No matter how meticulous you are in developing relationships with parents, athletes and the community, you will always have parents who disagree with your coaching philosophy, your in game strategy, and your decisions regarding playing time. These are inevitable. If you don’t want to have these discussions, you should find another line of work.
It is important that you draw the lines very clearly about what you will and will not discuss with parents, and when you will and won’t discuss it. Your preseason parent meeting is a good time to set these ground rules. If you are not currently having a preseason parent meeting, I highly recommend you implement one. It sets the tone for the season and lets the parents get to meet the coaching staff.
During this meeting, you should establish your guidelines for what you will and will not discuss with parents, as well as when those discussions will take place. I encourage you to tell parents that you have an open door to discuss matters such as academics, safety, and social concerns. These can be very serious topics such as rehabbing injuries, academic troubles, hazing or bullying. You absolutely want these issues brought to your attention and you may learn a lot about your team by listening. Nobody is perfect and perhaps someone may bring an issue to your attention that you have overlooked, or simply were not aware of. These can be very positive, trust building discussions to have with parents.
On the flip side of this are the other two topics that coaches are generally not as excited about discussing. It is my opinion that under no circumstance should you discuss in game strategy with a parent. I do not say this because I think parents don't understand the game. In many instances they do. The problem is, it really compromises your integrity as a coaching staff if you are taking input from a parent or group of parents when it comes to in game strategy.
If you have been coaching for any time at all, you know that the majority of your parent complaints will be about playing time. It is very easy to say that you will not discuss playing time with a parent, but that is difficult to follow through on. I have tried this approach and its biggest drawback is that it develops negative relationships, and fosters hostility between the coaches and parents. I tell parents at our preseason night that conversations about playing time should be had between players and coaches. This is part of the maturing process, helps them develop into adults, and can be very beneficial to the coach/athlete relationship. In the event that a parent does end up contacting you about playing time, my response is always to set up a face to face meeting with the athlete present.
This is done for a few reasons: 1.) Most of the time, the parent is contacting you behind their son’s back and doesn’t want them to know they are contacting you. 2.) I would not want someone having a secret meeting about me behind my back, I would want to be there to share my side of the argument. Athletes should be afforded the same respect. 3.) It is easy for someone to say something derogatory, hurtful or personal behind the vail of a computer screen.
In addition to making sure the athlete is present, you may also want to ensure that another coach or administrator is present. It is a sad comment on our society that this should be done for personal safety, but it seems like just about every month you read a story about a parent attacking a coach somewhere in our country. It is also beneficial to have someone else there so you are not accused of saying or doing anything you didn’t say or do. You should also make sure you give at least 24 hours after a game to cool off. Emotions run high at games and it is best for all parties if these discussions are had when everyone involved has a cooler head.
Here are a few tips for how to handle the discussion itself:
1.) Listen first -Many times they are just looking to get something off their chests and will feel better after talking.
2.) Don’t interrupt - Give them respect. (The only exceptions are if they begin to get profane, aggressive, or begin to badmouth others. These are reasons to end the meeting)
3.) Once they have spoken, give your side, remain calm, clear, and concise. Stick to the issue at hand.
4.) Once each side has had their say, end the meeting. Do not let the meeting drag. The topic will meander and the longer this meeting goes on, the more likely it is that it will have a negative outcome.
5.) If no resolution is agreed upon (agreeing to disagree is the most common resolution) refer them to your superior.
I hope this two part series has helped you gain some insight into how you can establish positive relationships with the parents in your program. While some parents are simply unreasonable and will complain no matter what happens, a great majority of parents can be positive assets to your program if you can establish positive relationships with the community.