The Team Manager: “The Glue that Holds the Team Together”
By Doug Abrams
People sometimes say that in the pros, a skilled trainer is more valuable to the team than any two coaches. The trainer prevents injuries, treats aches and pains early, and helps players return to the lineup medically sound. Players in the lineup can win games, but players on the disabled list cannot.
I am convinced that in youth leagues, a skilled team manager is also more valuable than any two coaches. Like trainers in the pros, team managers perform much of their wizardry behind the scenes. But youth league teams could not function smoothly without the manager. On the youth hockey teams that I coached, I would tell anyone willing to listen that our manager was “the glue that holds the team together.” I meant it.
The team manager, of course, is the mother or father who assists the coaches with dozens of organizational details central to the team’s smooth functioning. The manager maintains regular communication with fellow parents; collects registration forms and fundraising receipts; organizes road trips; contacts opposing coaches for game confirmations; and performs other chores, large and small. Before controversies proceed too far, sometimes the manager can also resolve differences that a parent might have with the coaches. As I said, “the glue that holds the team together.”
This column discusses what coaches should look for in a team manager, how the manager should be selected, how coaches should work with the manager, and how the team should thank the manager for tireless efforts.
What Makes a Good Team Manager?
On the teams that I coached, few managers had playing experience in hockey, and none had coaching experience in the sport. I suspect that few had ever laced on a pair of skates, but that did not matter. Because our association permitted parents with such experience to be assistant coaches, managers brought an entirely different skill set to their team service.
The team manager’s position depends on two primary skills common to all sports – organizational skills and people skills. “Organizational skills” means the ability to juggle deadlines and schedules efficiently so that the coaches can tend to matters within their specialties. “People skills” means interacting patiently and courteously throughout the season with diverse constituencies – other parents, the coaching staff, the players, league officials, opposing teams’ managers and coaches, and sometimes the media.
How Should Team Managers Be Selected?
The association’s bylaws should authorize the head coach to select the team manager from among mothers or fathers who express an interest in serving. If more than one parent steps forward, the coach might opt to spread the responsibility among them. To help avoid hurt feelings, I would sometimes select a manager before the team and parents assembled for the first time.
Selection by the coach encourages cohesiveness among the team’s leadership. The team manager is the coaches’ liaison with the parents, the only parent guaranteed to maintain constant contact with all the others, usually beyond the coaches’ earshot. The manager can maintain team harmony, or the manager can sow the seeds of dissension. Once the board of directors has expressed its confidence in the coaches by appointing them, the board should permit the coaches to select a manager they know they can work with, perhaps subject to board approval as a formality.
How Should Coaches Work With the Team Manager?
I considered the team manager to be a full-fledged member of the staff, someone with special perspectives that no coach could easily duplicate. The manager is the coaches’ eyes and ears, usually the only person to maintain regular contact with the parents before, during and after games.
Because the team manager may have a better sense of the parents’ pulse than the coaches do, I would often use the manager as a sounding board to learn what the parents were thinking. I did not expect the manager to tattle or tell stories out of class, but I relied on the manager’s candor. More than once, the manager suggested solid initiatives and approaches that had not even occurred to me. Managers sometimes also saved me from decisions that only they sensed would prove unworkable or unwise.
How Should the Team Thank the Manager?
Thank-you means giving credit where credit is due. Throughout the season, the manager’s name belongs on the team roster, listed along with head coach and assistant coaches in all souvenir booklets and programs at home and on the road. When the manager suggests an initiative or approach, the coaches should thank the manager publicly, either in conversation or in their e-mails to the parents.
Post-season banquets leave me uncomfortable when families present thank-you gifts to the coaches and mementos to the players, yet overlook the team manager, who may have devoted more hours to the squad than some of the coaches. I repeat what I said in my column two weeks ago: “When people do someone else a good turn, they earn the right to be thanked.”
In my experience, a year-end gift for the team manager means the most when it comes directly from the other parents, who owe their gratitude. On our teams, the coaches would also chip in because the manager served everyone, including us. By the end of the season, I shuddered to think what my life would have been like for the past few months without a manager to share the load and do much of the heavy lifting. Long before the end of the season, saying thank-you was easy.