Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Josh Vandergrift, athletic director of Mosley High School in Lynn Haven, Florida, and TJ Rockwell, athletic director of Perry Local Schools in Massillon, Ohio, regarding some of the ways they share information with parents at pre-season meetings.
Question: What are you trying to accomplish with your pre-season parent meetings? What is your ultimate goal?
Vandergrift: Toward the end of each school year, I hold a pre-season meeting for parents of potential and returning athletes. This meeting gives me a chance to deliver information regarding deadlines for submitting physical forms and all other liability paperwork. Also, I introduce the head coach for each sport, provide the official dates for the start of each season, which also includes all information they need about tryouts. Finally, I answer any questions that the parents or athletes may have about the operation of the summer conditioning or off-season programs. My ultimate goal is to be as informative and inviting as possible to all newcomers because there may be a perception that athletics can be intimidating.
In addition, I require each head coach to hold a mandatory parent meeting during the first week of his or her sport season after tryouts and as soon as final rosters have been finalized. This is done to open communication between the coach and parents, and it is during this meeting in which most of the sport-specific information and expectations can be delivered.
Rockwell: The biggest thing that we try to do is to educate parents with regard to information they otherwise would not receive, such as the Ohio High School Athletic Association policies and procedures to our own Student Athlete-Parent Athletic Handbook. Typically, I have a few parents approach me afterwards admitting that they didn’t realize a certain policy was in place.
Question: You use a PowerPoint presentation at these meetings. Why do you use this technology and what do you see as its advantages?
Vandergrift: The main reason is more for my own benefit so that I don’t have to memorize a long list of what needs to be covered and the risk of forgetting everything as soon as I start talking. Also, I use a PowerPoint presentation as a visual aid for everyone to see and understand what is being shared. Parents will receive the PowerPoint outline as soon as they arrive because this makes it easy for parents to take notes without missing information. Parents are encouraged to take this outline home with them to serve as a reference.
Rockwell: We use the OHSAA PowerPoint that the state association provides to all Ohio school districts because this technology delivers the necessary, pertinent information in a concise and straightforward manner. All athletic directors realize that parents don’t want to be at a meeting for hours on end going through rules books. The PowerPoint allows us to get in and out fairly quickly while still covering a great deal of important information.
Question: How do you change, update and keep your PowerPoint presentations “fresh” and unique each season and in the succeeding years, and yet cover all of the pertinent and necessary topics – given that some athletes play more than one sport and parents of freshmen have three more years?
Vandergrift: As the athletic director, my part contains all the boring stuff, although necessary and vital, while my coaches get all the interesting and pertinent topics to discuss. The basis of my presentation usually stays the same, but I continually update the information and issues in order to be relevant and timely. To increase involvement, I try to make sure that I include anything I can think of that will give those attending a strong sense of school pride. In order to keep it fresh, I try to include actual pictures of some of our current student-athletes playing their sport.
Occasionally, I add a sports-related statistic or inspirational quote that will encourage students to become multi-sport athletes. In addition, I also constantly add new, topical information that I learn from other athletic directors from around the state or country while attending an NIAAA or FIAAA conference.
Rockwell: While we use the state-provided PowerPoint every season, we also try and change up the message by bringing in someone with some outside perspective. If it’s just me standing at the podium season after season, year after year, the message will grow stale. At least once a year, I find a guest speaker to come in and talk about the importance of interscholastic athletics and the life lessons it can provide our student-athletes. For example, we have partnered with the Positive Coaching Alliance, which is a great resource for promoting the ideals of youth sports. Also, we brought in someone to provide information regarding the college recruiting process. I have found when we do something that has value, it helps keep our pre-season meetings fresh.
Question: In your pre-season parent meetings, you certainly want and need to keep your presentations brief and concise in order to allow time for parents to meet with the coaches and to simply maintain their attention. What topics do you feel are absolutely essential to be covered?
Vandergrift: My goal is to keep my portion of the meeting to less than 35 minutes in order to allow plenty of time for the coaches to introduce themselves to the parents and student-athletes, and to have sufficient time to answer questions that are specific to the sports team. To make things easier, I also have the placement of the coaches organized by season. The topics that I feel are most essential for me to cover are:
Rockwell: Since everyone’s lives are busy, we know that the length of these meetings is very important. We try to keep the main presentation under 40 minutes and then have “breakout” sessions for parents to meet with their respective coaches. We discuss OHSAA eligibility and transfer policies as well as any OHSAA newly adopted regulations or rules changes. Also, we discuss the health and safety of our student-athletes and our athletic trainer uses about 10 minutes to review important issues such as the concussion protocols.
There are two items in our Student-Athlete–Parent Handbook that are covered in detail. First, our policies on drug/alcohol/tobacco/e-cigarette vaping is highlighted. Each season, we emphasize a section in our handbook that is titled “Parent and Coach Communication— Succeeding Together.” We review the parameters of how we expect our coaches and parents to interact because this alleviates a lot of potential issues as the season progresses.
Question: How do you include current, topical issues such as concussion treatment and protocols, social media use and hazing prevention into your presentations?
Vandergrift: During the pre-season meeting, our school’s athletic trainer talks about his role within the athletic program, concussions or heat-related illnesses, and the treatment and rehabilitation of injuries. At each individual sport meeting during the first week of the season, I reiterate the importance of concussion education and show a five-minute video about what a concussion is and what protocols need to be followed.
One of the forms that all student-athletes are required to have on file in order to participate is our school’s Athletic Code of Conduct Contract. This document addresses all expectations and rules regarding drugs or alcohol abuse, social media posting, the prohibition of hazing and the eligibility issues of school attendance and PSAs. Also, it includes the penalties for breaking these rules. Even though everything contained is very clear and self-explanatory, I briefly discuss the contract so that no one is ever caught off guard, which could lead to trouble. It is mandatory that the form is signed by the student-athlete as well as a parent.
Rockwell: After our athletic trainer covers the protocols for concussions, I always take time to cover the hazing and social media topics. Many educators have heard of situations about students losing scholarship or job opportunities because of things they have posted on social media, and I remind parents that their child is only one negative post away from this happening. In addition, however, I always follow up with each team individually with reminders throughout the season to help prevent hazing and social media misuse.
Question: If you don’t or can’t require parents of your athletes to attend your pre-season parent meetings, how do you get the message out that these evenings are vitally important? What type of things do you do to promote these meetings and to motivate attendance?
Vandergrift: Although it would be unrealistic to think that every parent of all potential athletes will be available to attend the pre-season meeting, I try to start the planning process as soon as possible to get it on the school calendar. Also, announcements are made during all events we have on campus and I email the information to all head coaches. We ask that they send it out to all their current athletes.
In addition, I post the notice on all social media accounts that exist for the athletic department and the school and then ask that all coaches share the social media accounts with their teams. I have the principal make a recording with the information in order to do an all-call to all current students and parents. On the day of the meeting, I ask my coaches to send a reminder text to their teams and/or parents.
Most importantly, however, I contact the principals and athletic directors at all the middle schools that feed into our high school so they can replicate everything listed above to their current eighth-graders.
Rockwell: We try very hard to keep the pre-season meetings on corresponding dates each year. For example, our fall pre-season meeting is always August 1 and our coaches, parents and athletes have become accustomed to this date. In addition, we try and send the notice out as early as possible so that they have the information at least 45-60 days in advance, which helps us with attendance.
While getting parents in the door is the first step, it is extremely important to provide as much information in as little time as possible. I have found that promoting the pre-season meeting along with something such as a college recruiting presentation or a success story from a former student-athlete detailing the value of the education-based athletic concept has helped drive our attendance.
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 550 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. He is the author of a book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.