Let’s be honest, coaches. If it were up to you, the parents of your players would never be allowed at practice and at games they would be relegated to a sound proof box miles away, watching the game on video. And, despite your best efforts to make this happen (sorry it didn’t pass at the last league meeting), the parents remain on the sidelines (most of the time), doing their best to “encourage” everyone involved.

What will you do with the parents of your players? How will you handle them?

Here’s what you can’t do:

1. You can’t ignore them. Even if you view them as the enemy, they aren’t going away. Ignoring them only creates a wider gulf between you and them and makes an awkward situation for the player at home.

2. You can’t just tell them to go away. In some cases, I know this is what you want to do. And, in some cases, it might be the eventual outcome. But, in most cases, telling a parent to stay away can only happen if very aggregious–and perhaps threatening–behavior is part of their history.

3. You can’t run a team without them. Exceptions here include teams whose kids can and do drive themselves to practice and games. In all other situations, you need the parents.

That’s the truth (the bad news for some reading this).

Now, here’s what you can do regarding parents, as you continue your quest to coach on purpose.

1. Involve them appropriately. They’re going to be there. Put them to work on something. No, they don’t all need to be on the field with you. No, they don’t all know the game and need to be teaching it. But, they can do something. Can they make phone calls? Can they help with fundraising? Can they help keep the dugout clean? I don’t know, but you’re going to have to make a concerted effort to involve parents appropriate, or they will sometimes choose inappropriate involvement.

2. Communicate with them clearly. Be a broken record on practice and game times, on expectations for families and players, on the core principles of your program, on the fundamentals of the game, on what you’re working on with their kid, on everything. There is nothing more important in your relationship with the parents than communication.

3. Partner with them entirely. Never forget that they are, and will always remain, the primary influencers in the lives of their children. Partner with them to help the kids grow, learn, and develop. You aren’t there to replace the parents, but to help (and guide, in some cases) them as they raise their children. Learn their stories. Learn what their kids struggle with off the field. Then, do your best to be a help, not a hindrance, to them. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s still the role of every coach who coaches on purpose.

Parents can be your biggest enemy or your greatest asset. In many cases, the choice is yours.