Communication is perhaps the most important job of any coach. We must teach our players, relay our ideas and plans to our assistant coaches, justify ourselves to our bosses, and talk to parents about schedules and other concerns. In a list of skills that any great coach has, communication is going to be right at the top.
Some of the toughest communicating that a coach has to do sometimes, is dealing with parents who aren't happy. Sometimes parents have a right to not be happy, and sometimes they don't. Either way it falls on the coach of the team to deal with team effectively.
It never ceases to amaze me how big of a job dealing with parents can be, in any sport. Coaches assume they will be teaching skills and managing games, yet all too often those things take a back seat to the important task of managing people. One of the most important things to realize right off the bat, is that parents will (and SHOULD) be their child's advocate.
We've written about player's dealing with coaches who don't like them and how to talk to a coach who isn't playing somebody as well in our effort to surround these issues with some sound advice. Please follow us on Twitter and join the thousands of people who receive up to the minute updates from us!
A very important thing for a coach to understand is that we want parents in our community to be involved. To care what happens to their kids, to feel passionate about the friends their kid has and the activities they do. If we realize that this involvement is actually desirable, our reaction to an upset parent may be a little bit different. Most are coming from a very honest place of simply loving their child more than anything in the world.
Whether it's from a good place or not, however, dealing with tough problems and passionate parents can still prove very difficult.
Here are some quick tips on how to best deal with problem parents.
1. Take your time. This is the most important thing a coach can do when dealing with a problem parent. More often than not, the parent will be reacting to something that happened that day or the day before. Don't respond right away. This can be hard, because coaches want people to be happy and they want to give their side of the story. If it's a phone call or an email that you received, take your time to answer it. Let the immediacies of the complaint wear off and let the emotions of the situation temper.
2. Be 100% rational: Now that some time has passed, you can respond to the parent. Don't write anything personal or emotional at all. Be totally professional and very rational. Typically shorter is better in these situations, don't feel like you have to explain your entire coaching philosophy or team issues with the parent. If they're not helping you coach, then a lot of those bigger issues are, quite frankly, none of their business. Address the specific issue they brought up as professionally as possible and leave it at that.
3. Don't make promises. Part of being professional is to keep from making promises. A lot of times it's tempting to make concessions to the parent or tell them that you'll change something right away to make it better. I advise that you simply let them know that you're working as hard as possible to make everybody's experience as positive as you can, and that you will continue to do so. Specific promises can put you in a corner, and may lead to another problem.
4. Be positive. It can be tempting to put somebody in their place by really being honest...if you know what I mean. "Your kid isn't playing because they aren't good enough!" I'm not advocating being dishonest, the parent should know where you stand. However, there's more than one way to say what you need to say. Try to be honest, but try to be as positive as possible while you do it. "Your kid isn't playing because there's a few kids that play that position and we're working hard to teach every one of them the skills necessary to succeed there. Playing time in games will vary based on who we think is the farthest along currently, but reps in practice will be high for everybody as we work to elevate all of their skills."
5. Be fair. Coaches won't like this one, but sometimes the parent is right! I understand, we need to maintain our authority and we can't go around telling everybody we're wrong about something. However, you should really examine what the parent is saying because there's probably at least an element of it that's true. Before you respond, think about something that you could actually improve on yourself and be willing to include some humble language in your response. At the very least, you can learn from interactions like these and make yourself a better coach.
If you follow those pieces of advice, your response will be professional and polite, and you won't box yourself into any corners. Remember that your response (especially if it's an email) could find it's way to other parents or people you work for, so honesty and fairness are important. Coaching is extremely rewarding, but it can be a very challenging job dealing with problem parents. As long as you go about it the right way, you'll get through it and make yourself better in the process!