Every season, coaches all over the world dedicate huge portions of their time to teaching other kids how to play a sport. They do this because they love the game. They do it because they love the kids.
Most parents greatly appreciate your commitment to their kids, but there are always exceptions. Emotions can run high when it comes to their kids, so it is easy to step on toes and ruffle feathers with parents. Learning how to deal with these parents is something we accept when we take on the role of coach. If you coach for long enough, these encounters become inevitable.
Before we talk about how to best deal with difficult parents, let’s first talk about how to avoid problems in the first place. Proactive measures are better than reactive action.
Have a pre-season meeting with all players and parents
I won’t get into too much detail of everything you need to talk about in your pre-season meeting because that depends on what sport you’re coaching and your coaching style. There are two things that I belief are necessary to start off your season on the right note.
Establish a cooperative relationship
For many coaches, you have probably adopted a cooperative coaching style, so you will already have strong relationships with your players as well as the parents. For new players, this is your first chance to make an impression. Make sure everyone is comfortable approaching you. Do not try to intimidate anyone. You are a mentor there to guide kids through their development both as athletes and as young adults.
More often than not, when a parent explodes with negative feelings directed at a coach, this anger has been building up to a point where they couldn’t handle it anymore. If the parent had a better relationship with the coach this could have been avoided with a respectful conversation.
Touch on the topic of playing time
Most parent-coach problems are caused by perceived injustices in how playing time is allocated. Parents feel their kids are being treated unfairly. Now this topic can be looked at differently depending on the age and competitive level of your team. Most would agree that equal playing time is appropriate for very young athletes. This equality begins to change as kids get older and as you increase the competition.
Not all players have the same skill level so if you plan on disproportionate play time, make this explicitly known as soon as possible. Parents as well as players need to know what they are getting themselves into when they join a team, especially at highly competitive travel levels. If you can, let less skilled players get more time in the less important games.
Now let’s talk about how to handle angry parents
If problems cannot be avoided in a preventative manner here are some tips on how to receive angry parents in a way that allows both parties to walk away feeling respected and happy with the outcome.
Don’t talk to a parent that is yelling
This one will always be hard to deal with diplomatically. In most cases this will happen during active games. If you can, tell the parent that you will talk after the game. The last thing you want to do is get in a screaming match in front of the kids. No matter what happened no matter who is right or wrong do not make the kids pay for adult problems.
Sit down and have a conversation with the parent at a later time when both of you have had a moment to calm down. If you can, ask someone to sit in on the meeting. This will help civilize the conversation and they can also act as a mediator.
Hear out their argument
Much of a parent’s anger can arise because they feel that their complaints go ignored. It is critical that you really listen to what they have to say. Do not interrupt and be dismissive. Get the complete side of their story and respond accordingly. You can only escalate their anger if you fail to listen to them.
Keep your composure
Sometimes parents’ anger will be completely unreasonable. There will always be problem parents creating drama and stirring the pot. This cannot be avoided. If a parent is refusing to be reasonable and getting emotional, keep your composure. Raising your voice and devolving to personal attacks won’t solve the problem or help either party get what the