#168: How to Improve the Parent-Coach Relationship with J.P. Nerbun

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Ever found yourself wondering how to navigate the tricky waters of being a supportive ally for your athlete rather than an unintentional obstacle?

Well, you’re in for a treat today, as we’re diving into this crucial topic with none other than J.P. Nerbun!

The Coach-Parent Dynamic: Navigating the Unknown

As a coach, I’ve been there – the coach-parent relationship can be a bit like a high-wire act. When I started coaching, I admit, I was a bit apprehensive about dealing with parents. So, I adopted the “parents can’t talk to coaches” stance. Fast forward to today, and my perspective has evolved. 

That’s why I brought in J.P. Nerbun, a certified executive coach and expert in helping coaches build strong team cultures, to shed light on the coach-parent dynamic.

Meet J.P. Nerbun: Coach for Coaches

J.P. has been in the coaching game for quite some time. He’s not just a coach but a coach for coaches, helping them navigate the challenges and build robust team cultures. His insights and strategies for working with parents caught my attention, prompting this insightful conversation.

Stories that Resonate: The Impact of Relationships

J.P. shared a powerful story from his coaching days that showcased the intricate dynamics between coaches, athletes, and parents. It involved a father lashing out at J.P., only for the truth behind the anger to emerge later. This tale highlighted the profound impact coaches can have on parents through their leadership and relationships.

Parent-Coach Collaboration: A Winning Play

As J.P. and I explored the intricacies of the coach-parent relationship, we discussed the critical role parents play in the success of their athletes. The common goal of seeing athletes thrive unites coaches, parents, and athletes alike. So, how can parents be active contributors to the team culture? Here’s where J.P.’s insights shone through.

One key takeaway from our conversation is the importance of seeing each other as humans first. Coaches are not just coaches, and parents are not just parents. We all have our challenges, struggles, and a multitude of responsibilities. By fostering genuine connections and relationships, we can bridge the gap between the two sides and work collaboratively towards a shared goal.

Challenges in the Coach-Parent Relationship: A Coach’s Perspective

J.P. shared stories of challenges coaches face in managing parent expectations, from concerns about playing time to false accusations. It’s a complex dance, but recognizing the shared goal of seeing the athletes succeed helps align everyone’s interests.

The Power of Transparent Communication

Transparent communication emerged as a crucial theme. Coaches need to articulate their decisions, even if parents might not agree. J.P. stressed the importance of coaches being open about their values, decisions, and the why behind their actions. This transparency lays the foundation for a healthier coach-parent relationship.

Playing Time Predicaments: A Delicate Balancing Act

Playing time, a recurrent topic of discussion, can be a tricky subject. Coaches have to make tough decisions for the overall success of the team, and parents may not always agree. J.P. highlighted the delicate balance between nurturing resilience in athletes and recognizing when stress becomes traumatic. It’s a careful balance, and parents are encouraged to understand the bigger picture.

So, when faced with concerns about coaching styles or playing time, how should parents approach coaches? J.P. recommended two key conversations: one focusing on how parents can support the coach’s role, and the other involving an introduction, sharing aspirations for the team experience, and offering assistance.

J.P. also emphasized that while coaches may not be perfect, they give careful thought to their decisions. For parents facing these challenges, understanding the context, recognizing the coach’s perspective, and fostering resilience in athletes became key themes.

Supporting Team Culture: A Collective Effort

J.P. also stressed the vital role parents play in supporting team culture. While coaches have a responsibility to foster a positive environment, parents can contribute by organizing activities that bring families together. By creating opportunities for parents and athletes to connect outside the game, a sense of camaraderie can flourish.

Navigating the Murky Waters: When Athletes Bench Themselves

Another common scenario parents inquire about is when their child, who was previously a star player, finds themselves on the bench. It’s a tough spot, and J.P. acknowledged the complexities involved. He highlighted the need for athletes to find value beyond playing time and parents to encourage this mindset.

The “What More Can I Do?” Problem

It’s not uncommon for players, driven by the desire for more playing time, to approach coaches with the question, “What more can I do to play?” As J.P. rightly pointed out, coaches may offer guidance on ways to enhance their chances, such as improving specific skills or adopting certain behaviors. However, there’s a critical nuance that often gets lost in translation.

Coaches are managing a team, and the competitive nature of sports means that there’s a constant evaluation of player performance. While a player may diligently follow the suggested improvement plan, the coach must also consider the existing skill levels, the competitive landscape within the team, and the ongoing improvement of other players.

J.P. emphasized the need for coaches to communicate this reality more effectively. It’s not merely about checking off a list of tasks; it’s about understanding the dynamic nature of team composition. Coaches need to convey that improvement is not just about surpassing a checklist; it’s also about competing with peers who are equally committed to growth.

Player Improvement Plans: A Roadmap for Success

To bridge this communication gap, J.P. advocated for the implementation of player improvement plans. These plans go beyond a checklist; they provide a roadmap for players, outlining their goals, areas for improvement, and the support the coach will provide throughout the season. This not only sets clear expectations but also fosters a sense of partnership between the player, coach, and, to some extent, the parents.

The Role of Parents: Allies in the Journey

Parents, too, play a crucial role in this journey. Often, they may not be fully aware of the specific expectations set by the coach or the progress their child is making. Sharing player improvement plans with parents can be a game-changer. It provides them with insights into the coach’s perspective, the team’s dynamics, and their child’s individual development.

Clear Roles: Nurturing a Positive Team Culture

Another key element in this dynamic is the clarity of roles. Athletes should know their roles within the team, and coaches need to communicate these roles effectively. J.P. highlighted the importance of athletes asking the coach about their role if it hasn’t been explicitly communicated. This clarity not only helps athletes understand their contributions but also aligns expectations.

Preventing Misunderstandings: Anticipating Playing Time

Anticipating playing time can be a source of stress for athletes. To address this, J.P. shared a proactive approach used by some coaches. Before significant lineup shifts or at the beginning of the season, coaches can gather input from players about their anticipated playing time. This allows coaches to align expectations and have open conversations with players when there’s a discrepancy.

Expressing Gratitude: A Two-Way Street

As our conversation touched upon the challenges coaches face, it’s essential to recognize that coaching is often a thankless job. Both J.P. and I emphasized the power of simple expressions of gratitude from parents. A quick text or email acknowledging the coach’s efforts and expressing appreciation for specific actions can go a long way in building a positive coach-parent relationship.

Partnership in Progress: Nurturing Growth Together

In essence, the player-coach-parent triad is a partnership in progress. Coaches need to communicate effectively, implement strategies like player improvement plans, and provide clarity on roles. Players should actively seek clarity and understand the competitive nature of team dynamics. Parents, as allies, can support this journey by actively engaging with the coach, expressing appreciation, and gaining insights into their child’s development.

Stay tuned for more insights on coaching, leadership, and team culture. Remember, success in sports is not just about the game on the field but the growth and development of individuals within the team. Together, as players, coaches, and parents, we can unlock the full potential of our athletes. Onward to a season of growth, resilience, and shared victories!

Come hang out with J.P. on social @‌J.P. Nerbun and learn more about his newest book: The Parent Solution.

Episode Highlights: 

[00:00] Supporting athletes’ mental game and confidence.

[02:24] Sports parenting and coach dynamics.

[05:15] Coaching culture and parent-coach relationships. Exploring the parent-coach relationship and how it can be improved.

[10:40] Coaching, accountability, and father-son relationships.

[13:15] Coaching and parenting perspectives. The importance of coaches and parents seeing each other as human beings, rather than just labels or roles.

[20:13] Parental involvement in youth sports teams. Parents can support team culture by taking initiative to introduce themselves and their child to the coach and other parents.

[23:30] Coping with abusive sports coaches. The challenges of dealing with difficult coaches in sports, particularly in terms of emotional abuse and building resilience.

[26:37] Coaching, playing time, and communication in sports. The complexity of dealing with perceived favoritism in sports, considering factors such as age, level of competition, and job security for coaches.

[32:55] Athlete development and communication between coaches and parents. The importance of recognizing a coach’s strengths and weaknesses in communicating with athletes.

[35:39] Athlete development, coaching, and parent-coach communication. The importance of clear communication between coaches and athletes, particularly when it comes to role expectations and player improvement plans.

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