I am currently in my tenth year at Onalaska as a football coach and my sixth as head coach. When I took over as head coach I dreaded interactions with parents. I rarely saw them as positive experiences and they usually cost me a lot of sleep at night. As I have grown as a coach I have realized this: the more you get parents involved in positive ways in your program, the less they contact you in negative ways. Here are some of the ways that we have gotten our parents and community involved in our football program.
Each year in January on the weekend before the Super Bowl we have a tailgate party for community members, young and old, who have special needs or disabilities. We ask for donations from parents in the form of food, desserts, beverages, and a little bit of time. We ask their sons to come out and play tailgate style games with the community members who attend our event. Our Freshmen coach Josh Lichty brought this idea from Menominee where his father Bob coached for many years. It has become one of the highlights of the year. Our athletes get to serve community members by providing them a night of entertainment and friendship. Our parents get to see their sons serving their community. The feedback from this event has been tremendous from all involved. Businesses have donated prizes, food, and asked to be contacted again next year. It is an awesome event for our athletes to experience and the parents love to be a part of it.
This year we held our first ever Pancake Breakfast for the mothers of our athletes. We held it the Saturday after our scrimmage and every mother, step mother, mother figure or our athletes was invited. The players were put in charge of getting all supplies and food items without using mom’s money or time. The boys cooked pancakes for their mothers while the moms relaxed. Some of the moms had a hard time not taking over on the griddle for their son and some of the pancakes were a little questionable but the event was a huge success. After breakfast we held a mini clinic for the mothers where we talked about the basic positions and rules of football. Overall the event was a huge success that I have received nothing but positive feedback about. The best part of it was, it was a very easy thing to do, that cost almost nothing and helped show moms a very positive viewpoint of football.
An idea that we are taking from Jed Kennedy at Brookfield Central this year is that we are going to invite the dads of our players onto the field pregame, and into the locker room for the pregame speech for one game this year. Many dads played high school football themselves and would do anything to experience it in some fashion again. We are going to give them the opportunity to share the pregame moment with their son. I think that this will be an incredibly memorable night for our seniors and their fathers.
A few years ago I was watching a playoff game involving Rice Lake. As the game grew closer to a close the Rice Lake fans started lining the fence. They were winning by a good margin, but not one fan left the game early. Instead they stood by the fence and waited to congratulate their team. After shaking hands with the opponent the entire Rice Lake team walked through the line created along the fence by the parents and thanked them for coming to the game. The parents congratulated them on their game the players showed gratitude for their fans who traveled over two hours to watch them. I have since asked our parents to do the same after each game. One time last year I forgot to send the players to the parents and I had text messages reminding me how much they liked the newly created tradition and to remember next game. It is a simple gesture that creates a strong bond between the players and the fans. I stress to the parents that no matter the result of the game, I want them to congratulate our players on their effort. They have been there every week, win or lose, to support our players.
Parents invest a lot in our programs. They spend a lot of time driving their athletes to practices, summer training sessions, camps, and other events. They spend a lot of money on different aspects of the sport. They want to be involved in their child’s athletic career. Find different ways to get your parents involved in a positive manner. It is not easy to give parents access to your program. What I have found though, is that if you give them ways to be involved instead of them creating their own involvement, the negative interactions decrease and they have more buy in to what your program is about.
As a coach I strongly believe that our sports are a tool for us to teach life lessons to our athletes. I believe that teaching our players to serve others is an utmost priority. When parents see their athletes serving others and giving back to the community they see the bigger picture. When parents see the bigger picture, the emails and phone calls become a little less, the complaining in the stands becomes a little less, and the culture of your program grows in a positive way. We will never run a perfect program. The complaints, phone calls, and emails will never cease fully, but if you can cut down on them, it’s worth it. Thank you to Travis Wilson at WSN for offering me a platform to share some of the good things our athletes and parents are doing in our community.
Written by Onalaska football coach Tom Yashinsky, who is entering his 6th season as head coach and 10th in the program.