As we continue our discussion on important factors in education-based athletics, today’s focus is on our parents. The parents of our student-athletes are critical to the day-to-day operations of an athletic department. The reality of the high school and middle school athletic environment is that parents are heavily involved – as they should be. It is during this developmental time when teens establish the personal attributes that set them up for their lives as adults; the more positive people who can positively impact a child’s life, the better.
Most recently, some organizations have framed parents in a negative light when it comes to their involvement in their child’s athletic participation. While there are certainly some individuals who say and do inappropriate things, the vast majority of parents should be commended for their support – not broadly vilified for the actions of a few. Furthermore, we want our parents to know that we view them as partners in this journey. With that in mind, let’s take the time to reinforce exactly what the role of the parent is when it comes to education-based athletics. It is our hope that through this message we can help to show the different ways in which our programs are actively engaging with our parents.
First things first, it is important to keep in mind that parents have every right to advocate for their child when they feel their son or daughter is not being treated fairly. Communicating questions or disagreements about a certain philosophy or decision with coaches, district officials, and others involved in education-based athletics is considered productive – not a nuisance. To a varying degree, coaches in our programs work every day to exercise a growth mindset. That mindset causes those involved to constantly ask why? – which, in turn, offers a positive challenge. It also requires others give feedback on how the decisions being made affect them. If we don’t know what affects us, then we don’t have the kind of valuable information we need to make decisions. That, in turn, means that coaches can’t make informed decisions moving forward; it can contribute to a lack of success in the future. It’s important to remember that concerns and questions – related to our programs – should be posed in the appropriate manner and at the appropriate time. Rarely, if ever, will a productive outcome occur if a coach is addressed immediately after a game (or during a game, for that matter). It is, however, appropriate to set up a meeting, allow emotions to calm, and prepare for a productive discussion. If by the end of the meeting parents and coaches don’t necessarily agree, at least the motivation and thought process behind the decision may be better defined – with more context. It is OK if parties disagree; not every situation will end happy. The dialogue that occurred may be legitimate and real. If the parent and coach have an established working relationship, then going forward they can collaborate to ensure a student is having a positive experience.
Parents are partners. The athletic department doesn’t always see the valuable perspective that a parent realizes when it comes to their child. Parents are as vital to an athletic department as the game officials, coaching staff, and student-athletes themselves. All of the stakeholders who contribute to education-based athletics fill important roles. More importantly, we understand it is hard to be a parent to a middle school and high school aged student. As an athletic department, we understand that when an athlete works extremely hard, a lot of the time all a parent wants to see is that effort validated. The most obvious way for validation to occur is through playing time. But, also know that there are other, less visible, but just as important ways, to validate the time and effort our kids dedicate to a sport. Our coaches strive to validate athletes in numerous ways – compliments, enhanced team responsibilities, and increased input on team decisions. While it may seem idealistic, we think it’s important for students to understand that playing is not the only way to contribute to the success of the team. Being a good teammate should be rooted in the belief that pushing others to work harder, compete more intensely, and challenging each other helps everyone grow. Those attributes are just a vital to a team’s success as the stats that show up in the box score. We hope parents reinforce that idea as well.
Another critical role that our parents serve is maintaining consistent support for our coaching staff. That support can show up in many different ways. With the manner in which the high school and middle school athletic staff are assembled, often-times team needs cannot be met by the staff members alone. Without willing parents to organize team meals, or help with transportation, or host team bonding activities, our student experience looks totally different. It is unfortunate that, in many cases, the role of a supportive parent goes largely unnoticed; recognizing where credit is due is as important as the help received.
If we’re ranking roles, the single most important position a parents holds in education-based athletics is supporting their student-athlete. No matter how hard that may be some times (whether that is based on the outcome of a contest or the emotions created from an event), it is vital for our parents to remember to separate the person from the player. Parents are most impactful when their support is based on a positive foundation. Students who consistently hear negative criticism tend to pay less attention and eventually tune the words out; however, if the initial response is optimistic and growth-based in nature, then the moments when critical feedback is warranted, it will have a legitimate impact going forward.
When discussing the subject of parental involvement (as it relates to the team and/or program), former Ohio State football head coach Urban Meyer restated the often used, but relevant quote that sums this issue up best, “(the parent) is either part of the solution, or part of the problem.” Programs are successful if everyone is working together to find solutions to the real challenges that impact our players. Parents have a tremendous opportunity to provide support to both our students and our coaching staff. Coaching is a subjective profession – disagreements and mistakes can happen. While it is unrealistic to think that all parents will agree with every coaching decision, it realistic – and important – to believe that parents situate themselves to work collaboratively with their children and the coaching staff. Even with knowing that mistakes will happen, always put the interests of the students first. When those mistakes happen, education-based athletics dictates that students, parents and coaches all work to learn, get better, and move forward in a positive direction. Hard working individuals equal a strong team which, in turn, establishes a culture for a positive program.
As always, we are lucky to have a parent group that continues to work and grow in a positive manner.