By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA
While most parents are good supportive individuals and never cause a problem, there are a few who may be challenging, unrealistic and cause problems. Whether at their request or yours, there may be occasions when you have to meet with one of these disgruntled individuals. Understanding the dynamics and being prepared is an extremely important step to navigating these situations.
In all of your communication efforts – at the pre-season parents meeting, newsletters, handouts and individual conversations – it is important to establish the parameters and procedures for contacting a coach. If there is a question or issue, the athlete should always first talk with you. This should be a standard, clearly expressed and existing expectation.
Parents should not be making the first contact by approaching you, the coach, with a concern. Some parents often want to start right at the top, and this could be the superintendent, principal or athletic director, in order to have their concern heard and to get action. But you are coaching athletes and you should be able to explain what they need to do to improve.
On rare, isolated occasions when there may be an impasse between an athlete and the coach, the next step would be to meet with a parent. But the coach-athlete relationship cannot be breached until you have had the opportunity to try and explain the situation and offer suggestions directly with the athlete.
It is important to remember that most parents love their child and love overrides logic and reason. Everything is usually fine until it directly affects their son or daughter. As a result of these basic maxims, the three most common complaints that a coach has to deal with are:
- Why a parent’s son or daughter didn’t make the team
- Why the child is not playing more
- Why the athlete is not starting
While there may be a few other parental concerns, these three represent 98 percent of all issues, complaints and problems. It makes sense, therefore, to be prepared to answer questions relating to them.
The following are a few helpful protocols and suggestions for meeting with a disgruntled parent.
- Never meet with an aggravated parent immediately after a game. You first have an obligation to huddle with your team, since that is your real responsibility and an educational opportunity that is critical to the improvement of the team. But equally important, you want to allow the built-up emotion to dissipate.
- Allow 24 hours to pass before scheduling a meeting with a parent. By following this procedure, it allows you time to properly prepare for your conversation. It is important to gather all supportive materials such as practice plans, game statistics and attendance records – whatever is critical to explain your position on any issue.
- Establish and communicate a few basic ground rules for this meeting. Even if a parent is emotional or upset, foul or inappropriate language is not permitted. The discussion needs to be done in a calm, respectful manner.
- Try to let the parent express his or her concern initially without interjecting your perspective. This accomplishes two things – permitting the parent the opportunity to vent and to show that you are willing to listen. In many cases, these two small considerations may go a long way toward reaching a reasonable conclusion.
- Do not use the names of other athletes to draw comparisons or to illustrate points during the discussion. Due to student confidentiality, this line cannot be crossed. This standard is not any different than the one that is always used in the classroom and it may be necessary to remind parents of this expectation.
- Definitely answer any question that is posed by the parent honestly, but do not offer more information than necessary. Don’t ramble and stick to the immediate purpose of the meeting. Often in order to make his or her case, a difficult parent may use an extraneous or carelessly used word to take a different twist in the argument. Keep answers clear, but extremely concise. This emphasizes the need for preparation prior to the actual meeting.
- Arrange for your athletic director or another administrator to join you for any potential contentious meetings. This additional person can be used to document what has occurred in the meeting if necessary and to serve as a monitor to keep the discussion centered on the topic and maintain civility.
- Develop an exit strategy so that the meeting does not repeat items, last forever and can be concluded in a fair and reasonable time. You might try one of the scheduling techniques and the accompanying response.
- “My next class starts in 10 minutes. Is there anything else that I can explain with regard to your concern?”
- “I hope that I have clearly responded to your concern. In five minutes, I am going to have to leave in order to start practice – the team is waiting for me.”
- Another good method is to have a secretary, fellow coach or athletic director knock on the door at an appointed time and announce, “Please don’t forget you have an appointment in 10 minutes.”
- Always thank the parent for stopping in and taking the time to share his or her concern. A helpful statement to help conclude a difficult meeting is, “I’ll take it into consideration.” While this comment does not promise any specific action, it does demonstrate that you’ve listened and did not simply brush off their concern.
While some parent meetings may be frustrating and difficult, they will crop up occasionally if you coach long enough. By thinking ahead, being prepared and using these guidelines, it should be a little easier to cope and survive.
About the Author: Dr. David Hoch recently retired as the athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 350 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.