Youth and interscholastic coaches regularly deal with emotional parents, and most understand that parent disputes about their child’s playing time comes with the job. While coaches may not enjoy having to respond to an upset parent, there are strategies a coach can employ to help temper emotions and lead to a more productive conversation. As with most things in life, preparation is key and can help prevent minor misunderstandings from growing into ugly, season-long disagreements and arguments.
Parental emotion clouds reason & logic
When a parent sees their kid struggling on the field, it’s normal for the parent to struggle emotionally. These feelings become compounded if the parent has invested big chunks of time and money by providing their child camps, clinics, and other sport opportunities designed to help maximize athletic abilities. If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I mean when you sit back and wonder about the return on investment for all that your family has put in to the latest sport performance training.
It’s important to remember that emotions and logic are on opposite ends of the continuum, and when we experience events emotionally, it makes it incredibly difficult to see things objectively — and this is especially true for sports parents. While you love your child, the coach is tasked with “loving” all the kids he or she coaches, and is expected to evaluate kids fairly and objectively. It’s also a fact that during the appraisal process, some kids learn that they won’t see much of the field. When parents receive the bad news, some decide to approach the coach to talk but because of their emotions they sometimes speak out of turn and say/do things that actually compound (rather than resolve) problems. Herein is where the prepared coach can help.
Quick tips for coaches
Coaching kids can be a challenging endeavor, even when parents are completely on your side. Coaches still have to deal with making important on-field decisions, keeping kids focused and motivated, help kids with injuries, and make sure kids take care of grades so that they are able to compete. Sadly, all of the energy coaches need to successfully perform these tasks can be quickly zapped when an irate, emotionally-charged parent calls out the coach and his or her ability to run the team. Often these kinds of encounters aren’t really about the team, but instead the child of the parent. As you might have guessed, these parent-coach interactions can sometimes go negative and lead to even bigger problems, but it doesn’t have to be that way — and the following tips are designed to help:
- Expect (and prepare for) the worst. While it is unlikely you will experience a parent who threatens physical violence or acts out in similar ways, it’s important to have prepared procedures for coach-parent interactions that mitigate risks as much as possible. Think ahead of time where you will meet, how you will best handle the communication, and the feedback you will provide so that safe, positive outcomes will occur.
- DO take time to meet with parents. Pre-season meetings are a great way to introduce yourself, and creating a communication channel can help offset building anxiety and frustration that can lead to bigger problems later. By making time to meet with inquiring parents it does not mean that you are handing over your coaching duties to the parent, but instead respecting the fact that parents love their kids and deserve feedback to help their kids grow.
- Active listening is key. Know the kid’s name, and a little about the kid so that when you talk to the parent it will show you’re tuned in to what’s going on with the team. Listen closely without interruption when the parent speaks, clarify any misunderstandings, and paraphrase back to the parent what you heard. Often in life people simply want to be heard, and by providing an open forum many problems go away by simply being put out for analysis and discussion.
- Provide specific feedback. Telling a parent that their kid “just needs to play better” is hardly offering feedback, so make it a point to provide one or two specific things the kid can work on in order to earn more playing time. Does the child need to get stronger? Throw better? Be more aggressive? These are just a few examples of talking points that parents can take away and turn into future goals with their child.
Dealing with irate sports parents is just a part of the game these days, but coaches can do a lot to offset negative interactions from occurring. Being prepared is key, as is being open-minded to the fact that most parent anger is simply a manifestation of their love and emotion for their child. Exercise patience and understanding, and provide specific feedback that can help the child improve — not only will this approach satisfy most parents, it will help your team improve, too.