Parental Controls – For the Coach
A high school or club coach’s career is full of challenges. Often times you’ll spend all your free time figuring out the strategy to beat the cross town rival. You might find yourself trying to connect with an athlete to get that fire in her game that you can see in her soul. Sometimes the challenge of the season is to get your schedule set early enough so that everyone knows they have practice tomorrow. The hardest test by far, however, is in handling the unhappy parents of athletes on the team. Surprisingly enough, regardless of the “problem” perceived by the parent, experience will tell you that parent management is relatively basic if you are prepared. There are four basic steps in the process. Skip one and you’ll find yourself painted in an ugly corner.
1. Set Ground Rules for the Team BEFORE Concerns Arise.
A. Your perspective drives your coaching style. Make sure you communicate to your parents and athletes, your philosophy and expectations on every aspect that is important to you. Especially in the areas of commitment, attendance, play time decisions, goals of the team. This is more commonly known as your coaching philosophy, only with details.
B. If a parent feels inclined to discuss a concern, draw out the procedure of approach. Depending on the age level or topic of discussion, a good order of process would involve:
Athlete addressing the issue with coach
-if the issue is not resolved-
Athlete and parent addressing issue with coach
-if the issue is not resolved-
Athlete, parent, coach meet with the club director/athletic director
If the parent or athlete have an emotionally driven concern, require a 24 hour wait period so that all parties concerned can arrange a congenial meeting rather than subject anyone to a ranting rampage.
C. Insist that the athlete is involved in the communication process. This ensures that everyone is hearing and understanding the situation, and involves the growth and development of the athlete as a person.
2. Listen to the Message (not the delivery)
Everybody is different. Some are more emotional than others in terms of their children. Others jump right into the accusatory mode of destroying their child. Luckily, some parents will come with the appropriate mentality of wanting to understand the decisions you make as a coach. Sift through the emotional display. Hold on to and only address the parent concerns that are appropriate to discuss. Refuse to discuss other players’ issues or attitudes with a parent. Get concrete facts of concern. Most areas of discussion include play time for the athlete or playing to win as a team. Be sure you have a pattern of consistency in these areas. No one has to agree with your policies, they only need to understand. Areas that should be of utmost importance include the physical safety of the players, illegal activities, or inappropriate actions that will reflect poorly on your program. Rumors are exactly that. Address facts only.
3. Mirror the Parent Concern
First and foremost, the parent needs to know his or her voice is being heard. As an adult, they have that right to respect. Even if you have to take notes, reflect to the parent what you understand is their concern. If the parent has concerns about items that cannot be discussed, let them know up front that you are not in a position to address that concern and explain (briefly) why.
4. Find the Calmest Ground
Concerns have 3 end results:
A. Address the issue at hand, explaining, from the coach’s perspective, why you have made the decisions that have upset them. They don’t have to agree, they only need to understand.
B. If you have refused to discuss a topic (IE another player’s play time) and the parent won’t let it go, suggest they contact your club director/athletic director. Their job is to support you and protect the program. If your boss wants to change the rules, then so be it. However, more often, the parent will find a dead end there as well.
C. Agree to consider their concerns. Believe it or not, sometimes as coaches, we forget things or inadvertently neglect situations to which we should be attending. You don’t need to admit to any short-sightedness, but the offer of reconsidering your thoughts in a situation can at least leave the parent feeling respected whether you change anything or not. Always contact the parent with a follow up conversation or email to communicate the result of your reconsiderations.
It cannot be said enough that the parent, athlete, and coach perspective of the team’s management are three completely different views. The parent and athlete perspectives are legitimate personal opinions and should be addressed respectfully. However, in the end, it is the coach’s perspective that controls the program. Certainly as a coach, we’ve made mistakes, but they are our mistakes for which we must take responsibility and learn.