The Rules For Softball Parents Written By Renee Ferguson
Ah! Select softball parents, you’ve got to love them! They all begin with the best of intentions to further their daughter’s softball knowledge and skill set. But somewhere along the way they can turn into team swapping, bargain hunting, guarantee searching child athlete agents who still want what’s best for their daughters- but go about getting it in all the wrong ways. Thankfully I had some pretty great parents during my time as a select coach and let’s just say- I don’t deal with the parents at the college level unless it is absolutely necessary. Part of what made my coaching time so drama free was a parent contract that was put into place the 2nd year I coached at the select level.
In this contract I laid things out in black and white as to how I operate and how I expected others to operate if they want their child to be a member of the team. I also explain that if the parent or the child could not meet all requirements that they could be dismissed from the team with no refund to any fees they already paid. (Let’s just say that first year taught me A LOT.) I am a pretty straight forward person so sometimes it’s hard for me to recognize that the majority of people are not comfortable with open communication. So today I will go over some of the most effective rules that I put into place to really help smooth out the parent coach relationship process.
My first rule is I NEVER guarantee playing time to a parent or a child. I honestly don’t care how good the kid is or how much I may need them at the time. Guaranteeing playing time ties one arm behind the coaches back. Every time you think about sitting a particular girl either to get other kids in or because they are playing like crap, you will think of this promise and will feel guilt. Not only that but my number one goal as a coach is build a TEAM and any player who is looking for guaranteed playing time in my eyes is NOT a team player.
My next rules are in regards to communicating concerns or questions with the coaching staff. The first rule is that if you as a parent are really frustrated with something I am doing, do not go home and talk about it in front of your child. This will only lead to your child developing a certain level of disrespect for their coach. (After all if their parents don’t respect the coaches decisions why should they?) I always request people to talk to me- I am probably one of the most level headed, self-aware people you will ever meet. If you can’t talk to me then you won’t be able to talk to anyone. Obviously there are times that are appropriate to bring up questions and times when it is not- like after a loss or during the game. But if you are talking about the problems to anyone other than the coach you are a part of the problem because you are simply complaining and not helping to look for or to try and reach a solution to the problem.
The other part to communicating is knowing when to wait to have that chat with the coach. I always ask my parents to abide by a 24 hour rule for serious conversations. For example, if I yelled at your child on the field and you are madder than a hornet, it’s probably better to wait 24 hours before trying to have a conversation with the coach about it. In the beginning this is the hardest rule to follow because its human nature to want to protect your kids, but emotions generally get in the way and both parties end up saying things they can never take back. So hold off, give yourself a little time to sleep on it and see how it feels in the morning. If you are still fired up, try and put your thoughts down on paper in an organized manner and reread them to see if you are asking questions or pointing fingers. Conversations need to have 2 way communication and finger pointing or blaming will not get you the end result you are looking for. This goes for coaches as well. How many times have you gotten that nasty email from a coach at 1am after a tough loss? It’s a tough habit to break but it really does create a more open environment with your players and their parents.
From the time I started coaching select with a 12u team I have always had the rule that only the players are allowed to talk to me about playing time. Number one they need to learn how to address adults/authority figures when they don’t like how things are going. This is a skill that is sorely lacking these days. Secondly I want to make sure it’s the child who has the problem. Way too often players listen to their parents complain about where they are playing or how much they are playing. I have had parents complain to me that their daughter never gets to pitch or play the outfield, meanwhile she plays every inning of every game and I have 3 kids on the bench who play every 3rd game. Knowing the source is important for the coach to know how to address the situation. I tell all my players, if you are not playing there is a reason, come talk to me about it and I will tell you the reasons behind you not getting the playing time you want and what areas you need to focus on improving in order to get additional playing time.
In the end sometimes no matter what I do as a coach I just don’t make people happy. So even with all the rules I set up to try and foster an inclusive, communicative environment I still have parents and players who just won’t talk to me about issues upfront and wait until they are ready to explode which usually leads to a parent trying to pull their child out mid game or mid tournament. In these cases I always try to listen and be sympathetic to their situation but in the end if they want to pull their child they have the right to do so. I always let them know it’s their decision and I will support them however I can. Even though I address it like this there are times when I have to employ guilt to get them to stay especially if they are already in the lineup for that game or I have a limited number of players that tournament. The way that I do this is by being brutally honest, “If you want to teach your daughter that her needs are more important than the needs of her team than that is on you. I won’t stop you from doing it but realize that her leaving not only affects her it affects everyone on this team.” This tactic usually gets them thinking and will in most cases get them to stay until the end of the tournament.
Being a coach is as much about maintaining order within your players as it is trying to maintain order and squash the talking amongst your parents. I know people won’t always agree with what I do and how I do it and it’s because of that, that I have been able to teach myself not to take their comments personally. Fact of matter is that in the select world if you have good parents who get along you will normally have a good group of players who can work together to reach a common goal. So communicate early and often with your parents and players it’s the best way to build a solid unit.
Renee Ferguson Renee has over 30 years of combined playing and coaching experience at the select and college levels. After a 3 year stint as Division I, Morgan State University’s pitching coach; Renee was appointed the Head Women’s softball Coaching position at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. Where she lead the Pioneer Softball team to an 8th place finish, in the NJCAA DIII Nationals in Rochester MN after taking the helm only weeks before the 2013 season started. Renee’s goal is to instill the love and passion that she has for the game, into each and every one of her players and students. Keep up with Renee Ferguson by visiting her site at DirtInTheSkirtSports.com.Join Renee On: Facebook.
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