I had high hopes that more teams would copy the Bronson (Mich.) High School wrestling team to give parents a sense of what it was like for their kids to be in the arena: a mom vs. mom wrestling tournament. It turns out much to my disappointment, and perhaps the disappointment of the scads of wrestling moms recently taking to Facebook to share my two-year-old article, mom vs. mom wrestling appears to be dead in Bronson, and I can’t find anyone who has started their own tournament, or otherwise taken parents out of the stands to give them a taste of a sport so they can understand it better, and maybe yell less.
So the most efficient and effective vehicle youth coaches have to introduce themselves to parents, and set expectations with them, is a letter to parents. When I coached, I distributed one at the start of every season, and I firmly believe that coaches, including at the high school level, should do the same.
In the immortal words of 2o12 U.S. presidential candidate Herman Cain, I don’t have facts to back this up — but I believe a well-written letter goes a long way toward defusing any tension between coaches and parents, and helps open the lines of communication right away in a productive manner.
Let me put more emphasis on “well-written.” It’s very easy for a letter to parents to go off the rails if you try to get cute, or Belichick-ean. If you can’t have moms wrestle, use this paragraph-by-paragraph guide to help you get parents on your side:
Paragraph 1: A friendly hello to parents, establishing that you are excited to coach their children, and that you want to make sure the season is a great experience for everyone. Say “everyone” so you signal to the parents you mean them, too.
Paragraph 2: Introduce yourself, share some background about your coaching experience (or lack thereof), and explain briefly why you enjoy coaching. This isn’t about turning over your resume — it’s just to assure parents you’re there for the right reasons.
Paragraph 3: Here is where you lay out expectations for the season. Are you there to win? To develop players? To teach kids to enjoy a sport for life? Don’t just say, “to have fun” — that could mean anything to anybody. Be clear why you’re all there so parents are, too.
Paragraph 4: Acknowledge parents’ sacrifices in time, money and energy in having their kids be a part of the team, and explain that you’re happy to talk to them about any questions and concerns they have. However, feel free to set boundaries: if talking right after practices and games is too chaotic, suggest another time in the letter, and give parents your email and/or phone number.
Paragraph 5: Reiterate the honor it is that you would be entrusted to coach their kids, and end on a positive note about looking forward to an enjoyable season.
If you’re coaching an outdoor sport with a risk of sudden cancellations, make sure to include the guidelines and procedures for postponing games or practices — especially, how are parents going to be informed?
The key in your note is to be friendly but firm, while tacitly acknowledging that you know that they know their kid is the most important player on the team. A note like this should go a long way at easing any tensions that might already be there. If that doesn’t work, you can always have the parents wrestle.