By: Joe Breinig, Jr., CMAA
Provided by: NIAAA
Every year, thousands of coaches and athletic directors all over the world dedicate their time to teaching other parents' children their sport. Most parents appreciate this good-natured act, but occasionally you'll find a couple of people that don't see it this way. Often the love they have for their child can blind them if they believe their child is being treated unfairly.
Dealing with difficult parents is something coaches and athletic directors need to accept will happen occasionally. No one goes through an entire career without ruffling at least a couple of parent's feathers.
Here are a few techniques that can prevent any issues occurring in the first place.
Have a pre-season meeting with all parents and players
Let them know you're approachable. A pre-season meeting will let you develop relationships with the parents, and it lets them know that they can come to you whenever they want to talk about any problems or concerns they might have. I've learned a lot of the time parents are intimidated and would prefer the coach/AD make the initial move to developing the coach/parent relationship. Being friendly, open, and honest at the pre-season meeting is the first step towards this. Being an approachable coach is very important. It is important to end the meeting by letting all parents and players know that if they ever have anything to discuss, don't hesitate to reach out and make contact.
You see, most of the time when parents storm up to a coach demanding answers out of the blue, it's because the problem has been building up for a long time and finally got to a point where they couldn't handle it anymore. If the parents felt like they could talk to the coach about it prior, this outburst might not have happened.
Discuss distribution of playing time
This is a very important topic and is the number one issue for parents each season. Let the players and parents know that playing time will be based on talent and work ethic, so some players might not get much playing time in crucial games. Be sure to let the parents and players know that at times, based on the game situation, you will make every effort to give the less talented players extended minutes so that they can develop their skills into better players. Make sure you do it!
6 Steps to use if you encounter problems with parents
1. Never talk to someone that's yelling at you
First and foremost, never talk to someone if they're yelling at you. You're giving up your time to help their kids and deserve more respect than that. Hopefully, this doesn't happen too often, but I've seen times where parents came down from the stands yelling at the coach and the coach has tried to defend his decisions on the spot. Which, as you can imagine, quickly escalates into a shouting match between the coach and parent.
Rather, if a parent approaches frustrated and yelling, in a calm voice let them know that you'd be happy to discuss whatever their concern is when they've calmed down.
2. Discuss the problem later
If a parent gets frustrated with you during the game and walks over and demands you talk to them this instant (during the game), kindly let them know that you're happy to talk to them about it, but they will need to wait until after the game when you can both sit down and talk about it alone, without the other parents or the players watching. If you don't have time to talk to them after the game, schedule a meeting with them later. Scheduling a meeting for the next day or later is the preferred option. This gives both yourself and the parent time to sit down and think about the conversation prior to meeting, rather than blurting out whatever comes to mind when they're angry.
3. Get someone else to sit in on the meeting
It is important to always get an assistant coach or someone to sit in on private meetings. This can be beneficial in many ways. Such as clarifying facts that may arise during the meeting; they are a witness in case anything happens, and they can help recall comments made in the meeting later if needed.
The parent needs to feel like they're being heard. If you're constantly interrupting and disputing their comments mid-conversation, the only thing you're going to achieve is making the parent much angrier than they already are. Hear them out and get their complete side of the story before you start adding your two cents in. The last thing you want to do is make the situation worse than it already is.
4. Body language
You must show the parent that you're paying attention to what they have to say by using good body language. Don't sit back in your chair with your arms crossed. This shows a type of arrogance and stubbornness and will only infuriate the parent further. Sit forward and look them in the eyes. Nod when they're speaking to show that you understand.
5. Keep your composure - even if they don't
Even if they come in blasting you for reasons you don't understand, it's important to make sure you keep calm and talk rationally. You don't want to get into a shouting match and say something you'll regret in the future. If you find the way they're speaking to you is unacceptable, politely ask them not to talk to you that way, and if they continue to do so, you'll have to end the conversation. Then if they do continue to speak to you in an unacceptable way, simply tell them that you are not willing to talk to them when they're in this state and you'd be happy to reschedule when they've cooled off.
6. The correct way to respond
Once you've let them have their say, it's your turn to respond. The correct way to respond is going to differ greatly in every situation. Even if you don't fully agree with their argument, let the parent know that you can see where they're coming from. Acknowledge the points in their argument that you agree with.
Acknowledge their son/daughter's strengths before you tell that parent what they need to improve on. For example, you may have this conversation... "I understand where you're coming from. Look, Johnny's a very good shooter and we'd love to have him out on the floor more to make the most of that. The problem is that he isn't as strong as we need him to be defensively."