When you’re thinking about parents in youth sports, you need to realise, you’re working with families, not just individual players. Sometimes it’s a sibling, and for many families, they’ve been in our community for a long time, so there’s a legacy.
What we have to do is think of parents as partners, not as adversaries or enemies. That begins with being open and honest and transparent with them.
In this article, Harbour Basketball’s outgoing Development Officer Vince Minjares shares his insights into growing parent culture and the consequent success of the programme.
I think our relationship with our community has changed. I think it’s less tense, less inflamed, and a more harmonious relationship, says Vince.
So how did Harbour Basketball get here?
In this blog, we explore some of the tactics Vince used for working with parents, with the aim of providing insights for sports administrators and leaders to guide their work leading sports programmes.
For many sport administrators, thinking about parent phone calls will put a lump in their throat. Vince had a different perspective here where he embraced phone calls.
The first thing that I did was change the relationship with parents by embracing phone calls. Personally, I had no problem taking phone calls from upset parents or, or anyone who wanted to ask questions.
Guidance and information
Vince quickly learned that a lot of the questions he was receiving could be preempted if good guidance and information was provided upfront.
One of the very first things we did was just create an extremely comprehensive programme overview document that clearly articulated all the dates, all the schedules, the costs, what your costs included, what it didn’t include, how selections work, what your selection criteria was, how many teams you were going to have, how you selected those teams, what the structure of the program was, even teams, A, B teams…
Importantly, Vince found that it was better to communicate as early as possible. And if the organisation didn’t know something at the time of communication, they would flag that up front, with a promise to come back and provide updated information to parents when they knew.
We moved to an even team model in our junior program of thirteens and elevens. And large sections of our fifteens and seventeens are even teams as well. That needs to be clearly articulated upfront when people make the decision to enroll in your program.
Now, obviously, we can’t control all the information. Basketball is still a growing sport and we don’t always know the exact dates of things for example. But if you tell them that, they’ll be cool. If you tell them what’s going to happen and you’re proactive and you’re organized and you’re clear, and you’re responsive when they ask questions, people will come to trust you.
Vince emphasized the importance of proactively involving parents in the evolution of Harbour Basketball’s youth program by taking them on a learning journey too. He noted that only a small number of parents were ‘challenging’ and thought it was important to be compassionate to these parents as opposed to adversarial. This looked like giving them space to express their concerns, but also skillfully communicating the rationale behind programme decisions that they were unsure of or critical of.
As the philosophy of the programme evolved, it was clear that we were moving to a long-term athlete development model, particularly for elevens, thirteens, fifteens. We were doing away with a traditional A-team model in much of the programme, and we were embracing things like fair playing time for all the players. We embraced youthful coaches who were more focused on creating a positive environment, who taught through modified games and small-sided games.
These were things that some of the parents, when they saw it or they heard about it, they perked up. They were like, well, what’s going on? Why is that happening? And so, again, from my perspective, that was an opportunity to educate. I do have a research background. I have spent a lot of time looking at and thinking about issues in youth sport.
But to be honest with you, it wasn’t a mass issue. It was more about addressing the five to 10% of parents who maybe didn’t agree with it and were vocal about it. And that really just became a coffee and a conversation. A “hey, let’s talk about this, let me explain to you what’s going to happen. Let’s give you some feedback on where your son or daughter sits in this program”.
There’s a two-sided prong to it.
We are going to respect your desire for information. We’re going to give you as much information as soon as we have it. And also present you with our rationale, our understanding, our philosophy.
And then there’s the human touch. The one-to-ones, the phone calls, the emails, the sit downs. Don’t just dismiss those as a crazy unhappy parent. Let’s actually sit and talk to them. People are usually motivated by something that’s honest and well intentioned, even if it’s communicated in a way that you disagree with.
A shift in parents’ mindsets
Interestingly, one of the biggest shifts Vince noticed in parents, was a mindset of what ‘good’ looked like for their children, which in turn further empowered the relationship between Harbour Basketball and parents.
We saw our program actually materialize in the way we thought it would, which was parents acknowledging their child doesn’t need to be on the A-team to have a good experience, as long as they’re on a team where they’ve got a meaningful opportunity to play and are in competitive games relative to age and stage and ability – and you’ve got people you like on the team, whether it be the coach or some friends. Actually, this is all you really want out of sport. And if you have that, you’re going to want it again the next year. And I think as we delivered on that, of course, combined with all the other things, we started to change our relationship with parents.
In part, this was helped by messaging to parents from Harbour Basketball around what good looks like in youth sport.
The privileged position sport holds in society can at times be a blessing and a curse. As sports leaders and administrators, we ought to be mindful that parents are likely to have formed positions and views (even if they are implicit) around what ‘good in youth sport looks like’. If we don’t purposefully take the time to help parents develop a critical understanding of what good in youth sport look like, then we run the risk that this void is filled by things such as what good looks like on TV, or what good looked like a generation ago.
Ultimately, Vince found at Harbour Basketball the following things were key when it comes to working with parents:
- Understanding that to grow and develop a successful youth sport programme, parents are a critical stakeholder.
- As such they need to be engaged with. This looks like being proactive and human communication and purposeful and targeted education.
- Taking a compassionate approach to challenging parents, by focusing on listening and using moments of human connection to showcase to them the rationale for decisions or actions that they may at first be unsupportive of.
Read more series of articles below:
- Winning with a climate of development: Reflections on growth and success at Harbour Basketball
- Divisions, even teams and trials: Stratifying structures at Harbour Basketball
- How Harbour Basketball determine success in their youth basketball programme
- Competitive engineering: Key changes by Harbour Basketball to make competition, closer, healthier and more competitive
- How do Harbour Basketball’s principles of play support great player and coach development?
Image Source: Harbour Basketball