When most youth basketball coaches think of preseason preparation, they envision grueling conditioning, long stretching sessions, creative new plays and strategies, understanding team dynamics, and attending league meetings. One topic that belongs on that list is what I call a "parents meeting."
Each sports season, I organize a parents meeting before we step on the court. I make this meeting a requirement and ask that at least one parent from each family attend. During the meeting, I lay out my goals and expectations for the season and explain to parents how I run my practices. I always leave a fair amount of time for a question-and-answer period. In anticipation of the parents' meeting, I print a handout of approximately three to four pages, which lists all of the members of the team and coaching staff, each player and coach's phone number, a brief list of my coaching philosophies, and some organizational items.
People might say, "Well this is only youth sports. It's not high school." This is true, but I have learned over the years that a parents meeting will make for a better run season for the kids, the parents and the coaches.
One of the key topics I cover during a parents meeting is how I expect players to arrive at least 45 minutes before the start of a game. It's important to set this expectation early and also to explain that you are especially appreciative to parents who have very busy schedules either with other children or with regards to competing priorities (karate, music lessons, school work, car pools, etc).
I also like to address what is most important for the parents. In youth football, playing time is an issue and an explanation from the coach should be covered. Many football leagues will have their own playing time requirements and if yours does, explain the policy to the parents.
In soccer, playing time as well as position play are two of the biggest concerns to parents. In recreational soccer, playing time is usually dictated by the league policy. If you are coaching in one of the more competitive travel soccer teams, you must detail your philosophy and tell the parents outright that some players will be playing more than others. As far as position play, you can let parents know that you will try to be a little flexible but cannot guarantee anything.
Another important point I like to cover is that because of my own busy schedule, I cannot run a taxi service for any players. Parents must be at practice five minutes before it ends. When I first began to coach, I never addressed this and after each practice I had a car full of players to drop off. As coaches, this cannot be part of our jobs for more reasons than one.
I also explain that I'm willing to address any complaints parents might have during the season under one condition. I developed a standard policy of not taking any complaints for at least two games. This cuts down on a lot of phone calls and most of the times a complaint by a parent about playing time is taken care of by the third game.
Since I instituted this policy, I have had only a handful of complaints (and that covers the last 18 years!). It's a long way from when I first started coaching and I would go home to be greeted by two or three messages on my answering machine.
As a coach, there are a lot of responsibilities and I try to cut down on the phone calls as much as possible. One system a lot of people use is the phone chain. This is effective only some of the time. Another system I use which is similar is the buddy system.
At the beginning of each year I ask for a couple of parent volunteers to help with the phone calls. Then I assign each player a buddy. So if there are 20 kids on the team, there are 10 pairs of buddies. The first thing I tell them is that if there is any question on practice time or location, call their buddy before they call me. And if their buddy isn't home, call someone else on the team list. And make sure you utilize emails but do not count on them alone.
If it is raining, I call my two phone volunteers and divide the calls in half. Remember, each player has a buddy so they should never make more than five calls and maybe a call back to me. Any system you try isn't fool proof and during the course of the season, you can expect your share of calls.
Getting players to practice on time is a key to any youth sports team. In soccer, try giving the players numbers as they come and No. 1 will be the first player in all shooting drills. In football, the first three players to arrive at practice will be team captains for that particular practice, will lead the team in warm ups and get a star on their helmet. Explain this at the parents meeting and I guarantee they will make an effort to get their kids to practice on time.
Once I began running parents meetings, I found that complaints were cut down at least 50 percent. Remember, you are volunteering your time and you have a right to make the season run as smooth as possible for yourself, and that's the way you want it to be for your team as well.