Absolute Volleyball Academy, just south of Houston, was formed in 2006 and today has grown to 34 girls travel teams. Matthew Gotsch started as the Parent Liaison for Absolute Volleyball Academy in 2019 after his oldest daughter started her first club season. He approached Co-Directors Katy Garza and Jerry Linch with the need for someone to gather feedback from parents about what the club was doing well and where it needed to improve, as well as a person to help facilitate meetings with players and parents who have grievances. Parents were often approaching Katy and Jerry directly with concerns while at the club, and they needed a way for those players and parents to be heard, but not have to immediately meet with the club directors. From there, the Parent Liaison position was created.

In the first year, Gotsch quickly learned just how important giving a voice and lending an ear to players a parents can be. Whether it’s meetings or the Parent Council, allowing an avenue for suggestion and venting is helpful to bring down tensions and allow for a growth mindset to take ahold of both athletes and parents.

As the Parent Liaison Gotsch conducts informal monthly Parent Council meetings with a group of parents. There is a topic of discussion for each one hour meeting and the parents provide feedback based on their experience and conversations at AVA. There is also open discussion where parents can bring any ideas, thoughts, or concerns they have about any aspect of the club.

“We value the feedback from our parents and use that to help make changes to areas we need to improve on, or to strengthen the areas we are doing well,” adds Gotsch.

The biggest obstacle is helping parents understand that the club cannot do everything that is suggested. At the meetings, there are many really great ideas, but sometimes the club is not able to implement them for a number of reasons. The challenge becomes can something else be done to get a similar result? Gotsch and the Directors will try to figure out a change that can help improve the whole experience of playing for AVA.

His other responsibility is to schedule and organize parent-player-coach meetings when concerns arise. His role is to focus on what can be done to help the athlete continue to grow and ultimately achieve her goals. He approaches the meetings with a growth mindset and tries to advise the players on how they can handle many common grievances such as playing time, team conflicts, lack of perceived growth, and not making the level of team that had hoped to make. There are also times when grievances arise that allow him and the leadership staff to help the coaches grow and improve, or they determine there are inconsistencies in their approach with various teams.

“This is a great opportunity for us to hear the concerns and evaluate ourselves and makes adjustments when needed.”

Gotsch played basketball at the University of Notre Dame under the late Head Coach John McLeod, and assistant FranMcCaffery, Parker Laketa, and Terry Tyler. “All these men really help me understand the importance of mental approach to playing a sport. I’ve used many lessons learned under their leadership to help provide guidance to the athletes at AVA. Just watching my own children go through sports and having different types of coaches with different philosophies has helped me learn how to be a parent with a kid in sports. So I bring those lessons into any meeting we have.”

AVA has a QR code that is shared in the Parent and Athlete Handbook provided to all teams at the beginning of the season. When the family has a grievance or concern they would like to share or discuss, they complete the grievance form. Gotsch and the Directors have a shared way of tracking all submissions to the grievance form, and are notified when one comes through. Gotsch reviews it and communicates with the coach directly first, and follows up with Directors before reaching out to the family. He keeps notes of steps taken as they happen so everyone can stay in the loop. If anything needs to be scheduled he coordinates that for all parties. Gotsch’s time is compensated in exchange for club dues.

“Ultimately my goal is to help the player continue to move forward no matter what situation, and help the parents deal with the struggles they will undoubtedly encounter,” shared Gotsch.

Gotsch feels the biggest impact with changes have all revolved around education: (1) Educating the players on how to approach issues that come up through their time playing, (2) educating the coaches on handling different personalities and situations to become better coaches, and (3) educating the parents on their role in the development process of young athletes. The club has implemented positive changes, for example, updates to the menu items available at the concession stands, tweaking the way the club communicates information to parents and players, and adjusting the player/parent contracts each family signs at the beginning of the year as well.

In the future Gotsch would love to offer more educational opportunities for the parents and players to help them with the things that cause athletes the most stress, such as handling a team where their playing time is limited, or how to be a great sports parent.

“I think a proactive role in helping parents and players deal with some of the most common items of concern would help eliminate many issues we encounter in the course of a season.”

If your club is interested in implementing a Parent Liaison, find a parent or individual who has the heart of the athlete as their chief concern. This individual needs to approach the position with the mindset of “I’m here to help the athletes be better and achieve their goals while navigating all the hurdles they will face playing sports.” This approach makes it easier to do this job. It’s very rewarding to watch a player struggle, and then see them overcome and succeed.

“What I enjoy the most about my position is helping young athletes through all the experiences they encounter playing sports in todays world. Through both parental feedback and meetings, I learn a lot about what they are dealing with and enjoy looking for ways to help.”

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AVA of Texas (Webster, TX) is a member of the Junior Volleyball Association, an organization committed to enhancing the junior volleyball experience for club directors, coaches, players, and fans. Visit jvavolleyball.org to learn more.