Athlete, Coach, Leader, Parent

How Parents Can Address Preferential Treatment

"I try not to coach my child while they're playing and leave it up to the coach, but recently I've noticed that certain players are receiving preferential treatment. How can I voice my concern to the coach without it negatively affecting my child? 

PCA Response by PCA Lead Trainer, Joe Terrasi

The perception that a coach is favoring one or more players is difficult and can give rise to strong emotions from players, parents, and coaches.

Before discussing specific ideas and best practices for resolution, let’s start with some key guiding principles:

It is crucial for both the concerned parent and the coach to approach the issue as allies whose goal is to solve the problem with the best interests and welfare of the children as the clear priority.

Secondly, it is important that parents and coaches address these concerns in private and without involving the children. It does not serve the players to see their coaches and parents question one another.

Finally, no difficult problem in youth sports has ever been resolved by email. In contentious coach-parent issues, face-to-face communication is far more effective than text messages or email. If it’s important enough to bring up, an issue is important enough to discuss in person.

Having set forth the broad guidelines, there are a number of things to consider when facing this situation. Before discussing how to resolve the dispute, however, it is worth considering whether it can be avoided in the first place. The core requirement to avoid this conflict is to conduct an effective pre-season meeting between parents and coaches. Without a solid pre-season meeting, the possibility of a conflict rises, and the likelihood of a successful resolution falls.

At minimum, a successful pre-season meeting should include:
● A clear statement of the coaches’ intent and values
● Guidelines detailing what is expected of players and what privileges they can expect (including opportunities for playing time and playing position)
● Procedures for adults to raise questions and resolve disputes

Even with an excellent pre-season meeting, concerns over preferential treatment may arise. In these instances, there are a few things to consider before taking the next step. Is the concern coming from the player, or did it arise with the parent? In some cases, the player is having a positive experience, and his or her parent has concerns not shared by the child. As challenging as it may be for the parent, the “solution” here is simple: Do nothing and let the player continue to enjoy the experience.

In other cases, this is often an opportunity to allow our children to learn to resolve a problem without parent intervention. While this may vary with age, even our youngest players can learn to ask appropriate questions and find resolutions to difficult problems. Resisting the natural parental urge to “fix” the problem for the player can pay dividends in sport and as a life lesson.

If adult intervention does ultimately become necessary, it’s important that, in addition to heeding the guidelines at the outset of this article, we must do so in a way that our own emotions are not an impediment. As parents, the idea that our children are not being treated fairly can give rise to extraordinarily strong protective emotions. Honing a problem-solving disposition may entail identifying those negative emotions and fighting some of the tendencies they bring.

Remember, “preferential treatment” is a perception. A problem-solving disposition will include open-mindedness about whether our perceptions are fair and accurate. If the goal is to create the best experience for the player, there is little value in either the coach or parent “winning an argument” or proving that they are “right.” The only “right” resolution is one in which the player is most likely to have an experience in which he or she feels safe, valued, and empowered.

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