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Many kids are right now lacing up for their fall youth sports teams as back to school time gets underway, whether it’s a school team or a youth or recreation league team.
Parents and coaches should establish positive communication — and one expert says that needs to happen “well before” that first sneaker hits the field.
“The first time a parent has a meaningful interaction with the coach should not be because a problem has come up,” Jason Sacks, president of Positive Coaching Alliance in San Francisco, California, told Fox News Digital in an interview.
Positive Coaching Alliance is a national nonprofit founded in 1998 with a mission to “change the culture of youth sports so that every child, regardless of social or economic circumstance, has access to positive youth sports experience,” said Sacks.
Sacks called sports participation an “unbelievable opportunity” to not only “focus on teaching the sport and how to compete,” but to instill “lessons that are going to stay with kids long after their playing days are over.”
Sacks has coached at the high school and college level. He said good communication is the coach’s job, too.
“After high school, if your child is going on to college or into the workforce, you’re not going to be there as a parent to fight their battles.”
A coach should let both the parents and the players “know what the expectations are, and what the goals are for the team and the organization,” he said.
A coach should also say, “Here’s how you and I can communicate, and if there are any issues that come up, this is the type of communication I would prefer,” he explained.
Parents need to be proactive, too, regarding communication.
Sacks says to make sure to thank a coach after a practice; many youth and recreation league coaches are volunteering their time.
“Saying ‘thank you for spending extra hours with the kids’ goes a long way,” he said.
One of the most common issues between coach and parent is playing time, noted Sacks.
“Let’s say there’s a high school basketball team and your son or daughter feels like they’re not getting enough playing time,” he said.
“Instead of you — the parent — going and talking to the coach, what a great opportunity this is for the child to go and talk to the coach themselves, and get used to having those types of conversations,” said Sacks.
“No conversation I have had with any parent has ever led to more playing time.”
As an example, Sacks said a child might say, “Coach, I feel like I should be playing more. What can I be doing at practice that’s going to get me more playing time? What do I need to show you?”
A good coach will give the player “specific things that he or she can work on,” he explained.
“After high school, if your child is going on to college or into the workforce, you’re not going to be there as a parent to fight their battles,” Sacks underscored.
Brian Tobin, a father of three from Reading, Massachusetts, has coached kids from the ages of 5 to 18 in lacrosse, football, baseball, basketball and hockey.
“I would recommend you never approach a coach about playing time,” he told Fox News Digital via an email.
“It is not the parents’ responsibility to make sure their player has playing time — it is the responsibility of the player to earn their time,” he added.
Tobin said that if a parent “trusts that the coach is out there for the good of all the players, and to build a competitive team or program,” they should “let them do their job, and field the best team they can.”
“I would recommend you never approach a coach about playing time.”
“When you as a parent talk to your child about playing time,” he added, “your advice should be a simple, ‘Work for it.’”
Talking disparagingly about a kid’s coach is out of bounds, said Tobin.
“If you complain about the coach in front of your player, your player’s attitude toward the coach will change and this will alter their overall experience for the worse,” he cautioned.
Tobin said that when it comes to approaching the coach, “The best rule is to give yourself 24 hours before you do.”
“Ninety percent of what you were angry or confused about will resolve itself in that time,” he said.
“If you don’t like the way the coach is coaching, jump in and volunteer as a coach yourself — or bite your tongue.”
“No conversation I have had with any parent has ever led to more playing time,” he noted.
“Kids need to learn to earn, grind and grit their way into the lineup — and work to stay there. It can’t ever be about the parent.”
Another Boston-area youth recreation league coach who has worked with kids ages 5 to 15 in both tee ball and Babe Ruth baseball echoed Tobin’s advice, telling Fox News Digital that “it’s never a good idea to approach us right after a game or in the heat of the moment.”
If a kid is younger, try asking the coach what your child could work on to improve his or her skills, he advised.
“Older kids need to advocate for themselves,” he said.
When it comes to recreation leagues, “If you don’t like the way the coach is coaching, jump in and volunteer as a coach yourself — or bite your tongue,” he advised.
He said that “sports can be a great way for your kids to learn life lessons” — and added, “We all know life isn’t fair, and kids need to navigate that.”
“Kids start playing sports for the love of the game,” he said.
“Parental over-involvement can quickly kill that. Let this be their experience, not yours.”