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Schools Should Establish and Communicate Expectations of Parents

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA on January 14, 2020 hst Print

Many schools have codes of conduct for student-athletes and extensive lists of responsibilities for their coaches. However, in addition to student-athletes and coaches, expectations for parents need to be considered. While most parents are positive and support the school’s programs, there are some who are not. Therefore, it is vital to establish parameters for parents in the school’s community.

In the Fountain-Fort Carson School District in Colorado, the effort to communicate parental expectations starts with a preseason meeting. In these sessions, Jared Felice, district administrator, points out that the department’s philosophy, mission and vision is included in the Athletic Handbook, which is posted online.

“It is extremely important to explicitly define the purpose of our program and the accompanying parental expectations,” Felice said. “Everything from procedures, communication practices with regard to questions and complaints, sportsmanship protocols and the athletic code of conduct are covered.”

Felice also points out that parents and athletes must sign off that they have read and understand the contents of the handbook. This step is done online, and until parents and their child complete this process, the student-athlete cannot participate.

Consistency of message and reinforcement are also key factors in the Fountain-Fort Carson School District.

“When a parent bypasses the chain of command, he or she needs to be redirected back to the coach,” Felice said. “Occasionally, you have to have a difficult conversation with offenders. Follow- through is everything, even when the path is rough and hard to navigate. It is your ultimate responsibility.”

At Washington Township High School in New Jersey, Kevin Murphy, athletic director, also presents parental expectations at preseason meetings. A key component introduced at this time is that parents are part of the team and everyone has a role. Parents should be supportive of both the players and coaches, appreciate their child’s effort and not let the scoreboard determine their feelings.

For the past 18 years, Murphy has also used a Parent-Coach Communication document, which is available and distributed to parents. The guidelines include common expectations, the coach’s philosophy, team rules and concerns regarding the physical and emotional well-being of the athlete.

Murphy points out that his school has incorporated and shared resources from the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) with parents. Annually, guest speakers from the PCA visit the campus and share insight into respecting the game, the officials and opponents. The value of the game is emphasized, and an attempt is made to understand that winning is not the only or ultimate goal of education-based athletics. It really is the growth and development of the student-athlete, and this is what is embraced at WTHS.

Teg Cosgriff, the director of athletics for Westbrook Public Schools in Connecticut, tries to first establish the school’s philosophy and core values with parents. There are five elements to the Westbrook education-based model:

  • Aspects of character
  • Family, Academics, Community, Team, Self (F.A.C.T.S.)
  • Athletics is a privilege and not a right
  • As a small school, multi-sport athletes are promoted and encouraged
  • Middle school sports emphasize development

Cosgriff stated that his school tries to reinforce the proper procedures regarding communication with coaches, and that the process should first start with the athlete. When a parent does get involved, he or she always needs to be positive and in control. Approaching a coach during practice, or before or immediately after a contest, is not appropriate. Parents should always focus on their child’s best interest and not their own ego or agenda.

Like Murphy, Cosgriff also uses the Positive Coaching Alliance’s Goals for Parents. The outcomes of this approach are to help ensure that student-athletes have a wholesome and productive experience that provides personal growth physically, mentally and spiritually.

In addition to preseason meetings, the use of PowerPoints and posting materials on the school’s website, Cosgriff strongly suggests that creating a relationship and a unified mission including expectations with youth sport organizations in the community is an essential, foundational step. It is also helpful to have coaches and athletes work with elementary schools and community- based programs in order to create the desired culture for the program.

The vision and mission for John F. Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which was developed by the coaching staff, is “Every Athlete – Life Ready.” This means that the athletic experience teaches the skills, attitudes and behaviors for life and that the spirit of competition should be appreciated. The basis for parental expectations, therefore, starts with understanding this concept.

Aaron Stecker, athletic director at JFK High School, reminds parents that … “It is the student’s experience and we ask them to support and engage in this process.” To accomplish this goal, parents are asked to honestly answer the following questions.

  • Why do you want your child to participate in (insert the sport)?
  • Ask your child why he or she wants to play (the chosen sport)?
  • Is there a difference between your answer and that of your child?
  • Which answer – yours or your child’s – is most important?

Once the parents are able to come to grips with the answers to these questions, Stecker said he can then work with them to find ways to best support their student-athlete. He admits, however, this process isn’t always easy and he … “always tries to start with empathy, because most parents simply seek the best experience for their child.” It is also, unfortunately, true that some parents are simply “B.C.D.” in that they “blame, complain and defend.”

“Your job is to be supportive and look for a positive outcome,” Stecker said.

While most settings are somewhat unique, many athletic administrators would benefit from the approaches used by these athletic directors at their respective schools. It is imperative that parental expectations are established and communicated clearly, and always keep in mind that the growth and development of student-athletes is the ultimate objective. And if this is done in a positive, caring and sincere manner, you’ve done your part.