Follow Up- Dealing with Difficult Parents - Readers Respond

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**If you missed the interview with Trent Beattie click HERE

This is the follow-up email to the one sent a few days back - Dealing with Difficult Parents …

The response was abundant and very informative. Coaches at every level responded: Youth, Middle School, Junior High, High School and College … from all over the USA and Canada from NY, OH, FL, GA, KY, IL, MO, MI, MN, ND, MT … Calgary Alberta Canada and more.

I have included a number of replies here below. Some are short and sweet while others are very detailed and thorough.

The thought that “I’m here to coach the kids and I have nothing to do with the parents” … is from a different age and era and it is long gone and not coming back. You must have a plan.

The other point to consider is to look in the mirror occasionally as well.

If you act like a 2 year old having a temper tantrum, screaming your head off and humiliating a player inappropriately during a game in front of tons of people … you better get some grief from the parent. You deserve it.

When you get after a player, do it with virtue and self-control. And always follow it up with praise, encouragement or positive reinforcement. Apologize if you need to.

 

The summarized version:

1. Communication
2. Back-up
3. Virtue - SportsLeader program

1. Communication

At the beginning of every season, have a mandatory parent meeting … and when you mean mandatory, you mean mandatory … your child WILL NOT PLAY unless you come to this meeting or you meet in person with me the head coach.

In many cases the parents who complain the most are the ones who don’t come to the mandatory parent meeting. Letting that slide with no accountability is unacceptable and is your fault as the head coach.

At the parent meeting, put on 1 sheet of paper - 1 side, 2 at most the most important information with regards to communicating with you as the coach. DO NOT give them a 30 page handbook. Handbooks are not read. At the meeting, read the document with them out loud line by line. Don’t send the document home to be read - read it WITH them. After each point ask if there any questions.

Have each parent sign that document and hand back to you, hence the need to be there in person.

Show that page in person to your AD. Have them read it in your presence and go over it to make sure they are OK with every point and that they will have your back. If there are disagreements over the document settle it right then and there.

Being virtuous ourselves as coaches. Communicate praise, kindness, love and gratitude to your players and parents. Don’t wait for it to smack you in the face. Look for it. Look for ways to praise your players.

If Johnny has an awesome game - maybe a quick text to his parents congratulating them. If Susie does something great at practice, a quick text, email or call to her parents to shower some praise.

This goes a long, long way and it proves that you care about your players.

Just think about it - if your son or daughter played for Coach X and Coach X called you to shower some praise … wouldn’t you appreciate it and wouldn’t you care about Coach X more?

“Saving” all praise and gratitude for the banquet is a big mistake. The “I don’t have time” excuse is rather dumb because the quick texts of love and gratitude just might save you an hour of head-ache later on.

2. Back -Up

When things get salty, you need to meet with the parent(s) in person and with a third party - AD, other school administrator, etc. As soon as emotions get high you must abandon the phone, email, text approach … do it face to face in person and have that other person there to eliminate the “he said - she said."

3. Virtue - SportsLeader program

Our program consists of virtue, mentoring and ceremony. All three elements help you develop great relationships with your players and parents.

Virtue - Focus intentionally on a virtue every week.

Mentoring - Speak with your athletes one on one in a public setting to encourage and inspire them

Ceremony - Events that involve the participation of the parents in an intentional, emotional and relationship-building way

If you have a concrete program like SportsLeader that you can physically show your parents that you are helping their child grow in a virtue every week, speaking them one on one about growing in that virtue and having special ceremonies to help the parents grow closer to their kids … this should show most parents that you care and that you are in it for the right reasons.

Virtue = Strength, Lou Judd 
SportsLeader Web Site

 

1- Parent meeting pre-season to lay out "negotiables" and "non-negotiables" of the program regarding parents. Might be best to have the student with the parent. Critical to send the message that everyone in the program must “own” their stuff.

2- Clear and well defined mission and system within the program. Short and concise team guidelines on all critical areas of the program. These range from wrestle-offs, to practice policy, to competition policies, etc. The same issues come up over and over. The only thing that changes are the names. Those issues should be confronted up front along with the staff lining out how they are dealt with.

3- Perhaps a book for parents to read pre-season that paints the picture of selfishness rather than selflessness along with the standard of excellence that is required.

4- Parent meetings with staff when issues arise. Dive into issues that have occurred with the parent.

5- If possible pray with the parent.

6- Have to present the concerns to the parent in a way that makes them realize how selfish they are being and how it's impacting the team as well as their child. The scenario has to be taken to a much larger scenario and then brought back down to the current one.

7- Retiring is not an option. Critical that coaches continue to grow themselves. Too often we are caught up in growing others. No one can lead until they can lead themselves. Private prayer, book reading, and other leadership tools must be utilized by coaches to strengthen their leadership capabilities.

Tom Ryan 
Head Wrestling Coach 
The Ohio State University 
22 Years Experience 
Columbus, OH

 

Hi Lou, 
Just like everyone who has coached long enough, I've dealt with this at times in my career and learned from my mistakes. I would say one big factor to preventing this situation is to have a pre-season meeting with parents and let them know right away your goals for the team, expectations( for school, practice and games) and guidelines for any discussions that might come up. I let them know that if there are any concerns; to have their son approach the coach involved first, then myself and as a last resort a meeting with the AD, myself, parents and player. Things that will NOT be discussed; playing time, play calling, and other players EVER! It really helps if the AD understands this BEFORE any problems arise. This isn't fool proof by any means( we were 10-1 and had a couple of parents unhappy because Billy didn't get in the games sooner!) but if you let the parents know that you are doing things for the good of the TEAM and that you will do everything you possibly can to help their son improve as a player and a PERSON they are more likely to buy in. Instilling the weekly virtues and having events like Jersey Night and Mom's Night really help to lay the foundation and let the parent know that you are coaching the PERSON and not just a player. I hope this helps out some and thanks for all of your help!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 
GOD Bless, 
Keith Herring 
Head Football coach 
28 yrs experience 
Brentwood High School 
Brentwood, MO(St. Louis)

 

Understand that few parents care if the team wins, whether they say it or not. Parents want to see their kid happy and just play. 
Understand playing is also a status level among parents. 
Communicate with parents frequently about practice and game arrangements. 
Respect your schedule (practice ends at 5 means just that, not 5:30). 
Host non sport get togethers (team parties, laser tag, bowling, etc). 
When player is engaged and happy, parent is more likely to be as well. 
Meet with player/parent as soon as issues arise. Don't allow to fester. 
Be willing to listen and accept questions. 
Be honest. 
Pray.

Josh Bishop 
8th grade Basketball Coach 
14 years Experience. 
Daviess County Middle School 
Owensboro, Kentucky

 

Morning Lou,

What I have found is that the path for addressing parents or "dealing with them" is set far before conflict arises. As with most interpersonal topics communication is the cornerstone and in this example the cornerstone needs to be set in front of athlete, parent, and administration (AD, Principal, whomever your get professional feedback). For us it is the spring/summer meeting where I tell them all of the conduct and effort expected and that if they do not show up for lifting, route running, etc. they will not show up on the field. At every meeting I reinforce our guiding principle (Do Right, Be Right, and Pay it Forward) as well as the values we all live by. In the fall meeting we go over how we scheme our offense and defense and at this meeting we also set expectations for what communication is acceptable and expected from players AND parents in the stands, home, school, and community. I tell them that now is the time to question me and my staff and after we leave this is how it will be through this season. They can visit with me one month after the season if questions. This is all in front of administration so all on same page.

Now, all this is fine and dandy to set up and many probably do. The difference must occur inside the coach. If they feel they are doing the right thing, they must stand, like the rock of Gibraltar, by that true belief. If not and they do something else, they risk doing the wrong thing for others happiness. (the politicians dilemma) but they must also be able to reflect and admit when they did not do the right thing. Quick honesty quells many issues.

Brad Borkhuis 
Head Football Coach 
9 years total experience 
Bishop Ryan High School 
Minot, ND

 

Winning coaches who are good people are similar to a rare species. The emotional capital spent dealing with parents as you have described is taking its toll.

Sadly, I had a “brother” coach “fired” (we are all volunteers; but that is the best description) by a group of parents with their own selfish agenda. This man was everything you want in a football coach. He was tough but fair with the boys. He embraced the SL program even though it was presented to him two weeks before practice started. He lived the program.

What these parents fail to realize is that the sport program does not exist solely for the advancement of their son(s)/daughter(s) or their personal enjoyment. Youths sports programs exist for ALL THE YOUTH of the communities/parishes/schools that have them—NOT the parents of these youth.

I have used a quote from a movie to help me keep perspective when dealing with parents who do not understand that the axis of the universe does not come down through the top of their head. To paraphrase Revelation Chapter 3:8-13, the character Mr. Bridges in “Facing the Giants” told the character of Coach Taylor: We serve a God that opens doors that no one can shut, and he shuts doors that no one can open.

He says: Behold, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and not denied my name.

Coach Taylor, the Lord is not through with you yet. You still have an open door here, and until the Lord moves you, you’re to bloom right where you’re planted…

Youth Football Coach

 

First let me say how much I appreciate the work you do. I am the Athletic Director of a private Catholic School in Montana. I am in the middle of my 3rd year as AD, and I came in with a strong philosophy of educational based athletics and the idea that character and values should be our primary focus in our working with student-athletes. I quickly realized that despite our school’s history of success in our activity programs, that for various reasons our overall activities program lacked a comprehensive and systemic approach to “education based athletics” and several elements of fundamental organization necessary to sustain our history of success and vitality of our overall athletic program. There were pockets of character and education based philosophy, a coach here and there, but not systematic approach throughout all of our programs, in fact many programs saw themselves as their own entity, for example the VB program was viewed as its own academy by the former coach, not a part of a larger athletic program and philosophy and so on.

Our success as a private school combined with the organizational issues I briefly alluded to, created as I am sure you can imagine no shortage of the parent issues that you discussed in your email. Because of all of the variables involved with each situation, there is no single great answer. I think there needs to be a systemic approach. For us I am strong advocate of Bruce Brown's stuff with Proactive Coaching and I ask my coaches to create a solid Core Covenants / Team Standards (rules) document and live by it during the season. This document not only talks about what it means to be a “Ram Football” player for example, but also details how conflicts and infractions will be dealt with. I encourage them to go over this at preseason meetings and have parents and kids sign it for acknowledgement. I also want a copy which helps me know exactly what their philosophy is and be more aware of what is going on in their programs, which makes it so much easier for me to support them. Through these materials we are starting to set boundaries and the tone that we are not going to entertain conversations about other kids, playing time, X’s and O’s, line-up / positions etc. On the other hand I am working on having my coaches clearly define and communicate roles to kids and give them concrete ideas of what they want their student-athletes to be working on, how they can contribute to the team individually and give them feedback on their progress. Parents are starting to know coming in that we are not going to have conversations about other kids, X's and O's, line-up decisions etc. Coaches are starting to learn that as long as they communicate roles to kids and layout some goals for each kid and how he/she can effectively improve and contribute to the team and keep me posted of these things I will support them and can do so more effectively.

So my recent soapbox came to me completely by accident this fall when I was dealing with a parent issue in VB about playing time. And since, I have found it to be reasonably successful in helping parents feel heard, start to open their perspective and take some pressure off of the coaches. Anyway I was in a meeting with two parents upset about playing time and the position their daughter was playing and I started to become irritated about how perfect we expect coaches to be and how there is room and acceptance for everyone else’s flaws in sports. After hearing them out and asking them to summarize their concerns into 3 points (all related to playing time and line-up decisions) here was my response:

I expressed my understanding that the tough thing about athletics is situations such as the one their daughter was in and sympathized about how difficult this can be (seeing a loved one hurt and wanting the best for them). But I also shared that this was one of the great things about athletics, that we learn how to cope and become stronger with the support of our loved ones and the current situation can be used as a rehearsal and training for challenges later in life. After a few minutes about this I got to my soapbox, and I told them that I wanted them to understand that I don't view playing time, X's and O's or other line-up decisions as right or wrong (other than situations where if a kid was hurt and shouldn't be playing etc.), but I rather view them as executive decisions made by a person I hire to be the director of VB operations (in this case). Like any executive those are tough decisions, but are nonetheless made in the best interest of that entire branch of our athletic operation. Like any executive, those decisions are often made with inexact information, but made with the full knowledge of everything going on within the program which isn't always apparent. I assured them that my coach wasn't a cold hearted executive only after wins and championships, and thankfully I was able to share with them all of the positive things my coach had shared with me about their daughter. Further I informed them in as nice a way (tone and demeanor) as possible that I am interested in developing the best coaches for their child and all children in our programs, and as such I am not interested in perpetuating the following double standard. A double standard in which we take a group of adolescents (I asked them if they ever felt overwhelmed or made mistakes in dealing with their teen, I have made mistakes with my own teens), and ask a coach to deal with this group of young men/women flawlessly, in fact we want coaches to help these kids feel good and confident in performing despite their own adolescent flaws which teens are very aware of. Then we ask coaches to deal with imperfections with officials, with me as a boss, with their students and principal if they teach, imperfections in fans and parents....and do all of this perfectly while winning. I explained this is a standard that no one can live up to and even the most seasoned coach will make mistakes, like we all do in our professions. In this case I told them that if my coach had made a mistake, it was not communicating enough to their child about her role and how / what their daughter can focus on to really improve and really add value in her own personal way to the team, and I told them that my coach and I would talk about that, but I was not going to have a conversation with my coach about executive decisions (playing time, X's and O's and line-ups) every time someone has a problem with it, no one can perform under those expectations or such scrutiny and under those conditions when coaches are made to feel the need to be looking over their shoulder with every decision, is in fact when coaches often do make real mistakes, that it causes even the most seasoned coach to 2nd guess what is usually their good judgment.

We talked about several other related things, and I don't know if it was my tone or approach, but for some reason it seemed to get through to them at some level. With their permission the coaching staff and I met with their daughter, had a great conversation about roles and expectations and afterward everyone calmed down and the young lady started to focus on what the coach wanted her to focus on and by the end of the season it was paying off in more minutes and more success and I believe she will continue to play in her senior year and be a positive contributor.

I have had this same conversation a couple of other times since, all with at least some success and some level of calming over the situation even if we don't agree.

This has gotten a little long winded and I apologize, obviously this isn't the end all be all, just something I have had some success with recently and feel poorly for your colleagues and anyone else going through this. It takes a toll. I am very interested to hear what others contribute and is it is a constant issue that we all deal with and are looking for ways deal with effectively, for the benefit of the kids who we are all here for in the first place.

Again, thanks for all you do. I wish you and your colleagues all the best. Please consider me a partner with you here in Montana.

All the best, have a Happy and Blessed 2014,

Rory Christiaens 
Activities Director, (3rd year) 
Coach (20 years) 
Loyola Sacred Heart 
Missoula, MT

 

… 
It has been my experience that it is best to deal with parents directly. I would invite them in to the office and in a loving way tell them the truth about how their actions and behavior appear from the head coaches desk. I had some very similar experiences just this year and though my problems did not go away, it did improve some and a couple actually got better. Unfortunately, we are finding ourselves coaching the parents and the players these days. We have these problems with parents from all four grades resulting in last year at least 10 such meetings. At least in basketball it would be only a grade or two and only a couple parents.

Bob DeLong 
Xenia High School 
Xenia, Ohio 
Head Football Coach 
26 years experience, 19 years as a head Football coach

 

… 
We are fortunate here in that we have very little parental interference. It is not perfect, but they leave us alone to coach their kids.

I think the best answer as to "why" is that our kids and parents are generally good people. I have made it a point to thank the parents for their role in our success the last several seasons because their support and lack of interference is exceptional and it does help us win ball games.

Other things that help: 
1 - We try to communicate clearly and frequently with our parents and kids using Facebook, Hudl, and email. When we have had problems, it often has gone back to poor communication on my part.

2 - in our preseason parent-player meeting, we go over expectations. We spell out exactly the role of the parent and how to play college football.

Those two topics can be big areas of concern. Here is what we have:

Role of Parents in Supporting their son as a football player​

1. Help him take care of his body. The right food, plenty of rest and water.
2. Encourage your son to do the best he can, everyday.
3. Encourage your son to put the team first. Football is tough because it asks the members of the team to put everyone ahead of themselves which is not natural.
4. Issues outside of playing time and touching the ball that could affect your son’s attitude,happiness, well-being, etc. should be brought to the coaches’ attention. Please call me on my cellphone, posted at the front of this book, and leave a message. That will give us flexibility in finding the best time and place to talk.
5. Issues related to playing time and touching the ball should be handled by the player and the coach. This is a coaches’ decision. My credibility with you would decrease substantially if I were to come to your job site and advise you on how you should perform and what decisions you should make. We have an outstanding staff of assistant coaches who are present all season at all practices. Those coaches will be the one who’s input will affect 
playing time and touching the ball.
6. Do not allow your son to quit. If at the end of the season he decides not to return to the team,that is appropriate.

But, each time someone quits, it becomes easier for that individual to quit other things in the future.

1. Help with the support and financing of the program. These opportunities can be any of the following: assisting with concession stand at basketball games, tailgates, spirit gear,liftathon, and the sale of field signs.
2. Getting to practice on time, keeping up with their equipment, pr1de shirt, etc. is the responsibility of the player.

But, any help you can give your son in this area will be greatly appreciated by the staff and team.

1. If you have negative thoughts about the coaching, play selection,players on the field, etc. –keep those thoughts to yourself. Verbalizing those thoughts will force your son to question the coaches’ ability and impact his attitude and performance. Football players perform best when everyone is on the same page and the players believe in what they are being asked to do.
2. In the fall of 2011, a college coach told me that from here on out when they recruit a player, they will ask about the parents.Don’t do anything that would negatively impact your son. I will tell the truth because it is the right thing to do and because if I do not, I will lose credibility with that college coach and they will no longer recruit our kids.

College Football 
Develop skills to play fast. 
Be a student of video, use Hudl. Improve your game and know your opponent.Discipline yourself to play hard every snap- eliminate loaf video/ bad video.

Skills, speed, and tape are most important. Colleges always believe they can add the weight and strength.

Attend summer camps. Look for camps that have multiple schools there. Go to camp where you want to go to college. Prioritize your camps. Limited days and limited money. Hit as many one day camps as possible.

Respond to EVERY piece of mail, email, or questionnaire you receive from a school. The offer from one school can start the ball rolling to more offers. Somebody has to be the first. The first offer is the toughest to get.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook - clean or private.

Practice/develop 40, 20 yard shuttle, and vertical. Research camps & combines and prep for those drills. The higher your ACT, the better your gpa, the more schools you can attend and the more $ you can receive. Build highlights on Hudl. 10-15 GREAT plays.

Provide Coach Buchanan with recruiting email address and phone number for the coach & school you want your video sent. Complete online questionnaire before you give the info to your coach.

Even in season, during other sports, continue to lift weights, get stronger, develop speed and conditioning. Do skill work to improve as able.

Nutrition is a discipline issue, not knowledge. Eat good food. Eat breakfast. Drink as much water as possible. SLEEP! ​STRETCH!

Bust your tail for your teammates. Your coaches need to be your best friend when college coaches call. If you don't bust your tail and do right for the team, don't expect the coaches to go to bat for you when you need it.

Team Success helps you get noticed, not many players get recruited off of bad teams. Players that go further in the playoffs get more exposure and coaches assume they are winners.

Be open to playing any position, once you get there then you can prove you belong at your position.

3 - Hire good men that care about kids more than football- guys that know football, but are even better people. A lot of conflicts can come from assistant coaches getting carried away. A lot of times if that happens here, our assistant coach, or me if I say/do something that was a mistake, says I am sorry and we move on.

4 - Try to please no one! Sounds crazy but it is true. Colossians 3:23. Serve God. Give Him your best. It is pointless to try to please people, you can't do it. If you try to do so, you are chasing your tail with no focus. And, if parents pick up on that, they will wear you out trying to get you to do what they want. Do what is right and let the chips fall where they may.

David Buchanan 
Head Football Coach 
22 years experience as a head coach 
Mason County High School 
Maysville, KY

 

… 
With regards to parents "who just don't get it" I try to use preventive maintenance with them. I usually send out an email or actual letter to the parents before the season starts. This letter will state the way I handle playing time and my goals for the team and more importantly the children who will be playing for me. This will set a foundation on which I can fall back on during the season. No one will be caught by surprise by my coaching decisions. It will also give an opportunity to those parents who disagree with my approach to leave the program before the season starts or before they become to invested in the program.

Once I have done that I deal with parents as best I can but do not let them dictate the way I coach. Do whats best for the children and the team but not the parents.

Hope this helps.

Jim Sweeney 
Head Softball Coach 
10 Years Experience 
Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School 
Bayside, New York

 

I have had parents that were only concerned with their child's playing time. These parents usually spread turmoil behind the scenes. I have worked hard to build tolerance, my job is to coach kids and control the things I can and let God control the things I can't. I love coaching and the opportunity to do it is a blessing from above. I believe in the power of prayer and believe that God can take care of my enemies.

Calvin Dockery 
Head Boys Basketball Coach 
12 years coaching experience 
Butler County High School 
Morgantown, Kentucky

 

I was a cross-country running in high school and college and I would say please don't do it.

Try to consider the rest of the team, and how much they need you and appreciate you, and how much other parents appreciate them.

There may be a few bad seeds but is it the player causing them to loose joy, or the parent?

Don't leave because of a few parents.

The coach may be the only role model, male figure they have in there life. 
Practice and playing may be the only thing they look forward too.

A record like you are mentioning is proof they are doing something right.

I say keep up the good work and thank you for what you are doing in these kids lives!

Sasha Parker-Cochran 
State High School & Collegiate Cross-Country Runner 
Simon Kenton High School and Northern KY University 
Independence, KY

 

I’ve been coaching basketball for 13 years, from 7 year olds up through high school. I appreciate your note, and would say this one topic causes more angst for me than any other. Rather than go on about the problems though, I’ve summarized my thoughts below on suggestions that might help. Lastly, I very much look forward to your compilation, since I certainly do not have all the answers.

▪ Have a mandatory meeting with the parents at the beginning of the season to make the following points
▪ I am the coach, and therefore please let me coach your child
▪ I will strive to ensure they have fun, learn the fundamentals, and will build their character
▪ You are the parent, and responsible for encouraging your child, having them on-time for practice, cheer them on, etc.
▪ Explain 24 hour rule – if you want to discuss something with me concerning playing time, etc. I ask you to wait 24 hours following the game before contacting me to discuss.
▪ All conversations will be either in person or over the phone (no texts, e-mails, etc.)
▪ All my time and energy is towards the team and each player, NOT towards the parents.

Hopefully you get the picture, but I’ve found that dealing directly with these issues before they arrive works way better than waiting until after they arrive and then having to take time for crisis management. The worst thing I want to hear is “you never told me that”.

I recognize that a young female coach who’s 20 – 25 years old is in a much more difficult position dealing with a mad 50 year old man. Therefore, it’s a must they have the support from the administration on their decisions. Furthermore, at times it might be better for a more senior person to step in as well.

Thanks and keep up your excellent work.

David Holy 
Head Basketball Coach 
13 years’ experience 
Clearwater Academy + CalWest Community Basketball 
Calgary, AB

 

… 
And that, my friend is the $64,000 question...I will be anxious to see the responses from the other coaches you are communicating with. Here is my two cents:

Communication, communication and more communication up front (before there are issues) will help.

a) Pre-season parent-meetings which may help build their trust in you, hear you speak about your goals for their sons/daughters can never be replaced by anything else. If these happen before the season and outside of specific incidents, they will be more effective.

b) Can some parents be involved with you from the start in helping organize teram functions, who you may later need to count on to interact with those difficult parents?

c) E-mail parents separate from players on items that may be of interest to them. I NEVER want to interact with parents when it is appropriate to have that interaction with players but there are some things during the course of a given season that players could care less (than their parents) about. This way you are establishing an open line of communication on coach-parent dialogues versus coach-player dialogues. For example:

Coach-Parent Dialogues Could Include Coach-Player Dialogues Could Include

Directions to games Playing Time

Dress Code for certain events Things he/she needs improvement on

Plans for special team events Treatment of other players

Coach's analysis of a game just played Game planning

I have always said if one of my players can't approach me on any item, we have a much bigger problem than whatever that item might be. Coaches have a responsibility to develop and nurture (different) relationships with players...with parents... with spectators, other coaches, opponents etc.

Some parents will NEVER be convinced that you know what you are doing more than they do. DAMAGE CONTROL. Minimize interaction with those people. Play a passive role with them. I had a parent (of a young HS player-9th grader) call me up after the first VARSITY soccer game of the season once and I truly thought he was excited about the fact that we opened the season with a hard fought victory. Nope. He started with this: "Do you know "Johnny" only played 12 minutes in today's game?" My response to him was "I played him THAT much?" It minimized where he was going with convincing me I had not given him enough playing time.

Gil Palladino 
Head Coach-Boys Varsity Soccer 
30 Years Experience 
Clinton High School 
Clinton, New York

 

It is a tough thing. You do it for the kids and then in some shape or fashion the parent basically tells you that you are ruining their kid's life. And they are usually telling everyone else as well. It is hard not to take it personal because it is. Their kid is why you give up so much of your time and energy.

I try to follow a pattern when getting an earful from a parent. Listen-Think-Communiate.

First I want to truly listen to what the parent is saying. Most parents are not very good at communicating when it comes to their kids. The first five minutes is emotion. I ask why they are thinking the way they do? What conversation they have had with the kid? Give me some specific examples? What do you think should be done? All this helps me get the details and deep understanding of what is really going on in the situation and their head. I also try to approach the situation assuming the parent is right, because I want to make sure I, or other coaches, have not put the player in a bad situation.

Second I want to think about the situation. I may need to talk with other coaches or people outside the program to come to as much understanding as possible. What is the real situation at practice, games, home that may affect this player and how the parent feels. Thinking (including praying) takes at least a day to separate the real from the noise. To separate my initial reaction from what may be happening. The end game is to come up with a decision that is best for the player, not a reaction to what is said.

Third I need to communicate. There may be a need to communicate with the parent, other coaches, administration or the team. But it almost always involves communicating with the player. Even with players as young as 9-10 years old, getting a dialog going with the player is number one. Me understanding the player's thinking and getting the player comfortable with what is taking place with the team. Depending on what you find out about the situation and what decision you come to, this may involve addressing the issue head on with the player or indirectly. It may also just be opening the lines of communication to a young man on a problem you can't fix. I can make this player the best QB he can be, but that may not be good enough to succeed at the position. At the end of the day I want this player to be successful long term.

With many of the parents that have told me I ruined their child's life, I have been able to shake that young man's hand several year's later when I see them as a successful husband, father and citizen. They look back on "our team" as a good part of their life. Life is a whole lot bigger then a season or two.

And if all that doesn't work. Tell them to pound sand.

Henry Hunt 
Football and Basketball Coach 
20+ years of experience 
Saint Agnes School 
Louisville, KY

 

I started working in sports ministry about 20 years ago and had a few issues with parents back then so there is no doubt in my mind this will always be an issue. I was having a consistent problem with a specific set of parents and I went to a mentor for help. He asked me if I got into coaching and ministry because of kids and my answer was an immediate YES! I was thinking at that time that if I did not have to deal with the parents it would be the perfect job! J My guess is many have felt that way. The advice he gave me was simple and profound and changed the way I coached and did ministry from that day forward. He told me I was not in this just for the kids but the parents as well. He said that many parents need help in guiding and teaching their children and he encouraged me to begin to look at the “problem parents” as parents who God purposely sent my way for help. That small bit of advice changed my perspective on how I looked at and deal with upset parents.

In the end, most “problem parents” believe they are doing what is best for their child and we believe their perspective is out of whack. They need someone to speak truth into their lives about their children and who better to do in than the child’s coach? When we speak, we must do it in Love and let the parents know we also love their child and we also want what is best for their child even though we disagree on what that might be.

I was also told many years ago that if you package something well you can sell anything to anyone. On the other hand, if you package something poorly, nobody will buy what you are selling. This has helped me greatly when dealing with the upset or problem parents. Am I packaging the truth about their son or daughter in a way that will be palatable for them or am I just jamming it down throat because they have upset me?

So glad you are helping us all by sending things like this out to us. We need all the help we can get!

Keep Lookin’ Up, 
Mark Ackerman 
Athletic Director and Head Football Coach 
16 years experience 
Southwest Florida Christian Academy 
Fort Myers, Florida

 

Unfortunately there will always be parents like this. The good news is they usually are only 2 or 3 year experts so you can outlast most of them but that does not mean they do not take their toll on you. My first suggestion is to make sure your team and protocols are accurate and defensible and are in the best interest of all the boys in your program. Once you have made sure you have not missed anything keep to these protocols and do not make any exceptions to pacify these parents and or players. Your world will start to crumble if you do not make a stand just make sure you are on solid ground. I would then have a conversation with the player as he is in the middle and I am sure hearing things at home that will undermine your authority and he needs to hear from you on your terms. You of course cannot try to isolate him from his parents as that is first wrong and second wrong. You merely want to acknowledge that you are aware his parents are not your biggest fans and that he might feel like he is caught in the middle. Then assure him that anything that is between you and his parents will not be held against him and that he will only have to worry about following the same team rules that of his teammates have to follow. I would then apologize to him for the place this puts him and that you will do whatever you can to insulate him from this situation.

Next I would handle the issues these parents bring up head on and in an upright and proper manner. I would try to always have a witness with me during any and all conversations I would have with these parents. It is important to try to avoid the he said she said scenarios.

If these parents bring up issues that can be shared with other parents I would, in the interest of all our players, bring these issues up to all the other parents and try to illicit their responses. If their responses are positive then this will further isolate these parents. If their responses are negative then you realize you have a serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

Lastly if you are successful in isolating these parents then you might want to go to your administration to develop a behavioral plan for the parents to follow. If this plan is not followed then these parents might be Hopefully your superiors will give you the support you need.

Tom Alward 
Head Football Coach 
36 years experience 
Goodrich High School 
Goodrich, MI

 

Great question. Deal with them by keeping them positive as a result of your philosophy.

• Communicate a philosophy based on TEAM. The TEAM is more important than the individual. 
• Be willing and openly help with college placement with all players 
• Communicate a policy where the son must talk to the head coach first 
• Let the parents know that your philosophy is based on the following quote: "They don't care what you know until they know how much you CARE!" 
• Last, be confident in what you do and make the kids more important than the wins and you will enjoy the experience.

Mike Glaser 
Director of Activities 
Former Head Football Coach until 2012 for 31 years 
Saint Xavier High School 
Louisville, KY

 

We had some problems in our athletic program in the past with difficult parents (only a few). Not all of them at the time were always dealt with in an ideal way, mostly because folks were just trying to deal with the immediate concern instead of with the problem as a whole.

A solution that the athletic director and the school superintendent came up with was to have a well-defined athletic policy, which all parents, coaches, and athletes sign. The policy outlined expected conduct of players, coaches, and parents, and outlined a process by which parents can air their grievances. For example, the field or court of play was deemed an inappropriate place for parents to raise issues with coaches. If by the next day, the parent still felt that he or she had an issue with the coach, the next step was calling the school to set up an appointment.

It was nice for us as coaches because we could always point to the policy instead of getting into heated discussions on the sidelines with parents. The cooling off period allowed parents and coaches to focus on the issue when they met instead of taking things personally. Not to mention the fact that a signed policy does a lot to shield coaches (and schools) from lawsuits. Has it always worked? No. There are no universal solutions to the problem of selfish parents, but the athletic policy was a big step in the right direction.

Piet Van Kampen 
Former Junior High Football Coach (due to a move from MN to WI this winter) 
6 years experience 
Lakeview School 
Cottonwood, MN

 

In my 26 years of coaching high school sports...I find the best answer 
For this is.....I ask the parent....how will one kid benefit everyone in the program. 
I've had my run ins with parents from playing time to minor issues.. 
But my answer to this is...deal with it and move on...you will never please 
any parent or player....being a leader (as a coach) will often hurt someone.... 
No level in any sports will ever be satisfied.

Ronnie R Fernandez 
Head Boys Soccer Coach 
(Reserve baseball & Basketball Head coach) 
26 years experience 
Bishop Fenwick High School 
Middletown, OH

 

"The trick is to lay the ground rules on paper before the season starts, and make parents and players sign it. The coach should make it against the team rules for anyone, including parents to behave in the way that is inappropriate and have the consequences drawn out on paper for such actions. For example, I am a wrestling coach and it is very disruptive and damaging in many ways for the parent to scream out, coach or otherwise intervene during practice. So we just made it a rule that only coaches are to coach and that yelling out during practice will not be permitted. You'd be surprised how well that works. It is less effective however to make the rules up in the middle of the season so make sure everything is covered. After the season is over try to think of rules you'd like to add for next season."

Kerry Smyth 
Head Youth Wrestling Coach 
14 Years Experience 
Golden Cross Wrestling Academy 
Cincinnati, Ohio

 

...

I would BAN the parents from games. The true goal here is to teach and coach up the kids. Unless this is an issue of safety or abuse, which it sounds like it is not, then let’s put the focus on the athletes. My parents are given a “Code of Conduct” letter before each season, if they don’t comply, they can be banned from games. I hope this will help. 
Kevin M. Hanifan 
Head Football coach 
25 Years Experience 
Kellenberg Memorial High School 
Uniondale, N.Y. 11553

 
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