7 Ways to Manage Parent Expectations

Lots of communication—with a side of perspective

Sue Pierce

| 4 min read

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Parents play a huge role in youth sports—whether they realize it or not. Managing their expectations during a season is no small task for both coaches and league administrators. 

“It starts with quality communications,” says Ross Schraeder, vice president of basketball operations at ProSkills Basketball, a national competitive league, and the ProSkills Basketball city director in Denver, Colorado.  

Here are his best practices for managing parent expectations. 

Keep email consistent 

There’s a lot of info that needs to be shared. When it’s time to hold tryouts—for example—all parents should be getting the same heads up from the coaches. Star administrators work with their directors and coaches on how, what, and when to communicate with families.

Clearly written emails are appreciated by all parents. “We give our directors templates to use,” says Schraeder. This helpful tool guarantees consistency across the league. Check in with coaches throughout the season to make sure the same information is getting out to all teams.  

Play the long game

Parents’ expectations often revolve around how much their player is improving. In competitive leagues especially, parents can be more intense. “Their expectations of how their kids should improve can be a little heightened,” says Schraeder. He focuses on the long game. “One thing that I stress to the parents is how long of a progression it is to become a good basketball player,” says Schraeder. 

He likes to put things in perspective for parents of younger players. Remind them that high school athletes still make mistakes. It takes years to develop skills and different kids will reach different levels. Overall, Schraeder—like most coaches—wants kids to love the sport for years beyond whatever level they ultimately reach.

Use discretion

Tough conversations with parents are inevitable in youth sports—and they’re important to have. Just don’t make it a spectacle. If a parent has an issue to discuss, use discretion. Don’t have the conversation at practice or in front of your players. Stick to email or a phone call.  

Get good coaches

Parents expect a coach to teach what they cannot. And when they are paying for the experience, expectations are high. Dependable coaches will make your life easier. 

This is a tough one to nail one hundred percent of the time. “We’ve had hits and misses over the years,” says Schraeder. Hasn’t everyone? Keep in mind that a person with a great sports background might not have the skills it takes to be a good coach. 

“I say, let’s find that person who’s energetic and communicates well,” says Schrader. “We can teach them how to coach basketball to a fifth grade team.” Organization and communication are essential in maintaining parental harmony. 

Know your value 

Today’s youth sports scene can be pricey—especially in competitive leagues. You might have to address financial matters with concerned parents. “Talking about money can be an uncomfortable conversation when you haven’t done it before,” says Shraeder. He likes to stick to the details. “Lay it out what your program is,” says Schraeder. “Explain everything you do.” He’s had good luck with parents seeing the value of the experience this way.

Support your people

Schraeder recommends holding one-on-ones with coaches “to give them that space to ask questions they might not on a group call.” Provide a good forum to talk about specific parent expectations that might be challenging for the coach. Hold training sessions before and during the season to give your coaches the tools they might need to interact with parents. 

Roll with it

Things won’t always go to plan. Schraeder likes to tell parents that “success in sports is working through when things go wrong.” Recently, one of Schrader’s practices was canceled due to flooding. The coach scrambled to contact families, but one parent showed up late to the dark gym. Prompt communication smoothed out the issue—the family was understanding. Schraeder worked with his coach to figure out a better system for the next time. 

Of course, administrators can’t possibly prepare for all scenarios. “Every single year, I’ve had something happen that I did not expect at all,” says Schraeder. Always keep parents up-to-date on any issues and be sure to provide possible solutions. It circles back to—you guessed it—good communication.  

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