By Paul Harris, Head Basketball Coach, Highland Park High School and John Camardella, Head Boys Basketball Coach, Prospect High School
Former IBCA President Mike Kolze used to say that being a Head Basketball Coach is “like putting beads on a string with no knot at the bottom.” There is always something to do, especially in November. One aspect of our job that many of us dread is the general parent meeting once our team has been selected. Our Athletic Directors want us to have these meetings “to open the lines of communication” and “get everyone on the same page”. Unfortunately, these general meetings often do the opposite. It is hard to open communication when 99% of the general meeting is the coach doing the talking. And because players and parents are coming into this experience from different perspectives, it’s unlikely a ½ hour meeting will help everyone get on the same page.
As a result, we have implemented a system of communicating with players and parents that may seem dangerous, but has produced very positive results. The idea is a Home Visit for every varsity player in the program. We got the idea from current DePaul University Men’s Coach, Jerry Wainwright. When Coach Wainwright was a high school coach at Highland Park in the late 1970s and early 1980s he used the Home Visit to get to know players and their families in a more thorough way and to get the community excited about basketball. He would bring the player his uniform or a new set of practice gear as well as a gift for the parents, such as a button or bumper sticker. There is no doubt that Home Visits helped establish a positive culture in the Highland Park community.
Many coaches will say that they don’t have the time to visit each player’s home or they are fearful of opening themselves up to criticism from a disgruntled parent. While those risks exist, we have found that the rewards far outweigh any risks. The following list highlights some of the advantages we have discovered through this process.
- It allows you to tailor your presentation – a general meeting is just that, general. It is impossible to individualize your speech to fit the needs of all your players and parents. The Home Visit allows for discussion that is relevant to that particular family. For example, a coach may want to communicate differently to a player who has the potential to play in college than to a player who may not see much varsity playing time. The same is true if you are communicating with the family of a senior player versus the family of a freshman you have moved up to the varsity.
- Gives you a chance to talk about where the player fits in to your team – While this may be one of the tougher parts of the meeting, this is the part that may save you some headaches as the year goes on. One thing we guard against in these conversations is overpromising. Nothing gets coaches into trouble more with players, and with parents, than overpromising and then underdelivering. Honesty is the biggest key when discussing a player’s role. By discussing the possible roles a player will have the opportunity to compete for in front of their parents, we are doing more than getting everyone on the same page. We’re trying to get everyone on the same sentence, reading at the same speed.
- It’s a chance to see the player’s family dynamic – We can learn so much about a player by going into his/her home. This information often allows us to reach that player and in turn get the most out of him/her. It is good to know if the player is the youngest of 7 children or an only child. This information may help us to understand why the player is acting a certain way. It’s also important to know if the player has both parents living at home or if there has been a divorce or death in the family. The more information we have, the better able and prepared we are to have an impact, both on and off the court.
- It’s an opportunity to lay the ground rules for how communication should occur throughout the year – By having this meeting face to face, we establish a culture of direct and honest communication. Too many times parents want to send a long-winded e-mail or an emotional voice message; this is our opportunity to let them know how we do business. It is also a chance to discuss with parents the things we will and will not talk about. For example, we often tell parents that we will talk to them about anything they want to talk about except playing time, team strategy, and other student-athletes.
Being a varsity basketball player is a big commitment. We ask a lot of the players and parents in our programs, and The Home Visit gives us an opportunity to show parents that we value everyone who is making this commitment. From our All Conference player, to our student manager, everyone is important. We have found that the Home Visit leads to a mutual respect between coaches and parents. By acknowledging to the parent that there may be times when we will agree to disagree, we help to diffuse potential issues. This mutual respect can come in handy when you walk past a group of parents at a Saturday morning JV game after a tough conference loss. It also should be a reminder to us as coaches that we are handling someone’s most prized possession. By spending a little bit of time in each player’s home we show parents that we are taking that responsibility seriously. For more information, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com .