With 11 years under his belt as a varsity boys basketball head coach, Nate Rykal has dealt with plenty of challenging parents.
There are parents who wonder why their son isn’t starting or why he isn’t playing more minutes. Mom, dad or both might want to know why junior isn’t getting the chance to shoot much or why his scoring is down.
Rykal, now in his 10th year at Bay Port High School, one of the largest schools in Wisconsin, has learned that being up front with players and parents is the best formula.
“I think everybody has challenging parents whether you’re winning or losing, it doesn’t really matter,” Rykal said. “One of the ways we do it is we really try to communicate with the kids.”
At the start of each season, Rykal meets individually with every one of his varsity players and gives them a questionnaire to fill out. The answers give Rykal and his assistants a solid gage of what the players expect, while the process also helps the players figure out their roles on the team and where they fit in.
Rykal also holds a meeting with all of the players and their parents before the season to talk about expectations.
“One of the expectations is that parents should never contact me about playing time for their sons,” Rykal said. “The big reason is, I want their sons to learn how to be young men and take care of situations on their own rather than having their parents take care of it, because they’re going to be off on their own soon enough. ...
“If the player has a problem, my door is open and they can come talk to me about it. If that’s not good enough for them, then the parents can come and talk to me about it. I can’t remember that ever happening.”
Rykal, who has coached Bay Port — based in Suamico, Wis. — to two state tournament appearances, encourages players to talk with him so issues don’t turn into bigger problems.
Rykal also won’t let a challenging parent affect his team. Most of the time, he said, the player doesn’t know his parents have contacted the coach about a certain matter.
“The majority of the time, the kid understands where they are,” Rykal said. “They’ve been at practice every day, they’ve been at every game. They understand where they fit in with our team.”
Rykal doesn’t think parents are more challenging these days — it’s the same as it was over a decade ago.
“Parents care about their kids, which is great,” Rykal said. “You’ve got to do what you can to support them, but you don’t want to be ridiculously overbearing, and you don’t want to be one that lives vicariously through them.”
The best advice Rykal can share with his fellow coaches is to keep an open mind and try to understand where the parent is coming from.
“Where they’ve come from and the situations they’ve been in may be very different from where you were,” Rykal said. “Getting them to understand what you’re trying to do as a coach and as a program is a really important thing, and (to understand) that it’s not personal at all. ...
“You’re not going to make everybody happy, but I think we lay it out there as a far as, ‘We really want to teach your kids how to be young men.’ We really emphasize the point that we’re trying to do what’s best for all of the kids on the team.”