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Pre-Season Youth Sports Meeting: Essential Topics and Questions to Ask

Coaching style and philosophy

13. Playing time. What is the coach/club/league policy regarding minimum playing time?  What will be your policy regarding playing time?

These are two of the most important questions to ask, and the answers you will get are likely to vary significantly depending on the program (some mandate a certain minimum number of innings or minutes, some don't), coach (some have a win-at-all-costs philosophy, some are just as interested in teaching positive life lessons and skill development), and the level of play (at the high school junior varsity level, coaches should, ideally, be more interested in developing players than in winning so that everyone should get significant playing time, while the varsity coach will likely be more focused on winning, so that the best players get the bulk of the minutes or innings).  When I was coaching U12 and U14 youth soccer, my approach was to make sure that everyone played around 75% of the time in every game.  To do that I needed to have all the boys on my team and their parents essentially "buy in" to that philosophy.  As this is always one of the biggest areas of potential conflict between parents and coaches, better to know in advance what the rules and/or the coach's philosophy about playing time are. (Better yet, parents should know the answers to these questions before they even register their child for the team, so they can decide whether the team is a right fit).

We all have heard horror stories about coaches who routinely flout playing time rules, or who, in a supposedly "non-competitive", recreational town program, are so intent on winning that playing time for some players falls by the wayside.  I remember when my sons were playing youth baseball in a league which required that everyone play 50% of the innings over the course of the season seeing two boys on their team ride the bench for six games in a row.  One of the fathers told me that, when asked, the coach responded by promising that they would play the last nine games of the 18-game season.  Of course, it didn't end up happening. 

14. Winning versus skill development. How important is it to you to win as many games as possible? How important will it be for the kids to have fun, learn life lessons, teamwork and develop their skills as athletes?

There are far too many youth sports coaches who are coaching to win every game, even in T-ball or "beehive" soccer.  This is a leading question in which the answer will speak volumes about the program your child is about to play in.     

15.  Attendance: What is your policy regarding missed practices or games (i.e. what are circumstances in which it is acceptable for your child to miss a game, such as for a family wedding etc.)?

Some coaches are inflexible on this; many aren't (particularly as higher levels of competition).  Better to find out before the season starts what is expected so you can plan accordingly. 

16.  Helping out. What type of volunteer help do you need?

Parents are often asked to sign up to help a team in a variety of ways (e.g. team mom, concession stand, halftime snacks etc.), so if volunteer lists aren't circulating at the meeting, find out how parents will be expected to help. This is a great time for coaches to tell parents what, if any, help they can provide.

Parent-coach communication 

17. Contact.  What, when and how is the best way to contact you? What is open to discussion? What is off limits?

These kind of questions help define boundaries between parent and coach and helps to educate parents on the best way to communicate with the coach, be it telephone, email, text message or in person, and what kinds of things (playing time, position, skill development etc.) the coach is willing to discuss.  The answers you get will tell you a lot about what kind of coach he or she is going to be.

Fortunately, according to a recent survey, 84% of parents report providing emergency contact information to their kids' coaches and make sure they are aware of any special medical condition (e.g. asthma, allergies, sickle cell trait, history of concussion, that could effect their practice or play). 

18. Coaching backup.  If you cannot make a game, will you let us know who is going to be the coach?

It is very important that parents know who the backup is. There are many parents who need to leave their son or daughter off at a field and it is important for safety reasons for them not to make assumptions, but to know exactly who is in charge of their children. Coaches show send a group message if they will not be at practice to let them know who will be running the practice in their stead.

19. Reporting/complaining. What should we do as parents if we notice that our child is not getting the minimum playing time? 

20. Progress reports/feedback.  Will you be in contact with parents during the season to provide progress reports?

A great question to ask because it lets coaches know that you as a parent encourage and welcome feedback.

21. Extra expenses.  What tournaments are you planning for the team to enter and how much are they going to cost? Are you planning on bringing in instructors which will cost us extra?

Parents deserve to know how much they will be required to spend during the season, whether it is a weekend tournament or a special coach who is coming in to provide additional instruction.  There shouldn't be any surprises. Parents also need to know well in advance so they can plan their time. There may be parents who dispute or disagree with the coaches' selection of what tournament to enter the team. Many seasoned coaches will provide options, and will include the team members and their families in the decisionmaking.

Speak up!

Some of these questions will be tough to ask, especially if you are the only parent brave and/or wise enough to ask for the answers. The very best youth sports and high school sports programs allow parents to submit questions anonymously before the pre-season meeting, which are sent to the coach so that he or she is prepared to answer them at the meeting.

Parents are better educated these days than they used to be about what makes a good coach and more demanding, but one of the best ways to improve the quality of coaching is for parents to be willing to ask the tough questions and become educated consumers.  If there is no mechanism for asking your questions in a safe way, I always suggest that parents get together ahead of time and determine a plan of action on the important questions that should be asked at the preseason meeting, and how to divide them up among the parents so as to reduce the chances that one or two will be viewed by coach as troublemakers before the season even starts.


Updated August 30, 2013


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