COMMUNICATING WITH THE PARENTS: Part Three of Doug Abrams’ Column on the Power of E-Mail

Using E-mail to Communicate With the Team’s Parents (Part Three)

By Doug Abrams

 Parts One and Two of this three-part column urged community youth league coaches to consider using email to share observations and explanations with parents before, during, and after the season.

Part One provided emails that I, as head coach, wrote and sent during pre-season practice sessions to the parents on the Central Missouri Eagles, our 9-10-year-old Squirt hockey team a few years ago. Part Two provided emails sent to the Eagles parents during the regular season. Together the Parts presented a template for community youth league coaches who seek to enhance communication with parents.

Part Three now closes the trilogy by providing (again in italics) my emails to the parents during the league’s post-season playoffs, a single-elimination tournament for all eight teams that led to the State Championship Game, with its surprises for the Eagles.

The Playoffs: “The Path Is Always Strewn With Uncertainties”

As in any tournament, only one team could win the title. The coaches urged parents to control their expectations and continue their positive outlook:

 “Playoff tournaments are adventures, and the path is strewn with uncertainties. The players understand the meaning of post-season playoffs, and they will play their hardest, as they have while the team progressed during the regular season. (Now that we have finished with a winning record, who can remember that our first three games were two losses followed by a come-from-behind tie?)

At practice last night, the coaches told the players that if they try their best in a game, they will never regret the outcome later, win or lose. We meant it.”

* * * *

The Eagles won our opening-round playoff game against a team we had beaten twice during the season. Then we faced the first-place team in the semifinals. The game was tied late in the third period, but . . .

“The players took yesterday’s 4-3 loss hard because it came in single-elimination playoffs and ended our season.  The game was close, and our players finished with the grace they have shown all year, by shaking the other team’s hands in the proud hockey tradition.

Shaking hands after losing can be tough, especially when the team plays as well as we did yesterday. In recent years, some youth leagues in various sports have even considered dispensing with the post-game handshakes following trouble in the line. A few hundred youth hockey teams played in America this weekend, and half the teams lost. No team behaved with more class than our players did.

In the locker room after the game, we told the players that the parents and coaches are proud of everything they accomplished all season; that the other team yesterday wanted to win as badly as we did; that in an evenly-matched game, someone loses; and that every Eagles player will have future opportunities to shine in hockey again.” 

* * * *

With the playoffs over for us, the coaches sent the parents another wrap-up message a day later. We spoke not only about the players’ on-ice performance, but also about the team’s community service project, which the players had selected and performed earlier in the season:

“We chalked up achievements thoroughly impressive for a team of 9- and 10-year-olds. As the players developed their skills, they carried the team as far as their abilities permitted; earned opposing coaches’ praise for sportsmanship; finished the regular season with a winning record; and advanced to the State Championship semifinals.

The players learned citizenship and empathy by collecting hundreds of cans of food for the Central Missouri Food Bank, the local agency that in these difficult times serves children and their families who find themselves in less fortunate circumstances than our team’s families.

Each player assumed an important role, and no player warmed the bench. The season is over, and the coaches hope that the families will remember the past few months with relish. All team members — adults and players alike — share credit for a job well done. It was a good run.”

* * * *

It was time for many of the players to turn to baseball and other spring sports — or so we thought until I received an unexpected phone call from the State Championship Tournament director two days later. The two teams that were slated to face off in the upcoming Championship game had just been disqualified. “Would your team,” the director asked, “like to play next weekend for the State Championship against the other team that had narrowly lost their semifinal game?”

Our team manager polled the parents, and the answer was a unanimous “yes.” After two hastily scheduled practices, we drove to St. Louis for title game and won, 7-6. In just two weeks, the  Eagles had lost and then won the State Championship, a winding path that few teams ever travel.

The coaches sent this email a few hours after our victory in the title game:

“We are so pleased that our players will savor the State Championship because they are good kids. Coaches can teach individual and team skills, but we cannot teach goodness, hustle, desire, dedication, camaraderie, and the other intangibles that define teamwork. Guided by their parents, players must bring the intangibles to the rink with them.

Even if we had lost this morning’s game, each player was already a winner for what really counts. A cooperative scoreboard was icing on the cake. To quote the earlier email: ‘All team members — adults and players alike — share credit for a job well done. It was a good run.’”

* * * *

A few days later, the coaches sent the parents another farewell message. Unlike the earliest playoff emails, this one followed a narrow victory, not a narrow defeat. Still, another “teaching opportunity” beckoned:

“When we lost the close semifinal game, we saw long faces in the locker room afterwards because the players took the State Championship series seriously and the loss really hurt. Quite a turnabout now when we see the photograph of the players beaming with the medals around their necks and the State Championship banner in front of them moments after the final game! I emailed the photograph to one of my own former coaches yesterday, and his reaction hit the target: ‘There is nothing like the smiles of a champion. If only we could freeze that feeling for moments when we need it.’

The real lesson from the post-season’s unusual ending concerns not the reward of winning, but the work it takes to win. When two evenly matched teams face off, the winner is usually the team that prepared harder for the game, and then tries harder in the game. Before players can score, they must make sacrifices that might not seem like fun at the moment. Sacrifices such as doing the drills, doing windsprints at the end of practice, scrimmaging hard, and waking up at least three hours before an early-morning game. The Eagles players made sacrifices, and the result speaks for itself.

 The Eagles had some good fortune during the season, perhaps even some ‘luck.’ But, as golfer Gary Player said, ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’”

* * * * 

A week after the State Championship game, the team appeared on the mid-Missouri NBC-TV affiliate’s morning show, whose host praised the players as winners on and off the ice. A week later, the team appeared on the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives and the lawmakers unanimously passed a Resolution honoring the players for “developing and maintaining an excellent reputation for sportsmanship and fair play,” and for “collecting several hundred cans of food for [local food banks] that assist mid-Missouri children and families in need.”

Three weeks after the title game and the appearances on television and the House floor, the coaches urged the parents to look ahead:

“The players feel proud for giving 100% effort all season, and parents should feel proud for your unwavering support and encouragement. As you guide your players in future sports seasons, continue focusing on what is really important. Urge your players to have fun. Urge them to train hard for every game and to compete earnestly. Urge them to strive for victory, respect sportsmanship, and carry their teams as far as their abilities permit.

The players met and exceeded our reasonable expectations, and they did it the right way – with sportsmanship and fair play. Unexpected youth league championships such as ours can be the most memorable championships of all because the players reach the pinnacle on their own terms, without coping all season with needless pressure. Would the players have had fun, and would they have achieved so much, if their parents and coaches had dropped hints all season that success depended on winning the state title?

Everyone should take happy memories from this rewarding season. Lasting memories frozen in time. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, a youth league team’s greatest achievements often lie in ‘the journey, not the destination.’ The Eagles’ journey became a roller coaster near the end, but the kids had a great ride.”