Strategize for First Parent Meeting

February 25, 2015

By Scott Westfall
MSU Institute for the Study of Youth Sports

Coaches often cite parents as one of the most uncontrollable and frustrating aspects of coaching.

Let’s face it, when this relationship goes south, there can be pent-up frustration and hard feelings between the two parties which can result in a negative experience for everyone involved – especially the player who is often caught in the middle.

Establishing positive relationships with parents should happen from the moment you stand in front of them at your annual parent meeting.

Throughout this meeting, parents will be asking themselves: “Can I trust this coach with my child?” “Will this coach be fair in his/her decisions?” and “Will this coach always have my child’s best intentions in mind?”

In order to put them at ease, you must do everything possible to establish yourself as a person of integrity who is altruistic and 100 percent trustworthy. Below is a coaching checklist that will help you establish trust and credibility with your team’s parents:

Transparency – Do things openly and share information as much as possible. If something bad happens on your team, be sure that you do not sweep it under the rug. Be open and consistent with your decisions, and always follow through on what you say you are going to do.

Demonstrate Respect – Be polite and sincere with parents and let your actions show that you care. Sometimes the little things you do will resonate louder than the big things.

List Expectations – Have high expectations for the conduct of both the players and parents in your program. List these expectations, distribute them, and then talk about them with the parents. Meanwhile, let them know what they can expect from you in return (proper dress attire, appropriate language, great sportsmanship, impeccable conduct, proper treatment of game officials, etc.).

Express Loyalty – As often as possible, be sure to praise your players, assistants, and the people associated with your program. Be sure that you never take credit for other people’s work, and remember to use the word “we” as often as possible.

Be Accountable – This means taking the blame for bad results– even when it wasn’t necessarily your mistake. Admitting when something goes wrong on your watch doesn’t mean that you are a bad coach or you’ve lost control of your program. True leaders are accountable for the mistakes that happen in their programs.

Deliver Results – This is not necessarily wins and losses. Instead, deliver results on the things that really matter, such as developing a respectable team, coaching players with all passing grades and having players who do not get into trouble or break the law.

No parent meeting would be complete without a healthy dose of paperwork. To make it easier for parents to keep these papers organized, try to color-coordinate the forms and go over them slowly one at a time.

Below are the basic documents you should supply at the parent meeting (Note: Try to also have these documents accessible on your team’s website):

Coaching Philosophy – Drafting a coaching philosophy will allow parents to better understand who you are and the reasons you coach. In this document, be sure to include your fundamental beliefs along with your personal approach to coaching. (Note: Be honest in this section – Do not advertise yourself as one type of coach, but then act like another). Include a lot of “I statements” such as, “I coach for the purpose of teaching life lessons,” “I believe that student comes before athlete,” and, “I am demanding but never demeaning.” Developing and drafting a coaching philosophy not only gives parents insight into you and your program, but it also gives you an opportunity to reflect upon why you do things the way you do.

Team Policies – This is perhaps the most important document you will distribute to your team’s parents. It should list all team rules pertaining to player conduct, grades, eligibility, attendance, discipline, communication, and of course playing time! Include statements such as, “Playing time is earned – not given,” “All decisions will be made based on what is best for the team,” and, “If you have a problem, please talk to the coach.” Inform parents that student-athletes will receive equal opportunities but not equal things. These opportunities include instruction, off-season strength and conditioning programs, and support for their classes. How well student-athletes take advantage of these opportunities (attendance, focus, effort, attitude, and self-discipline) often dictates their levels of success. (Note: Before distributing this document, make sure your school’s administration/athletic director supports your team policies 100 percent).

Student-Athlete Character Contract – While many schools have had an athletic code of conduct in place for years, teams today are including an additional written set of norms for players to follow. A character contract outlines how players agree to conduct themselves as a person, student, and athlete. If you want to create more buy-in, consider drafting this contract each season with your players!

Parent Pledge Form – This document establishes the expectations you have for the parents in your program. Be sure that you include expectations for their conduct at games, having a positive disposition around the team, the treatment of players on your team along with the treatment of your opponents, letting the coaches coach, and how to act toward game officials.

Team Calendar – Be sure to include detailed information on the times and locations of all practices, team events, games, and places that players need to be. If changes are made to the team calendar throughout the course of the season, be sure you inform parents through several forms of communication (a printed note sent home, an announcement on the team website, email list, social media, etc.).

Athletic Physicals – While most doctors’ offices have a copy of these blank forms on hand, it is convenient for parents to have access to them through your school.  

Athletic Fees (if you are a “pay for play” district) – Some districts have a mandatory athletic participation fee, while other districts do not. Some districts have a waiver form for students who are on free/reduced lunch. In any of these cases, make sure you are on top of this information so you can properly inform your team’s parents at the meeting.

Conflict Resolution – The occasional conflict is almost inevitable while working in an emotionally charged environment such as athletics. However, conflicts can often be avoided or at least more easily resolved through proper forms of communication.

  • Inform parents that you are always willing to listen to their concerns; let them know that you would prefer they address an issue with you, rather than taking their frustrations to the next game and venting to anybody in the bleachers who is willing to listen.
  • In your team documents consider a statement such as, “The best tool we have in our relationship is an open line of communication. My door is always open and so is my mind.”
  • Finally, be sure to let them know that if they are upset about something to not send it through email. Email is good for information, but not communication. Try to communicate and resolve conflicts in person as much as possible.

Once you have established trust and credibility with your team’s parents, you can start building the relationship. Caution: Building a relationship with your team’s parents is not developing close friendships with them. Becoming close friends with parents actually can lead to bigger problems as you open yourself to criticism of playing favorites. Instead, build working relationships, generated through mutual respect and understanding for each other’s position in the quest of helping the young individual become a successful student-athlete. These working relationships help parents understand their optimal level of involvement, such as where and how they can fit into your program. Below are some tips for building working relationships with parents:

  • Learn their names and where they work.
  • Learn what the family likes to do when they are outside of the school setting.
  • Invite them to a team event such as a team picnic, fundraiser, or team trip.
  • Ask parents for help with certain jobs. Many parents appreciate being asked to help with team functions as it gives them an opportunity to get to know other parents and makes them feel like they matter.
  • Call them at least once per season to say hello, report on their child’s progress, and ask if there is anything you can do to be of assistance.
  • Offer additional support for their child. Helping the student-athlete outside of coaching with things such as academics and typical teen issues shows you care.
  • Offer support to the parents as well. If they are struggling to get a message across to their child, oftentimes a coach sending or reinforcing the same message makes all the difference. As a coach you hold a powerful platform with your student-athletes; use it to help with their development and maturity whenever possible.

Establishing yourself as a trustworthy and credible coach is the first step in getting parents to buy into your program. Meanwhile, providing parents with sufficient information will help them feel like you are keeping them informed and want them as a partner in your program.

Creating working relationships with parents takes time, but will be the cornerstone in establishing a positive experience for the years their children are involved with your program. While some parents may have a different background or mindset, listing your expectations will help them better understand your team’s culture and how they can fit in.

If done right, these positive working relationships should alleviate much of your coaching frustration and pay tremendous dividends in the future.

Scott Westfall has spent the last 10 years as a teacher, coach, and athletic director in Fort Collins, Colo. He currently is working on his Doctorate at Michigan State University, with an emphasis in Sport Psychology and Athletic Administration, and assisting the MHSAA with its student leadership programs. Westfall is a former athlete who participated in football, wrestling, tennis and cross country at the high school level, and rugby at the collegiate level. He can be reached at [email protected].

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)