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Communicating With Parents

Letting the parents of kids on your team know what's going on and keeping them updated as the season progresses is a key aspect of any successful season. Here's what our hometown hero coaches recommend to ensure good communication with parents.

Hold a pre-season parent meeting.

Many of the coaches we spoke with emphasized the importance of communicating with parents before the season starts to let them know what the coaches' expectations are and to tell them about their coaching styles. Lloyd Rue put it nicely:

"Preparation, organization, and communication are the keys. I've never coached a baseball season yet where I haven't begun with a parent meeting. I know that at least the appearance of organization ... laying out the schedule, the practice and game times, and so on, saves an awful lot of difficulty later on.I like to think of it as the splinter that you don't get if you're wearing gloves. I tell them what my philosophy is and what they should expect with my coaching style, and if they're not seeing that, they need to talk to me or somebody who can come to me ..."

Gilbert Lopez agrees that the parent meeting is critical.

" To me, the parent meeting is the most important part of the season because if you don't handle that right, it's really not going to work out the rest of the season. I know that from experience. I had one bad year where I didn't have a meeting and I went straight into the practice and it was just chaos. Parents were asking "Why this? Why that? Well, how come my kid is not over here?" Team parent meetings are the first thing that I do before any season starts, whether its spring ball or fall ball."

Gilbert suggests that you call your team players and their parents as soon as you get your team roster. Let the kids know that they are going to be on your team and let the parents know when you are holding your first team meeting. Use that meeting to speak mostly to the parents while the kids go out to the field and throw around some Whiffle ® Balls or tennis balls so they don't get hurt. What do you cover at the parent meeting? Here are a few good thoughts.

Tell parents about your coaching philosophy.

Gilbert Lopez introduces himself and lets parents know what he is all about ...

"I'm all about teaching ...winning comes second. I mean,I want to win just like the next guy, but I won't do it at all costs. Then I'll also give them my coaching background. I think everybody needs to know what I've done so they feel comfortable that I know what I'm doing."

Set the season's ground rules for parents.

Let the parents know what your rules are about player and parent attitude as well as player effort, focus, and participation.

At his pre-season parent meeting, Rob Cruz lets parents know his expectations for them, emphasizing that their main job is to cheer for all the kids. He also emphasizes to them that no one talks to the umpires except the coaches.

"I think it's the coach's responsibility to make sure that he treats the umpires fairly and sets a good example for his players and their parents. Good call or bad call, the coach has to move on ... and if you do that as a coach,I think the parents will move on, too."

Colonel John Parker merges his expectations with his philosophy for his teams.

"Typically in all the teams,you end up with a couple of kids on one end of the spectrum who are newcomers to the game, and a couple kids on the other end of the spectrum who have been playing for four or five years and are quite experienced. As a coach, I have to try to meld that together to become a baseball team. I try and let the parents understand philosophically where we're trying to go, and that the whole idea of playing this sport is to teach the kids not only the fundamentals of baseball, but to teach them all to give and take and teach and share and put forth a great attitude and effort. They'll make a lot of new friends, they'll enjoy the game of baseball, and they'll learn through this sport how to deal with other things in life. "

Daryl Wasano also makes it a point to tell his parents and players that he doesn't tolerate any display of bad sportsmanship or bad attitude on the field. If his players start to display either of these traits, he immediately pulls them off the field and benches them. By setting this tone with parents and players right away, Daryl says he rarely has any conflicts during a season.

Explain why parents should not "coach from the stands."

Several of our hometown hero coaches use the pre-season parent meeting to cover coaching from the stands. Gilbert Lopez instructs the parents not to coach from the stands because it can give conflicting information to the players. He uses the example of himself or an assistant coach trying to communicate something to a player such as teaching a player not to run in a particular situation, then a parent starts yelling "run,run,run," which can be very confusing to the player. Basically, Gilbert tells parents to please leave the coaching to the coaches.

"Let us coach.If there's something that you disagree with,if you don't understand why we're teaching something in a certain manner,then take it up with me after the game."

Phil Swan is a big proponent of telling parents that there needs to be one voice on the ball field ... the coach. Ryan Callaham agrees. As he told us ...

"At the fi rst practice every season, I try to make it a point to let the parents know that I understand that it is their son or their daughter ... but on the field (whether it's practices or games)their kids belong to me. They are here to cheer for the kids ... I don't want anybody coaching from the stands because it puts the kids in an awkward position."

Jon Brainard also urges parents not to coach their kids during a game. He actually gives parents examples of welcome and unwelcome support. He encourages parents to motivate their kids with statements like, "Hit the ball hard!"or "Get a hit here!" But, he discourages parents from yelling out statements like, "Get your elbow up!" or "Get your knees bent!" or "Why did you swing at that pitch?"

Talk with parents about player safety.

This tip is especially important for coaches of young players. Gilbert Lopez suggests that coaches use the pre-season parent meeting to cover some issues on player safety. He explains that you get a lot of parents who want their young child to begin immediately playing the key field positions like pitcher, first base, second base, third base, and so on. But Gilbert reminds us that putting inexperienced or immature players into these key positions can be an unsafe coaching decision. He calls these types of players "sand angels." "Dealing with T-ballers, you see a lot of what we call 'sand angels' ... you know, those are the kids that play in the dirt or sand or grass. They're not paying attention to what is going on with the game ... they're just in their own little world. Normally, when I have sand angels on my team, I position them in the outfield. Then I make sure to let the parents know why they are out there. I can't put a player in a position where he or she might get hurt by a runner or a fast-moving ball because of not paying attention. I've seen kids get hit in the face and I've seen kids get hit in the head because they weren't paying attention to what was going on. I wouldn't want that to happen to any of my kids." At the parent meeting, Gilbert makes it clear that he is not going to put players in positions where he thinks they will be unsafe. Instead, he puts each player into a position that he thinks they can handle. When he can teach them to pay attention and to watch the baseball everywhere it goes, he'll move them into the infield and give them more of that kind of playing time.

Tell parents to come to you at appropriate times with questions or concerns.

Colonel Parker emphasizes to his team's parents that they should feel comfortable approaching him to talk about any issue or concern they may have. But, too many times he's watched a parent discuss a situation with his or her child present or make comments in front of a child that should be discussed adult to adult. Coach Colonel (as many of his players call him) also likes to remind parents that various coaches won't necessarily do everything the same way, or the way a particular parent might have chosen, but if a parent feels there is an issue they should bring it up for discussion.

As with many of the coaches we spoke with, Colonel Parker advises that,during practices and games, coaching calls need to be left in the hands of the coaching staff. Ryan Callaham agrees with the Colonel.

"If parents have a problem with the way their child is being coached or where he is being played,or if they have a question about the team,they are more than welcome to come to me to discuss it. But, please, don't ask me during the game. Instead, contact me when the kids aren't around. "

Suggest to parents what type of equipment they should get for their kids.

Every year, Gilbert Lopez gets questions from parents about the kind of bat or other playing equipment they should get for their child. He tells parents that a good tactic for determining when the bat is too heavy is to have their child hold the bat out in front of their body using just one arm, with their hand grasping the very end of the bat. If they can't hold the bat steady for at least five seconds, then it's too heavy for them.

JC Petersen always tells parents to try getting their children used baseball gloves because they are broken in and they bend so much better. He also lets parents and players know about his rule for bringing special baseball equipment (like catcher's equipment or a first baseman's mitt or a donut) to practice. JC makes it clear that anything brought to a practice "belongs " to the team during that practice, so anyone on the team can use it.

Put important information in writing.

Brig Sorber likes to communicate his coaching thoughts and rules to parents in a letter. He does this as soon as he gets his roster for the season. He explains his goals for the team and emphasizes his team rules. For example, Brig takes this opportunity to let the parents know that he, as the coach, will be the only one speaking with the umpire during games.

Monie Duran is a big advocate of both coaches and parents knowing the basic rules of the game, especially because there are specific rules for each level of baseball. She likes to put out a newsletter for the parents specifying the rules for the level of baseball that she's coaching. In Monie's case, since she coaches primarily T-ball, she also wants parents to know that there is no keeping score at that age level and that she will have all players on the team play all the positions. Monie reminds the parents not to coach the kids from the stands and offer them only positive comments.

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