COMMUNICATING WITH THE PARENTS: The Magic – and Power – of Email from Coaches

Using Email to Communicate With the Team’s Parents (Part One)

By Doug Abrams

 Community youth sports programs and their coaches increasingly seek to maintain open lines of communication with parents before, during, and sometimes even after the season. The term “transparency” is in vogue in politics lately, and transparency also remains essential in community sports. Without substituting for ongoing face-to-face communication with parents individually or as a group, email can provide coaches a convenient, effective way to share explanations and observations.

This column presents several of the emails that I, as head coach, sent to the parents on our mid-Missouri Squirt hockey team for 9-10-year-olds a few years ago. We played in an eight-team “house gold” league (the higher Squirt house league) against St. Louis-area house teams. The season ended with playoffs and a State Championship Series.

Before the first pre-season practice session, I told the parents that I would email them a day or so after many practices and games to report what the coaches said to the players in the locker room, on the ice, and on the bench. I sensed that the parents would reinforce our messages about teamwork, fair play, 100% effort, and similar values if we coaches took the lead.

Email or other written mediums enable coaches to maintain a wholesome team environment, but a coach’s messaging with parents comes with two commonsense ground rules. First, the coach should make certain that the email distribution list contains only the parents’ email addresses, and not the players’. I urged parents to share the emails with their player if they wished, and I believe that they did share most messages. Whether to share, however, was up to the parents in their own homes.

Second, the coach should not send parents any message that would prove embarrassing if a player or any unintended third party reads it. Emails can quickly be forwarded far and wide, as one soccer coach of pre-teen girls learned to his distress a few years ago when his lame attempt at humor at some families’ expense went viral within a few hours. Humor and sarcasm often fail when words appear only in writing on the computer screen, unpunctuated by a friendly tone of voice or a wink or smile.

This column comes in three parts. Part One presents below (in italics) some of the coaches’ emails to our Squirt parents during pre-season practice sessions. Next time, Part Two will present several of our regular-season emails. Part Three will conclude the trilogy with several emails sent during and after the post-season playoffs and State Championship Series. The emails appear in their entirety, except that I have deleted names, passages that relate only to routine housekeeping matters, and passages that would repeat an earlier email’s content.

I hope that this collection of season-long emails portray a team whose parents and coaches put the players’ interests first. The coaches’ emails helped set the tone from the first pre-season practice session, through the regular season’s ups and downs, and climaxed by a surprise ending in the playoffs and State Championship Series.

Pre-Season Practice Sessions: “A Great Way to Start”

For many players and their parents, our Squirt house team was their first experience in hockey, and perhaps their first experience in organized sports. We coaches wanted every player to love hockey and participation in sports generally. Even before the first parents’ meeting, we sent this email to the parents:

 “Last night’s opening practice was a great way to start. These are good kids, they really want to play, and they get along with one another.  These three building blocks – goodness, desire, and camaraderie — signal a team that will achieve everything we are capable of achieving.

 The coaches would like each practice session and game to be a learning experience. As the players hone their hockey skills, we also want them to learn the lasting lessons that thoughtful adults teach in youth sports. With periodic emails after practices and games, the coaches will explain what we told the team and will enlist the parents’ help in reinforcing the lessons at home. Last night, the coaches conveyed three lessons:

 1)  “Mistakes.” We told the players that they must be ready and willing to make mistakes on the ice because making a mistake is the best way to learn.  Try a skill you find difficult, fall down, and then get up and try it again. At any age, some players want to practice only the skills that they think they have already mastered. They hesitate to work on more difficult skills because practicing strengths is more comfortable than practicing weaknesses. Complete players practice both.

 2)  The coaches made a “deal” with the players. If the players give 100% effort in practices and games, the coaches will support, encourage, and teach. Players will not be criticized, ridiculed, or yelled at for trying their best and doing something incorrectly. Performance suffers when players fear the reactions of coaches and teammates when something goes wrong.

 3)  The coaches told the players that a team succeeds best when all teammates are friends with one another. No cliques and no favorites. When we paired off for drills last night, some players immediately (and predictably) paired off with a friend they already knew. The coaches stopped the drill, explained why the team suffers when players favor their friends and overlook other teammates. We required each player to choose a different partner each time.”

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After the first practice, the coaches wanted to introduce our core values to the parents. This introduction came a few days before the first parents meeting, whose full agenda would include discussion about how the parents should behave in the stands at practice sessions and games. The coaches sent the parents this email:

 “A generation ago, the British Association of National Coaches captured the essence of athletic competition: ‘Sport without fair play is not sport, and honours won without fair play can have no real value.’ ‘Fair play’ surely means the sportsmanship that our coaches and parents will display all season, but fair play also means much more than that.

‘Fair play’ also means that coaches must treat their own players fairly. Ours is a house league team competing against other associations’ house teams, and every player is important to the whole. Everyone will play in every game. No benchwarmers.

When coaches try to win by taking the fun out of the game in practice sessions or games, the coaches either overlook the hurtful effect on players, or else wake up in the morning wishing for a do-over. Forgetting that the players come first does not bring honor (or, as the Brits spell it, ‘honour’), nor does it bring coaches much lasting satisfaction.”

* * * *

A few weeks later, the opening game approached:

“After practicing for more than a month, the Squirt team will play our first league game this Sunday afternoon.

1)  Ever since the first practice, we have told the players that they are responsible for leaving the locker room as clean as when they arrived. This responsibility means picking up their own tape, candy wrappers, and so forth. On the road or at home, rink employees should not have to clean up after the players. In this and other ways, our players will set the example.

2)  We will have rotating tri-captains this season, with a different three players having the opportunity each game. At this young age, being a captain is part of the leadership education that sports should teach. Each player will get three or four opportunities to be a tri-captain throughout the season. The tri-captains will help prepare the team in the locker room and then assemble the team at the net after pregame warmup, outside the coaches’ earshot. Parents can help by talking with their players about the roles of team leaders.”

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The coaches’ emails, already well received by the parents, continued during the regular season (Part II of this column), and then during the post-season playoffs and State Championship Series (Part III). More to follow next time. . . .