills/physical literacy or a cross sport activity to provoke learning, how would your athletes' parents react if you didn’t explain this first? I have seen it first hand, on the court side… ‘I haven’t paid for this, they are here to learn tennis not play games’. I know your smiling now, it happens. 

As I said in the beginning, parents do the wrong things for the right reasons. Let’s flip it now, what if you explain to your athletes' parents that the next challenge in their child’s growth and development on the pathway is to become more independent and resilient, after all they compete, not the coach. You explain what you are going to do and how you are empowering your athletes to only ask you for feedback when they are unable to work it out themselves. See how the story changes? The parents are aware, more likely to support you and your approach, and are certainly less likely to be negative. You get a return on your investment.

Related Resources

  • Support and Advice for Parents in Sport

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  • Parent Power: In Support of 'Parents in Sport Week'

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  • At Home with the Cranes

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Chris Chapman