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Talking to Your Child's Coach: Advice for Volleyball Moms and Dads

Talking to the coach: the when, where and what

If your child can't resolve the problem with the coach on her own, it is time for you to become your child's advocate and meet with the coach. Your child should be present, even if you end up doing most, if not all, the talking because it will help her learn how to speak for herself in the future with other coaches and authority figures.

  • Choose the right time and place. If you have criticisms, or want to voice a negative comment to your son or daughter's volleyball coach, the best time to talk to the coach is after the match and alone, not in front of the players and other parents. Right before, during, or immediately after matches or practices are absolutely the worst time to have a heart-to-heart with the coach. Contact the coach later that day, when you have calmed down and have had a chance to develop some perspective, after you have had a chance to collect your thoughts, or, better yet, put them down on paper. If a face-to-face meeting is warranted, set a time and place which is free of distractions where you can talk and maintain good eye contact. Someplace where you can talk over a cup of coffee or grab a donut works well. If you are better at communicating in writing, you could send an e-mail, but remember that they can be easily misinterpreted and come off as confrontational and be read and forwarded by anyone.

  • Watch your tone of voice. Many experts say that women have a different speaking style than men, one that often makes us seem less competent and self assured then we actually are. I found that I was able to advocate more effectively for my child when talking to a coach if I lowered my voice so I didn't sound like I was whining, and didn't get emotional or angry (Unfortunately, some women who are angry and tense sometimes do sound whiny).

  • Check your body language: Are your arms tightly folded across your chest or are your hands loose and comfortable? Are you making direct eye contact and are your eyes open without the "evil eye" appearance that you may really want to be expressing?

  • Avoid words that block open communication. What you say can make a big difference in how you are perceived. Avoid words like "but", "try," "should," "have to ...," "always," "never," and "obviously."

  • Be assertive, not aggressive. Be firm but polite. You want the coach to hear you, believe you, and help resolve an important problem, not feel like he is being attacked. Yet, common communication techniques almost guarantee the opposite result. Too often, we lead with personal attacks, exaggerations, and pre-judgments. Opening salvos such as "You told Allison that she would be the starting midfielder," or "Josh never would have played on this team if you'd told us how expensive it was going to be" beg for debate and rebuttal, rather than inviting problem solving and empathy. Instead, send a powerful message that can get through the coach's defenses because it focuses on the problem, not the person.

  • Practice active listening. After the coach has stated his thoughts you should paraphrase what he has just said, such as by saying, "What I hear you saying is that ....." Saying to a coach, "What I understand you to be saying is that some of the girls will play the entire game while most will only play half the game or less," may make him see how unfair he is being. Try to see things from the coach's point of view; it is likely to vastly improve the quality of the discussion.

  • Look for common ground. Usually, we think we have the solution all figured out, before we know enough about the problem. Making a single, non-negotiable demand prevents discussion of other creative options and makes it harder to back down in favor of a better idea (especially if the coach is a man, given the natural resistance of men to being told what to do, which they view as an assault on their competence). A more constructive approach is to accept that there are many ways to solve a problem. Then, generate as many options as possible that combine the coach's interests and your own. Remember, men are especially likely to be indirect when it comes to admitting fault or weakness, so pushing for an admission of fault, which forces a man into the uncomfortable "one down" position may not be the best approach.


Adapted from the book: Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (Harper Collins 2006) by Brooke de Lench. Brooke is also the founder and editor-in-chief of MomsTeam.com.


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