It’s a common scene that happens in youth baseball leagues in towns across the country. A parent is unhappy that his or her child is not in the starting lineup, batting in a certain spot in the order, playing a certain position, or perhaps that parent is displeased about another issue. The parent directs that anger towards the coach, an argument ensues and tension is created for the rest of the season.
Jack Perconte understands the challenge a coach faces with parents of players. After a 12-year professional baseball career that includes seven seasons in the majors, Perconte retired in 1987 and opened a baseball training academy in Naperville, Illinois. He estimates that he has given more than 60,000 hitting lessons. Perconte’s book, “The Making of a Hitter: A Proven and Practical Step-by-Step Baseball Guide” (www.themakingofahitter.com), details how parents can teach hitting to their children, and coaches can teach it to their young players. It also educates coaches about how to effectively communicate with the parents of his team’s players so everyone can enjoy the entire season.
“The key to a successful parent-coach relationship is having a mandatory pre-season meeting between parents and coaches,” Perconte said. “Encourage both parents to attend.
“In the invitation, let the parents know that invitation that attending the meeting is important because it will give them the opportunity to learn about your philosophies and guidelines, and it will give them to chance to ask questions,” Perconte added. “At the meeting, try to address every issue you can think of that could possibly lead to friction as the season progresses.”
Here are Perconte’s suggestions for a thorough and successful parent-coach meeting:
1. Give the parents background information about the coaches, especially about their playing and/or coaching experience related to the game. Be honest about your background.
2. Express your philosophy of coaching. The three ultimate objectives are winning, player development and fun. I suggest a 30, 30, 30 split on these objectives and applying the remaining 10 percent for the area most needed. This 10 percent will be determined by the competitiveness of the team and the league. At the meeting, clearly state the goals of the season. I believe it is alright to play to win even at a young level, as long as it is kept in perspective. Remember, you want the children to develop their skills and have fun.
3. Discuss your philosophy about playing time, batting order and positions played. Let the parents know how you plan to run the team. For example, do players have to earn their position on the field or in the batting order, or will you rotate the players? Give parents a chance to ask questions, and make sure your answers are clearly understood. Be sure to recognize and discuss the objectives of the league and level at which the team is playing.
4. Discuss when and how the coaches can be approached during the season so there are no confrontations. Set up a system where conversations are held away from the players, other parents and the crowds. There will be issues that arise from time to time, but let parents know that disagreements will be handled in a civil way away from the players.
5. Effective communication is the key to averting problems. Make sure parents also reiterate the coaches’ philosophies to the children. Most of the time, players are happy and content with playing and being around their friends. Troubles start to when parents start to grumble at home to the players about the coach. Insist to the parents that they approach you before getting upset and expressing that displeasure to their children.
6. Most issues arise because the parent does not think the coach is being fair. It is important that the coach fulfill his or her philosophies detailed in the pre-season meeting. If you change your philosophy in the middle of the season, then problems can arise.
7. Just as hitters are made, coaches are also made. Coaches should be a role model and a teacher to their players. It is easier to help children develop their baseball skills and enjoy the game when the parents understand the reasoning behind the coaches’ philosophies.
Jack Perconte played 12 years of professional baseball, including seven in the majors for the Dodgers, Indians, Mariners and White Sox, posting a career .270 average in the majors and a .311 mark in the minors. He was a 16th round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1976 and made his big league debut with the Dodgers in 1980. After retiring from professional baseball in 1987, Perconte opened a baseball training academy in Naperville, Ill. The hitting drills, mental training and coaching tips found in “The Making of a Hitter” (www.themakingofahitter.com) were culled from the 60,000 hitting lessons Perconte estimates he gave while operating the academy.