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How to Talk With Your Child's Coach

Facing problems on the playing field? Talk to the coach first.

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Catch problems before they escalate by talking with the coach.

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If your child is dissatisfied with her youth sports experience, or you are, it's important to talk to her coach. Rather than seeing him as the cause of any problems, look at him as an ally who can help improve your child's sports experience. So discuss problems with him openly and honestly. Here's how.

Who: Plan for a meeting with just you and the coach. This should be a private conversation; there is less chance of the coach feeling cornered or criticized. The exception: A situation where other parents share your concerns. Then consider a team parent meeting instead.

What: To make your discussion successful, aim for a face-to-face meeting if possible. Phone or email chats can leave more room for misunderstandings.

Know your goal ahead of time, and have a plan. You might describe the problems as you see them (as neutrally as possible; come prepared with notes and examples), and mention how your child feels or is affected. Be ready to suggest a resolution, but also ask for the coach's perspective and feedback. She may have some additional information that you hadn't considered.

When: Schedule a time that's convenient for both of you, remembering to be respectful of the coach's other obligations. Don't buttonhole him after a game or practice, when he's busy and distracted.

Where: A neutral location is typically best, so no one feels at a disadvantage. But choose a place that's comfortable. If that means home, go for it.

Why: Problems that might merit talking to the coach include a lack of playing time, favoritism, bullying among players, safety issues, a feeling that your child isn't learning the skills he needs, or a worry that your child is discouraged.

How: Body language and tone of voice are important. Aim for calm, assertive, non-threatening, and respectful. Don't make problems worse by being angry or defensive. It helps to use "I" statements: "I feel that my son needs to try some different playing positions" (vs. "You never let my kid play goalie"). Try "active listening," in which you reflect back what the coach is saying; that helps keep misunderstandings to a minimum.

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