The following is one of a series of articles on the changes in high school football in Alabama over the last decade.
Of all of the changes in prep football over the last decade or so, coaches believe that the way parents view their son's team, coaching staff and the game itself have caused them to look for new strategies to deal with the latest generation of parents.
"The best parents we have today are as good or better than at anytime in my coaching career," one veteran 4A coach commented. "But there are so many more problems with parents that come from so many different directions. I spend way too much time trying to prevent parent issues and dealing with their problems than I really should."
Most of the negative parent issues today can be placed into four categories.
1) The Football Scholarship - If the child had athletic success in grade school, parents start seeing it as a way to pay for college. They put pressure on their son to gain size and strength and to compete hard. Sooner or later that pressure is also put on the head coach to play him early and put him in a position where he can achieve stardom and be noticed. If the player isn't starting as a sophomore, the parents will threaten to take him to another school. One 7A head coach said that all of the recruiting sites have added to the problem. "Parents see a list of possible recruits and are upset that their son is not on there. They want us to promote their son and forget about everyone else." One successful Birmingham head coach said, "College recruiting is king now, not team ownership." So many parents today are much less interested in coaches who will teach character and discipline and more about the ones that have contacts to college coaches. "This scholarship thing has created selfish players that are stat driven and care less about team success," a 4A head coach said. The college name, image and likeness money has created an even greater pressure on coaches to get the almighty scholarship. "The football scholarship," one 3A assistant said, "has turned into a lottery ticket for some parents. They believe he will get NIL money now and go to the pros in 3 years." If this does not happen, often the coach is to blame.
2) Playing Time - We live in a world of instant gratification and players and parents want playing time NOW. The days of working up through the JV team, being a back up and then starting as a junior or senior are gone for a lot of families. Especially if they are starting in another sport. "Parents will just tell them to quit football and concentrate on basketball since they aren't getting to start," a 7A head coach said. Another head coach said that parents come and complain, comparing their child's ability to the one playing in front of him. Often they have already discussed it with other parents and complained in the bleachers during the game. "I have found that most parents have a very unrealistic view of their son's abilities," one 2A coach commented. "At the end of the day, he is just not quite fast enough to be the starting running back." Making the player accountable for his workouts, practice and academics to help him succeed doesn't always have the support of the parents. "Some think we are too hard and require too much, especially if their son is not getting to play a lot," one 5A coach said. Coaches have been accused of everything from racial bias to religious beliefs for not playing the son enough. One 3A coach relayed this story. "I was told by one father that the only reason the other kid was getting more playing time than his son was that that the other father was a friend of mine. I told him, 'I don't play kids based on whether or not I like their parents and I can prove it. Because if that was true, your son wouldn't be playing at all."
3) Social Media - If a parent has complaints and wants to get some attention, all they have to do today is go on some type of social media and give their opinion. Part of the problem is that when many people see something that is written on the internet, they believe it to be true. It is not unusual for a parent to go on Facebook and talk about firing the coach during the season. The parents of today have become much more negatively vocal than in past generations. The internet has created experts in many subjects, including coaching football. Parents today think they understand coaching, strength training and offensive and defensive strategy. "They know exactly why we lost the game or why we aren't having a winning season," a 1A coach said. "They love to show everyone how smart they are." Some of today's helicopter parents want to record everything their son does. "We just lost a tough contest and the mother is out there taking pictures on the field after the game," one south Alabama coach said. "They post photos after every game." Another coach said they have to bus to their home field and "we can't get them on the bus because they are taking family photos." Some parents are constantly promoting their own children with pictures, videos and stats. Others will hit Facebook and blame losses on individual players or coaches or most often - the officials. It is a bad look for any team.
4) Pressure to Win - Most coaches put plenty of pressure on themselves, but today parents pressure administrators as well as the head coach to win games. There are some schools that year in and year out just don't have enough bodies or enough athletes to have great success. Sometimes the quarterback moves out of town or you have one of those years when you get some critical injuries. Some parents understand but most put all the blame on the coach. And the answer is to get a new one. Coaches have had to deal with parents on the way to the locker room after a tough loss or coming off the practice field. By mid season, administrators are getting visits from angry parents. These same parents go home at night and criticize the coaching staff in front of their son or even worse, to a whole group of players. This changes the attitude of the team and leads to even less success. Less team success means less exposure and hurts the chance that the son will get a scholarship. "Parents need coaches in the lives of their children more now than every before," one north Alabama coach said. "Yet there is probably less respect for what we do than there has ever been."
Some of today's best coaches have come up with some ideas and strategies to help the parent gone crazy syndrome.
1) Communication - it is the key to solving most parental problems. But is is a dish best served as an appetizer before real problems can turn up. A before season parent meeting is a must today. In such a gathering, the head coach can cover everything from practice schedules to equipment. Most importantly, it is a great time to discuss player and parent roles, insurance, and playing time as well as rules for practice and other situations. Parents love calendars. There are apps to communicate with everyone by text messaging today which can be a great way to communicate any changes in schedule. How to approach the coach with a problem is a great topic, and can lead to a much better situation when they arise. Parents today don't necessarily know their parental boundaries and roles, so coaches should communicate that. Coaches should try and get to know every parent, and have cell numbers and emails. Encouraging parents to stay around for some further discussion allows the meeting to be shorter, yet would allow those who want to talk about some specific things the opportunity to do so. If a parent is upset about something, ask them to stay and talk after the meeting rather than doing it in front of everyone. Communication about injuries are a must as well during the season. Many parents get upset if a player comes home with an injury but there has been no communication with the coach, even if they have heard from the trainer. A quick phone call will take care of those issues. Communication is everything in dealing with parents, whether the coach wants to do it or not.
2) Recruiting Meeting - Although this is also communication, such a meeting is necessary because of the scholarship issues today. Parents know little or nothing about the process, and educating them will help greatly. They can learn about the different divisions of college football and the size and speed requirements of each. It is important for the parents to know the roles of the coaches, players and parents in the process. Camps, recruiting services, academics and test scores (great place to involve the guidance counselor) can be discussed. This meeting should be player and parent voluntary.
3) Don't Let Problems with Parents Simmer - If a parent is causing a problem on the outside, the coach should call that parent and set up a face to face meeting as soon as possible. At times it might be good to include another coach on the staff that the player is close to. This could be about the conduct of the parent at games, comments about other players or coaches, etc. If there are parents that the coach believes might help with the situation, they should call on their help.
4) Involve Parents When Possible - Encourage them to get involved in the booster club, but don't hesitate to include those who are eager to help with other team functions when possible. This may be about a team social event or meal functions, banquets or other events. Parents love to serve watermelon after a hot practice or help paint the field for the game. Show them ways they can get involved. Your good parents can often get some of the others involved and maybe change their attitude about things. If the team needs a new sled, talk to some of the go getters about it. Parents love to raise money for a specific team project and others are more likely to write that check for a specific item rather than just donating to the booster club. If you can get the parents team oriented, it is bound to help with the players. Use your good parents to talk to other parents and players to help get them on board with the team. Parents love to help the team on the outside and will seldom turn you down.
5) Listen - Believe it or not, most parents who complain just want someone to listen to them. Have a sit down and let them talk. Learning how the different parents think can go a long way to helping you prevent issues in the future. If necessary, apologize for something you might have said or done that they may have misinterpreted. The quarterback's father may want to talk about the offense you are going to run next year. Just because you listen to him doesn't mean you have to do anything he suggests. But giving him a little respect should silence him if he is a potential problem.
The bottom line is that working with the parents - whether good or bad - has become an essential part of coaching high school football. Parents love high school football and are going to talk about your team. As the coach, make sure that they are saying more good about you, your staff and team than bad.