5 Steps for Setting Clear Expectations for Sports Parents and Athletes

A current commercial for auto insurance portrays the disappointment of expecting one kind of coverage but ending up with something less. BIG disappointment! Years ago, there was a fast-food commercial showing a woman, who had purchased a hamburger, complaining with the phrase, “Where’s the beef?” People find themselves disappointed often when reality doesn’t match expectations.

This same scenario is played out in youth sports when parents, coaches, and athletes have different expectations about what kind of experiences the season will include. These expectations become most troublesome when they are in conflict between the various stakeholders.

For instance, some parents expect their child to have enormous amounts of playing time, but the reality is their child sits on the bench 70% of the time. Athletes might expect practices to be fun and social, only to discover the coach runs practices like a drill sergeant. Coaches expect parents to be supportive and involved in the logistics of team travel and competitions, but instead, parents choose to use sports as a babysitting service.

How did this happen? How could those who signed up to play, coach, or parent be so far off the same page, rather than on the same page? The answer comes down to assumptions made by all parties in the absence of good information. Parents, coaches, and athletes will assume their ideal scenarios unless accurate expectations are created from the beginning.

The burden of creating accurate expectations falls first to those running the program. Coaches and sports administrators are the hosts and providers of a service. Therefore, it is the responsibility of these organizers to declare in advance the answers to specific questions of parents and athletes who might wish to participate. For instance:

  • How rigorous is the program in terms of practice schedule and competition schedule?
  • What level of skills are athletes expected to have when they arrive?
  • What are the aspirations of the coaching staff for performance improvement during the season?
  • What is the overall attitude of the program toward character development?
  • What are the goals of the program with regards to competitiveness and winning?
  • What role are parents expected to play regarding practices, competitions, travel, and other logistics?
  • What are the attendance requirements, effort expectations, and length of season for the athletes to consider before signing up for the program?

All too often families are blind-sided by a youth sports experience they didn’t expect. To avoid this unpleasant and conflict producing culture, sports administrators and coaches can take five steps that increase the chances for a satisfying sports experience.

  1. Publicize the sports opportunity in writing and provide specific information about the nature of the program through publications and online bulletin boards.
  2. Make it possible for parents to call someone with their questions. This is a painstaking task but it can save a lot of misunderstandings later by having the right person fielding questions before signup time.
  3. Hold “Parent Meetings” in the pre-season at which time coaches/administrators can set expectations, clarify policies, and build rapport with parents. This is the first step in trust-building with families. Share your philosophy, goals, and your values.
  4. Communicate regularly with parents during the season with short stand-up meetings after practices and competitions to avoid misunderstandings. In the absence of good information, parents make-up stuff…and it’s rarely good. This is valuable credibility-building time.
  5. Host a post-season meeting to discuss successes and lessons learned. This post-mortem session can be productive if both trust and credibility have been established during the season through regular updates and check-ins.

Parents and athletes need to have expectations that coincide with what you and your program is intending to deliver. They should not be expected to “figure it out” as the season progresses. Families are the consumers, and when they have an experience that matches their expectations, they will reward you with loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.  That’s the best kind of advertising there is!

Everything Growing Champions For Life does is to help sports organizations create the most positive learning environment for athletes, parents, and coaches. I have shared our strategies with stakeholders in many sports. If you are interested in learning more about our in-person seminars and workshops, webinar series or online learning program, I would love to hear from you.

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