Coach Tips for Dealing with New Club Athletes and Parents

It's all about balance

Club sports can sometimes present a challenging situation for club athletes and parents. That’s because the head coach makes nearly all the on-court decisions for the athletes involved, but unlike a high school or college team, the players (or, more accurately, their parents) pay fees in order to play. Many times, this results in players and parents making certain assumptions in regard to their participation on the team. 

In order to properly deal with paying customers, the best approach for club coaches is usually to balance the needs of the team and the needs of the player. When this collaboration works, it generally produces a great experience for everyone involved. When it doesn’t, there’s plenty of disappointment to go around. So, when a new player is about to join your club team, what should you do to ensure that they and their family have the proper expectations? Here are some suggestions:

Define the importance of winning

Not every club program is the same. Some will emphasize winning above everything else, and others will focus more on player development. Coaches should be clear and upfront about how important winning is and what kind of opportunities each player will have for development, especially if it’s likely they will not be starting. This can save future headaches for all parties involved.  

Ask parents and athletes what they expect from the club

Parents and athletes also need to be clear about what they are looking for from the club experience, whether that’s being on a winning team, getting college exposure or developing individual skills. It’s rare that a club can offer all three for every athlete. 

Exercise patience with parents

Parents may be intelligent, completely rational adults when it comes to their professional and personal lives—but when it comes to their kids, logic oftentimes goes out the window. It’s not uncommon for them to become overprotective and complain about their child’s playing time, even when the stats and eye test back up why that there are multiple players ahead of their kid on the depth chart. 

Stress constructive communication

Since parents are paying for club fees, they have a right to express their concerns about the team. Club coaches should be open to this, but that does not mean it’s an invitation for venting a laundry list of complaints. If parents have a complaint, try to offer a solution or ask them to suggest a solution and then consider it. It’s also important to communicate to parents that their child is not the sole focus of the club, and it will not always be a perfect situation for them. When issues are addressed head-on, things go more smoothly for everyone involved.

Reiterate that playing time is not bought

Some parents and athletes will feel like they are entitled to playing time because they’ve paid the fees, but a club team is still a team that has winning in mind. Some athletes will practice and play harder than others, and those are the ones that will be rewarded with playing time, and not simply because they’ve paid club fees. It’s important to communicate that playing time is earned, not bought. 

Additional questions

There will always be more questions that will pop up, but it’s important to answer as many as you can in order to keep new parents and athletes informed. Here are some to cover:

  • Is there an opt-out process for the club if the player or team is not satisfied with the arrangement?
  • What is the missed practice policy in regard to playing time?
  • How will playing time concerns be addressed for athletes? 
  • How will training effort concerns be addressed for coaches?
  • How will playing time be divided? Will the best six play all the time?
  • Can an athlete train at a position that they will likely not play? 
  • Will the athlete have to play out of position?
  • Will the club be involved in the college recruiting process?
  • How can complaints be introduced? 

Club sports are a great opportunity for parents and athletes, but it’s important for everyone to keep things in perspective and to keep lines of communication open. Hopefully this guide will help your club run more smoothly.