Keeping parents informed means fewer chances for confusion down the line
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI – It’s a simple but highly effective method: early and often.
That’s the suggestion from AHAI Coach-in-Chief Jim Clare on when hockey coaches should communicate with their players’ parents.
“Having been president of a club for 10+ years and coach for 20-plus years, I think my advice to coaches is it’s never too early to talk to them both while getting ready for and during a season,” Clare said. “The more the merrier.”
Establishing an open line of communication between coaches and parents is essential to make everything work throughout a season. Just like we stress being prepared for practice with a plan, coaches need to be prepared for the parent meetings; clear thoughts, agenda, ready for issues to be raised, etc.
“Far too often I see coaches have that beginning of the year parent meeting and it becomes the last meeting they have with the parents,” Clare said. “They just kind of let the season happen. They only address parents when there’s an issue. So, if something comes up during the year, the team’s having some challenges, a parent has a concern and they reach out and that’s the last time they talk to them as opposed to being proactive in their outreach to the parents.”
Dan Jablonic, a USA Hockey American Development Model (ADM) Regional Manager, believes that some of the miscommunication between coaches and parents is probably what drives the proper communication. That shouldn’t be the only reason for the two parties to talk over matters.
“I think some coaches when they think about the parent communication in what they need to do or not do, they get a little reluctant on it,” Jablonic said. “It’s important to understand that as a parent myself and a coach that we look at this. The parents obviously want what’s best for their kids, just like we do as coaches. Understanding that there is a common goal on both sides and really utilizing that as an ally relationship.”
Clare and Jablonic have instructed Coaching Education Program clinics together for some time and see eye to eye on the importance of coaches and parents being on the same page for the development of young hockey players.
“We talk to the coaches often about parents and trying to first of all destigmatize the thought that parents are bad — parents aren’t,” Clare said. “It’s their daughter, it’s their son. They have every right to be engaged in the development of their child in what they are doing in hockey. … It’s their kid, so we have to be cognizant of that and we have to be open minded to that conversation. I think the more open they can be with the parents, the better off they’ll be.”
Jablonic stresses it’s always a wise idea for coaches to have discussions with the hockey directors of their club to know the direction in which they are going. Then be transparent with parents to establish that sound give and take relationship.
“Just like anything else, the more clear you can be the better and there’s probably no such thing as over-communicating in today’s youth landscape,” Jablonic said. “I think the more you can share like, hey, this is our vision. This is what we’re trying to accomplish in the developmental process. This is what is really good for you at these ages. This is where they can use the support of USA Hockey and actually look at some of the tools that we have not only for coaches but for parents.”
With COVID-19 putting a crimp in the plans of hockey coaches all throughout Illinois, getting prepared for the season has been difficult. But as Clare alluded to, having coaches reach out to parents even before the season starts is key.
There isn’t really a best method per se to have discussions with parents, but Clare stressed the more personal a coach can make it, the better.
“I think that certainly with the situation that we’re in, I don’t think there’s any problems with talking to the parents through Zoom,” Clare said. “I don’t think there’s any issue on the phone and I don’t think there’s any issue if you have an opportunity to get them together at the rink in a safe environment, socially distanced with the mask and all that. There’s nothing wrong with doing it in person as long as you’re following the guidance of your club and rink and parents are comfortable with it.”
Jablonic likes the idea of a coach sending out an introductory email to the parents prior to the season. The coach can go into detail about who they are, what their background is, the vision they have for the team and players, and welcome healthy, honest communication with the parents.
“In today’s world it’s pretty easy to get on a video chat and start talking about that safely and get your team together and say, these are the things that we value,” Jablonic said. “Also, introduce your supporting cast of who your assistant coaches are, who’s your team manager, what’s your expectations as far as the practice schedule. Just being as detailed as you can because the minute you go dark on a subject then obviously the rumor mills can start with the parent then you might have potentially an issue. It should have never been if you were being as clear as you can.”
Having meetings become a normal routine during the season is a good starting point. That means a 30-minute conference once a month can be quite effective. In that meeting can be quick updates: here’s what is going on, here’s what we know, here’s what we know from state guidance and what we are trying to do to keep kids safe.
Through USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program, communication between coaches and parents is constantly being stressed. Over the years, Clare believes that communication has improved at the state and local levels.
“I think from my perspective here, has it gotten better? Yes. Do we have room for improvement still? Absolutely,” Clare said. “There are cases we see in certain areas and certain aspects that we’re not meeting the needs of the parents. But I think we do a better job now than we have in the past.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.