Athletic Triangle

Updated Friday March 20, 2015 by EN Youth Baseball.

The Athletic Triangle

Coach, Parent, and Player Relationships

The most important dynamic in the athletic triangle (composed of coach, parent and player) is the ability to communicate with each other. This can be a difficult task, especially for those new to the game. When dealing with issues of communication, the child’s welfare should be the underlying factor in the content of what is addressed. Factors that effect open communication include adult inadequacies in communication, such as “when” to communicate with a coach or their child, problems at home that carry over to the field, egos, coaching incompetence, and poor skill levels of the player.  Communication can never be confrontational in nature and I assure you no one enjoys being asked tough questions in public or within earshot of peers, whether it is other coaches or parents, especially when responding to opinions on player’s ability and role on the team.  This conversation should take place away from the field with limited distractions and in as private a setting as possible.  A phone call at a good time for both parties can suffice.  I’ve been around coaches that have stated to their teams “never call me at home unless it is an emergency”.  This obviously shuts down any chance of an open communication atmosphere and is usually made by a veteran coach who has had his/her share of run-ins with unreasonable parents whether perceived or true.

The role of the parent is crucial to the successful or positive athletic experience of their child and we as administrators often overlook this facet of the learning experience that is taking place.  We spend time educating our coaches but should also spend time educating our parents to better equip them with skills to handle the emotional and physical highs and lows their children will experience.  Ideally, parents serve as the main support system for their child’s participation and are understandably “looking out” for their children’s physical and emotional well being.  So, parents often only look at the experience from the viewpoint of the player and particularly just their son/daughter and have unintentional disregard for teammates.  Coaches are taught, but do not always achieve, to be inclusive of the entire team in there management.  Not an easy task, in fact, probably the most difficult one that a coach face because it is a constant challenge to try to be fair to so many people at one time.  If you have coached at any level on any team sport you know from which I speak, if not, I encourage you to wear a coaches shoes for at least one day to truly appreciate this position of leadership.

I tell the same thing to coaches, players, and parents who have never umpired a game before to try it to better understand that point of view. A parent’s inability to support a coach simply undermines the coach’s ability to effectively coach their son/daughter.  For example, if a mom or dad critiques a coach’s performance in front of their child, it is automatically believed by the player to be fact.  Even if the comment is as off-handed as saying, “ coach should be playing you at this position” or  “you should be the starting shortstop not Timmy”.  The ramifications of this scenario could be very harmful in a strong “athletic triangle” bond.  The intentions of the parent may be to enhance their child’s self esteem by such a comment without even realizing the potential harm it may cause. Positive reinforcement is the only clear answer and if parents cannot offer this up to their child, they should be silent, work to improve their respect for the coach, and work to improve their communication skills.

How should a parent handle a situation in which he/she feels that their child was treated unfairly?  First of all, try to avoid undermining the coach with respect to their child. Next, a parent needs to be able to identify specific tasks and abilities that can describe your child. For example, a list of strengths that are clearly observable by reasonable spectators, such as hustle, effort, certain skills, attitude, even punctuality and discipline. These same qualities can be mentioned to coaches during times of open communication.

Typical questions that are reasonable for coaches to be asked are; what is my son/daughter’s role on the team? What should he/she be working on away from practice?  The coach should be able to identify specific areas of physical and mental skills needed for improvement for more success. Also, of equal importance is the ability of the parent to have equally compelling evidence of superior play that is being under-utilized.  A simple, “all the other parents think… or “last year coach Smith let him play first base all the time and bat clean up”.  The final outcome of any communication efforts between coach and parent will result in one of four outcomes: 1) The coach acknowledges his oversight and makes adjustments 2) the coach agrees to look for further evidence of progress on the players part or re-evaluate their role on the team 3) the parent agrees to disagree with the coach yet decides to maintain a positive approach 4) the parent decides that no action was taken by the coach and contacts the ENYBL division representative.

We should all remember that the adults are there to organize, supervise, teach, and offer support all in a safe and supportive atmosphere. In spite of disagreements with coaches and other parents the kids deserve our attempt as coaches and parents to remain positive. Parents are the ultimate role models with coaches a close second.  Remember, respect the game and all of its components, and let the game be the teacher, be supportive, and by all means have some FUN with it.

Thanks to all our parents and coaches!


Adam Rothenberger

Vice President

EN Youth Baseball League


* References: Mike Reilly SYSL Director of Soccer Operations November 2005


The Athletic Triangle ENYBLv2.pdf

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