Dear Coach Bryant:

My son just sustained an injury that might not allow him to play volleyball at the college he plans to attend this fall. He injured his ankle trying to do some cross-training his high school trainer recommended.

So, now we’re exploring his therapy options, and trying to determine what he will be able to do this summer to get ready for his first college season. Should I tell the college coach about this, or should I wait? I think the coach should know my son didn’t get good guidance from his high school athletic trainer.

Angry mom

Dear Angry:

It’s never easy to share bad news. No one is excited about telling a coach anything that might negatively affect their college career — be it an injury, a playing slump or an academic concern. However, honesty is always paramount, because student athletes must build a trust-based relationship with their coaches. Here’s what I advise students to do whenever bad things happen:

The student should contact the coach.

Parents must not communicate with the coach at all. Parents might help their students think through what to say, but students must initiate and conduct this conversation and any follow-up conversation.

The student should act promptly.

Students should initiate contact as soon as they gather the facts. Early notification might enable a coach to make suggestions about what has helped others. Even if the coach doesn’t have anything helpful to say, an immediate heads-up underscores the student’s honesty.   

The student should take ownership.

Students should clearly explain the problem and what they are doing to address it. Trust-builders don’t give excuses. They don’t blame others. They simply explain what they are doing to solve their problem. An injured runner might outline her PT regimen. A pitcher in a slump might detail his work with a sports psychologist. An academically-challenged swimmer might explain his tutoring progress. 

The student should avoid assumptions.

Trust-building student athletes don’t guess what their coach is thinking or what he/she wants. They simply present their situation and ask for honest feedback.

The Reality

Honesty really is the only policy when delivering bad news. A coach’s response to that news indicates what kind of mentor he or she is likely to be. If a coach drops a student in crisis, then that student knows that coach is not a trustworthy future mentor. Students who have fully explored all college options will be prepared to shift to another school that can better meet his/her needs.