How Coaches Can Successfully Talk To Parents About Playing Time

Many youth athletic coaches dread the “playing time” conversation at any level of play. In fact, some coaches create a hard fast rule that they don’t have conversations about playing time, ever. Or a coach might offer to have the “playing time” discussion, but only with the entire team AND their parents in attendance. Imagine how many times parents or players asked to talk to that coach about playing time that season?

Now, these solutions may sound appealing to some coaches. But, that is not the way to create a culture of open and honest communication on your team . It is possible to have a positive conversation about playing time that leads to success.  After all, youth sports is a perfect opportunity for kids to develop communication skills.

Set expectations at the start of the season.

On most recreational teams, kids get equal playing time, regardless of skill and effort. Share your expectation about playing time and what your coaching style is with parents at the beginning of the season. Some parents may expect more playtime for their children based on their ability. They may not agree to equal time shared amongst everyone. The earlier you can address this, the less likelihood that you’ll have conflict in the future. This will also allow for the parents to make a decision if this is the right program for them.

On a competitive team, playing time may be based on performance, attendance and effort. If you plan to play your athletes based on merit, make sure parents understand that from day one. Share if missed practices will impact playtime at the start of the season. Setting these expectations in the beginning of the season allows you to reference them in the future. Write it out too to ensure you have proof if questions come up at a later point in the year.

Encourage the player to initiate the playing time conversation.

A playing time conversation should be between a player and a coach. A parent’s role should be to help a player frame his or her concerns and prepare for the conversation. If additional conversations are needed, parents may be a part of them in a supportive role. This is a chance for the player to learn to advocate for themselves in a safe environment with a trusted adult. 

Try your best to remain neutral, show empathy, and compassion for the parent’s frustration. 

When a parent comes to a coach about their child not getting enough playing time, it’s easy to become defensive. It can feel like you’re being judged or that your decisions are being questioned. Try to keep a level head and to not take the situation personally. Listen to their concerns, be empathetic, and engage in an open dialogue. Gently remind them of any playtime expectations or policies that you are following. Ask the parent for suggestions for improvement. If the club has a mission statement or a clear development plan, this would be a good opportunity to reference it to paint the big picture. 

Why does the player want more playing time?

As a coach, one way to empower the young athlete is to bring them into the conversation. Specifically, ask the athlete why they want more playing time? Firstly, this helps the player take ownership of the conversation. Secondly, it might bring to light some key goals or aspirations that the player has that you didn’t know about. Consider some of the possible reasons why a player might want more playing time:

  • I want more playing time because it will make me a better player in my favorite position.
  • I want more playing time because it will enable me to get to play on varsity next year.
  • I want more playing time because I want to be seen as an important part of my team.

Prep the players to think about their “why” before a conversation.

Before the conversation, ask your player to consider why they want more playing time. This enables them to approach the conversation with clear purpose and goals. After all, any conversation with a player is a chance to develop and encourage them to be at their best. It’s not necessarily about playing time at all. It’s about taking the time to understand what a player wants and supporting them in the journey to be a better human.

Encourage players to reach out to you for feedback.

This teaches athletes that feedback is a positive communication tool. It helps the athlete learn to take initiative and learn how to own their own progress. As a coach, let your players know that you’re available if they have questions on how they are playing. When a player wants feedback on playing time, encourage them to ask you the following question. 

What do I need to do to earn more playing time?

This question empowers players to take the initiative to improve themselves. The power behind a player asking the coach how they can earn more playing time does three things:

  • It communicates a player’s willingness to put in the work to earn something they want.
  • It avoids attacking or putting the coach in a defensive mindset for the conversation.
  • It helps players identify specific actions they can take to meet their goals.

The location and the timing of this conversation matters. 

The time and location of the conversation can have a significant impact on how well it goes. Put a system in place for conversations. Tell a player or parent that you will be happy to talk about it at a certain day and time. Put it on the calendar and stick to it. Avoid talking about it before or after a game to avoid increased stress or tension. Do not talk about it in an open space, like next to the field or the stands, where other players or parents can hear. This is a private conversation for you and the player and their parents. 

Top takeaways for talking to parents about playing time.

In short, talking to a parent or a player about playing time does not have to be feared, dreaded or avoided. Follow these steps to ensure a successful conversation about playing time:

  • Set expectations at the beginning of the season. 
  • Encourage players to talk to you directly so that you can ask them why they want more playing time. 
  • Teach players to ask you what they can do to earn more playing time. 
  • Listen generously and continue to ask open questions that promote a positive conversation.
  • Picking the right location and time for the conversation matters. 

Do you or someone you know need help managing their sports team or club? Sign up for a free 21-day trial today. Or check out our club and league solution, TeamSnap for Clubs and Leagues if your team is part of a larger sports organization.

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