Creating Healthy Parent Involvement: The Coach’s Role

summarized by David DeWinter
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Dr. Travis Dorsch – Associate Professor and Founding Director, Families in Sport Lab in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Utah State University

The 3-Sentence Summary

To provide the best experience for their athletes, coaches can no longer ignore the impact of parental involvement at all levels of their program. Coaches must make an effort to engage with and educate parents on the sport itself and on the best ways to support their athletes. There are three main ways to do so: (1) model the behavior you want to see from parents, (2) encourage parents to lead with positive interactions with their kids and coaches, and (3) build strong connections with your best parents so they can be examples for others.



2:13 – The US Sports System (Diagram) is a series of feedback loops centered on the athlete, involving the athlete’s parents, siblings, peers, coaches, and communities. No one group is isolated.

3:40 Why athletes participate:

  • Develop and demonstrate physical competence
  • Attain approval and acceptance from adults and peers
  • Enjoy their experience

4:47 How parents stay involved:

  • Provide/enable the experience for their kids
  • Act as role models – behavior and active lifestyle
  • Interpret experiences with their kids, both success and failure

Parent Fundamentals

6:18 Four Cornerstones of Parenting:

  • 6:32 Affordance: provide athletes the opportunities to be independent in their sports journey. This leads to greater intrinsic motivation, enjoyment, and commitment.
  • 8:02 Alignment: align athlete’s goals with parent’s expectations and with coach’s goals. Parents should be clear about their own expectations so they can drive the alignment within the family and with the team/organization.
  • 9:25 Acceptance: encourage athletes to share openly about their experiences. Parents should build safe environments for communication.
  • 10:12 Awareness: Parents should engage with care and reflect on where they stand in the other three cornerstones.

11:39 This talk provides the what (Principles). It is up to you to define the how (Practices) for your program.

13:10 Reminders for Parents

  • Growth is not linear. Remind parents to be patient through peaks and valleys.
  • Sport sampling and sport specialization are not mutually exclusive. Late in high school is okay to specialize if the athlete has the autonomy to make that decision. Reminder parents that it’s okay to provide multiple different experiences (sports-based or non-sports-based). We’re trying to raise better humans, not just better rowers.

21:55 Encourage positive interactions among parents <-> athletes <-> coaches <-> parents… It’s much better for the athletes.

Understanding Sport Parents

23:24 Old model: control parents’ behavior and this leads to the best athlete outcomes.

New model: encourage parents to know themselves, know their athletes, and know the sport.

25:20 Reflect: what were the key behaviors of the best parent(s) you’ve worked with?

  • Let the athlete take the lead
  • Supported me as a coach, supported the team and the club’s mission
  • Cared about me (coach) as a person

Model of Parent Engagement

27:46 Parents don’t fit cleanly into one bucket in all contexts.

Not Engaged Neutral Somewhat Engaged Engaged
Effective Transformational
Neutral Neutral Transactional
Ineffective Laissez-faire Toxic

28:46 Toxic: Angry, hostile, anti-social

  • Recommendation: Have a private conversation with those parents.
  • Address negative behavior immediately. Create common ground (“I know you very much have your daughter’s best interest at heart. Here’s where I think we can come to an understanding on the best way to use that…”)

31:48 Laissez-faire: disinterested, avoiding.

  • Distinguish parents who don’t care from parents who care and let athletes have their space

33:01 Neutral: passive, unsure, usually new parents trying to learn the sport.

  • Encourage them to become more engaged and effective by reaching out and sharing knowledge with them.

34:55 Transactional: Focused on outcomes and rewards/punishes based on victories vs. errors. Have a conversation if they detract from the team’s or athlete’s experience.

36:44 Transformational: “Model parents.” Use these parents as exemplars for other parents.

38:21 Your goal as a coach is to foster parent-athlete interactions that develop competence, confidence, connection, and character. This is what transformational parents do.

The Coach’s Role

41:20 Model the behavior you want to see in your parents.

42:09 Example behaviors:

  • Idealized Influence: Do what is right, rather than convenient. Own your mistakes.
  • Inspirational Motivation: Create a vision of how we achieve goals. Believe in your athletes and challenge them to grow even further.
  • Intellectual Stimulation: Emphasize learning over outcomes. Give athletes and parents opportunities to lead.
  • Individualized Consideration: Show that you care. They are not just rowers; they are people, too.


45:23 Small changes, consistently applied, make a big difference.

Practice reflection: is what we’re doing today making my athletes…

  • Become more competent?
  • Feel more confident?
  • Develop connections?
  • Build their character?

46:36 “It is not what you do for young people, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” – Ann Landers

47:12 Travis’s contact info


48:32 In the youth space, what are some do’s and don’ts of communication?

Know thyself. How do you want to be communicated with? This gives you the room to create a set of expectations to your athletes and ask them to share that with their parents.

51:32 How do you encourage neutral parents to mix with transformational parents?

Plant seeds. Bring the transformational parents that you get along with on as confidantes–encourage them to continue their behavior, share behaviors that aren’t conducive to building culture.

Befriend the parents that don’t share your philosophy. Listen and share. They can become your greatest advocates.

54:34 Are transformational parents born or made?

It’s nature via nurture. Setting expectations is so important to build culture. Toxic parents can become transformational. Apply a growth mindset because it is possible.

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