May 31

Coach – Athlete – Coach – Parent: Building Positive Relatonships

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We all need some uplifting news at this time! Digressing from previous Newsletters on the rampant abuse in sports, the focus is on “Building positive relationships between coaches, athletes, and parents.” Establishing the ‘open communication channel’ is very crucial – something most clubs and coaches could improve whenever sports resume this year. I have always been a ‘stickler’ for good communication between all parties involved!


One issue in the coaching ranks is the perception by society in general that coaching is ‘not a real profession’ like lawyers, doctors, etc., because ‘anyone can coach!’ It follows the same ‘dented’ image of ‘PE’ school programs. “Only those who can’t make it in other fields become ‘PE’ teachers, someone stated to me in a dental office! So, go ahead, kick a ball, tackle your man, or dribble the ball! Not a fair assessment but the societal view… but the major reason ‘PE’ gets eliminated from many Elementary and Junior High school programs! So, I am a parent and want my kid to play – therefore, I volunteer to coach without special training! Imagine if this was true for any other profession! 

Let’s Define ‘Profession’…

…A calling requiring specialized knowledge, long and intensive preparation including instruction of skills and methods as well as in the scientific, historical or scholarly principles underlying such skills and methods. It is maintained by force of organization or concerted opinion with high standards of achievement and conduct. It is committing its members to continued study and to a kind of work, which has for its prime time purpose the rendering of public service (Webster’s Third New international Dictionary)…

Building Solid Level of Trust

The process of communication depends foremost on integrity, trust, and transparency between all parties involved! We assume that the coaching staff has the necessary qualifications and experience to lead the team and the program. When considering collaborative relationships, the four most common elements needed to develop trust are: competence, reliability, integrity, and communication. Without any one of these, it can be difficult to establish the trust needed for a sustainable and successful collaboration.

  • Value relationships and don’t take them for granted 
  • Keep your word and follow through with your actions
  • Learn to communicate effectively with others
  • It takes a while to build and earn trust
  • It may take time when making decisions. Think before acting too quickly
Interchange: Club Administration – Coaches – Parents 

Schedule a Pre-season meeting with club administration, coaches and parents to share the club’s vision (mission statement), club philosophy, coaching approach to deal with athletes, rules and regulation, expected behaviour and consequences if such are violated. I designed a behaviour contract whereby coaches, athletes and parents sign. In addition, provide nutrition guidelines and recommendations for athletes. 

Prior to the pre-season meeting, I found it very helpful to mail out a pre-season questionnaire to returning parents to confirm their expectations from the program. These should also be available at the pre-season meeting for new parents. (Refer to Sample Questionnaire below)

The mission statement and club philosophy should not only be posted on the Club Website but also at the training facility where it is easily visible. Reason: If new parents want to observe the practice in order to decide to enrol their child… then the information lays out the process during training, which has to match what is actually going on in training (being observed). New rules or changes or updates need to be communicated through meetings, bulletins, and/or emails. 

Creating a Positive Environment so Parents Feel the Coach is Approachable and that they are given Ownership in the Program

The communication between administration and especially between coach [coaching staff] and parents should continue throughout the season with scheduled meetings at reasonable intervals (example: every 6-8 weeks). I found monthly bulletins, newsletters, nutrition tips, etc. to be tremendously helpful because parents feel involved and appreciated. This means, however, coaches need to be up-to-date on any new research related to training, nutrition (example: New US Food/Plate Guide), medical or injury issues, etc. I found that many parents had questions with issues relating to meals before training, competition, what to eat, what not to eat, sleep, rest, etc. This is another reason coaches need to be qualified, not just coach because their child needs to play or compete!

Coach – Parent[s]

It is crucial that coaches explain the program and personal philosophy, and any other important aspects. Therefore, all parties need to understand the vision, short-and long-term goals of the program, and athletes’ pursuit for personal achievement. Coach – Parent communication has to be clear and concise – not confusing or vague in the explanation or information delivery.

  • I have discovered throughout my coaching experience that parents primarily want to get informed how their child/children is/are performing as to their technical skill progression, physical, mental, emotional, and social development. This is very similar to school report cards. Scheduled parent information sessions and report cards every 6-8 weeks (depends on length of season) are good solutions to prevent communication gaps. It assures parents that they “do indeed matter, and are not ‘just paying the bills!’” (Refer to Sample Report Card/Kalos Swim – Calgary below)
Training Plans 

Post the Seasonal or Annual Plan showing periodization and macro-cycles (months/ weeks/days/dates of competition/games/physical testing/psychological testing (if any)/ nutrition workshops/Volume and Intensity of training. 

For example, I use a large plastic laminated chart to post the annual plan on the pool wall. Any parent can look at the day and date … and can ask to see the detailed training plan for that day!

It is very useful to organize all plans in the ‘Coach Binder’, which is available if questions or issues arise. For example: A worried mother told me that her son didn’t learn anything during the last session. I pointed out the day and date on the chart, and then showed her the detailed training plan in the Binder! 

Coach – Athletes[s] Communication

Importantly at the start of each daily training session coaches should briefly introduce the objectives for the day (experts recommend 20 seconds). If the introduction is longer, athletes lose interest and do not listen, the mental aspects (what to focus on, and concentration to perform the skills to the best effort).

Explain what are objectives for the session: cognitive (what are they expected to learn); physical aspects (what is needed to improve/perform the required skills); technical skills (what skills are trained today). 

Judging from questions and subsequent responses on the Facebook ‘Coaches’ Exchange’ Forum, many coaches seem to lack an acceptable format for their daily training plan. ‘Scribbled’ notes on a piece of paper as shown on Facebook postings are not sufficient! Lesson/training plans are the official documents and actually serve in Court if an event needs to be defended such as accidents, improper training methods, etc. For example, the athlete may not be physically ready for the skill; the athlete may not mentally be ready; the skill requirements are not age-appropriate or too demanding (skill is ‘over their head’). By the way, I had to attend such a court hearing and give expert testimony! My plans have always been very detailed as they also include the coach’s reflection on athletes’ performance, and a self-evaluation, i.e., achieving that session’s objectives. (Refer to Sample Lesson Plan)

Issues – Problems – Conflicts: Taking the Solution-based Approach 

     Lecture Series: Schloder, M.E. (2018)

Confronting and dealing with issues and problems in sports programs (coaches – athletes – parents or staff) is not only extremely challenging but difficult and very stressful. In fact, it takes specialty training in conflict management because the process is about understanding interpersonal relationships, possessing conflict resolution skills, demonstrating patience, and foremost great listening skills. Conflicts are normal experiences that arise naturally as you carry the complex and frequently taxing role of coaching.

Effective body language and good listening skills are crucial besides understanding the aspects of the conflict itself, which can be negative and positive by the way. Coaches have to become more cognisant of their own leadership style in order to deal with conflicts successfully. They should take one of the available surveys online to learn about and identify their personal leadership style.

Definition of Conflict

…Conflict that is poorly handled can result in deteriorating relationships that negatively affect the team, athletes’ ability to train effectively and achieve important goals or your ability to function effectively as their coach (Managing Conflict, NCCP Reference Manual, p. 2)… 



…Conflict arises from one or several issues. If these are not dealt with effectively, they will become problems. If these are not solved, conflict arises. Whenever there is a conflict, there is some level of difference in the position of two or more parties. However, the true disagreement and the perceived disagreement may be quite different. Significant levels of misunderstanding usually occur in any conflict that exaggerates a perceived disagreement. In order to solve the problem, one has to understand the true sources of the disagreement (Managing Conflict, NCCP Reference Manual, p. 5)… 

Parties Involved

…There are simple conflicts involving two people but conflict can spread quickly within most groups to include others (example: one parent complains and several others ‘gang’ up on the coach) or people who are part of the team (team members), family, school, or club association, etc., who may not necessarily see themselves as part of the conflict readily take sides based on their perception of the issues, relationships, and roles in the situation. Sometimes, it is difficult to understand and know who’s involved in the conflict (Managing Conflict, NCCP Reference Manual, p. 5)…

Perceived Threats

…Conflict is more than a disagreement. It is a situation in which people perceive a threat to their well-being – physical, emotional, power, status, etc. Participants in conflict respond more on the basis of their perception of the situation than on objective review. People filter their perceptions through their values, culture, experience, gender, and other factors. Finding real solutions requires us to dig through to uncover the true issues. Although there are a lot of perceptions with any conflict, it is essential to recognize that conflict is a real experience for anyone involved (Managing Conflict, NCCP Reference Manual, p. 5)…

Needs, Interests, or Concerns

…The conflicts involve ongoing relationships and complex emotions. It is tempting to try to solve the immediate critical event. However, a long-lasting resolution requires moving beyond immediate solutions to address longer-term interests and concerns of those involved (Managing Conflict, NCCP Reference Manual, p. 5)…

Conflict Resolution – Multi-aspect Process 

Coaches need to be Great Listeners

Researchers point out that coaches are some of the ‘worst’ listeners even though ‘listening’ is 50% of effective communication (Schloder, 2010). I have also found that the best coaches not only speak effectively but also are outstanding listeners.

There are 3 major points to consider in communication:

  • Listen effectively by the way you look at the person you are speaking with 
  • Don’t let your Ego get in the way of the conversation
  • Be open to the idea that how the athlete (parent, coaching staff) feels both emotionally & physically matters

*Note: Be sure to read in the upcoming July Newsletter about: “Body Language in Coaching: A Tool for Effective Communication” (presented at the ASCA World Swim Clinic, 2010)

  • Gather all facts (not gossip or hearsay) and details of complaint[s]
  • Schedule meeting with complainer in a neutral location with a positive environment (coaches’ office may be intimidating and/or distracting [pictures, trophies, etc.]; avoid talking to the athlete at an uncomfortable location (example: swimmer at pool site sitting in a wet swimsuit or cold or windy area)
  • Let the person talk first to present their complaint
  • Listen with empathy, show compassion and interest with your body language (example: leaning forward; nodding your head; using compassionate words, such as I see; I understand)
  • Take notes for review
  • State and rephrase what you hear
  • Re-iterate from your notes to confirm if the statements are correct
  • When asking questions, avoid using ‘WHY’ because the person feels challenged and becomes defensive – instead use: you make this statement because – the person now has to explain and be more analytical
  • State your case – Listen – Tell – Ask in an assertive manner
    • State in a straightforward manner when you are angry or upset with the situation or someone’s action 
    • Focus on the issue, not the personality
    • Allow sufficient time for the other person to talk about their feelings
    • Actions and gestures, like words, to express your assertiveness
    • Speak effectively and speak for yourself
    • Think before you react
    • Acknowledge that the other person may be right
    • Avoid using your listening time to interpret why the other person feels or thinks the way they do
    • Pay attention to your and the other person’s body language
    • Acknowledge others’ feelings in a straightforward manner
    • Pay attention to questions that are really statements not questions (Managing Conflict, NCCP Reference Manual, pp. 17-24)…
  • You may not be able to solve the conflict in one session
  • It is Ok to delay and think about various solutions
  • It is Ok to seek advice from others or experts to assist in the process


Lightbown, T. (2019, July 4). Coaches vs parents: How to build positive relationships in any sport. The COACHES BITE. Retrieved May 11, 2020, from https://thecoachessite.com/coaches-vs-parents-how-to-build-positive-relationships-in-any-sport/

M1MAXONE (n.d.). 3 Reasons why & how coaches need to be great listeners. Retrieved May 11, 2020, from https://maxone.ai/coaches-resources/3-reasons-coaches-need-great-listeners/

Monroe, M. (2017, September 13). Building positive relationships with sports parents. COACH & A.D. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from https://coachad.com/articles/building-positive-relationships-with-sports-parents/

Robert, M. (1982). Managing conflict from the inside out. San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer & Co. 

Schloder, M.E. (2018). Personal Property: Annual Plan; Daily Training Plans; Psychological Questionnaires. Calgary, AB, Canada: Arête Sports/Kalos Swim Division.

Schloder, M.E. (2018). Lecture Series: Managing Conflict. National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP). Ottawa, ON, Canada: Coaching Association of Canada.

Schloder, M.E. (2010). Body language in coaching: A tool for effective communication. Indianapolis, IN: ASCA World Clinic in Swimming. August 30-September 5.

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