So you volunteered your time this year to coach someone else’s child; an act that most parents will appreciate and thank you for. However there will likely be some that won’t see it this way, and blinded by their love of their child, won’t understand why their son or daughter isn’t playing the crunch time minutes or playing a position they feel they should be.
The proactive approach
Be approachable. It is important to build relationships with parents as soon as possible. We suggest having a pre-season team meeting, however this process can start at any point. Parents can sometimes find coaches intimidating, so being friendly during your meeting is of utmost importance as it often sets the tone for future interactions.
Set expectations and outline the team’s goals for the year. Every team is different and depending on the age, level and competitiveness of the team, your goals should reflect that. Being sure to address this early on will help put parents better understand what to expect during the season. This is also an opportunity for them to have some input early on and create buy-in across the team. For instance, if everyone understands that skill development for all players is the primary objective for the upcoming season, they will be much more accepting of equal playing time during the season and less worried about wins and losses.
Speaking of playing time, we highly recommend that this be something you address before the season start as it is the number one cause for conflict between coaches and parents. If you’re coaching an older group and playing at a more serious level, be sure to mention that playing time will be based on skill, work ethic and attitude, so some players may not get as much playing time as they hope for during crucial games.
If you’re going that route, be sure to take a page out of Gregg Popovich’s book and make a point to rest your better players during less critical games. This will foster a healthier team environment while helping to develop younger or less skilled players.
5 Steps to dealing with confrontational parents
Hopefully a proactive approach to dealing with difficult parents will result in fewer (or no) uncomfortable situations, however just in case you do have a run-in with a pushy parent, here is a few easy steps you can use to deescalate the situation:
- Refuse to talk with someone who is yelling at you. You’ve volunteered your time and don’t deserve to be disrespected like that. Additionally, should you respond to them while they are angry and worked up, things will likely escalate into a yelling match which won’t do anyone any good. Rather if a parent approaches you in a hostile manner, let them know that you have heard them and that you will be happy to discuss it with them once they have calmed down.
- Follow up at a later time. Assuming you were able to avoid a blow up on the court or at the field, be proactive about following up with the parent. This will help reassure them that you are listening to their concerns and trying to accommodate them as best as you can. What you’ll find with this approach is that the parent has often had time to calm down themselves and what they thought was an issue before won’t be such a problem any longer.
- Have a 3rd party sit in on the meeting. This can be beneficial for a few reasons: clarification, corroboration and accountability. If you can, try to make sure this person is as impartial as possible since you don’t want the parent feeling like they are being ganged up on.
- Be an active listener and hear them out. Much of the time, whether it comes across that way or not, a parent is just looking to be heard and voice their concern. Make it a point to let them say their piece without interruption.
- Pay attention to your body language. Whether this is during the initial confrontation, or in the follow up meeting
A procedure for dealing with complaints
It helps if your club or school has an official set of steps to follow when these situations arise. This gives the coach the tools to solve an issue, and prevents a situation getting out of hand. Here’s a suggested set of steps to follow:
- Complaint arises.
- Prepare informal meeting between coach, another coach or staff member (to mediate), and the parents.
- listen in full to the complaint.
- offer a set of solutions.
- immediately resolve the issue (e.g. put their child on for more game time)
- work towards resolving the issue (e.g. train their child for more hours)
- change your coaching to resolve the issue (e.g. alter your regime or change exercises used)
- bring discussion to a higher level (next step)
- If unresolved, prepare a formal meeting between parents and the head of the sports department, school principal or the club administrator.