Earlier this week I released a video over on the SlamDunk Success YouTube Channel with the same title as this post —Maybe Your Parent Problem is Actually a You Problem.
In it I talked about the concept that in my 35+ years as a coach and 12 years as an athletic director, I had and saw my share of what we coaches call “parent problems.”
“Parent problems” ends up being a catch-all term for anything that happens that creates some kind of issue, tension, or confrontation between coaches and the parents of athletes (and sometimes just parents or community members in general).
Of course, oftentimes the parent problems that I dealt with or those that I watched other coaches dealing with were problems with the parents’ way of seeing things or dealing with things.
When the parents and I (or I along with the coach) would discuss those things, what happened more often than not is I would realize that the parents’ perspectives were out of whack, or their kids had not clearly communicated the situation the parents were here to discuss, or they were just upset because they didn’t like how something was happening with regards to their kid.
Most often, the issue revolved around them believing their child was not receiving enough playing time.
This is, by far, the most common parent complaint out there. Kids are there to play. When they don’t get to play as much as they want or the parents want, they are upset and want to find out why it is that way.
Sometimes, that is all there is to it. The kid and the parents want to know why they play the amount they do and what they need to do to get more playing time. Those are the good, positive meetings with regards to this issue.
Oftentimes, though, while they say they want to find out why they play the amount they do, they really want to complain and tell us that we are wrong, and that they deserve a lot more playing time. While they may have a legitimate point, they often don’t really know what they’re talking about.
Even though they are in practice every day, these players often have warped perspectives of their own abilities or their teammates’ abilities. They do not see their situation objectively.
As for the parents, because they are not there every day at practice, they don’t see what the coaches see. They go by what they see during competitions. They often base their opinion on how they see their kids play when they are out in the driveway, street, or field.
Maybe even more often, they base their feelings on how their kids used to play the game over the last few years, not realizing that kids develop at different paces, and their own kids may have been passed up by players who have worked harder and put in more time to their games recently.
Whatever the reason, these situations present themselves to all of us coaches at one point or another, and we need to be prepared for them.
We need to allow the players and the parents the opportunity to ask us their questions, and then we need to offer them our reasoning for our decisions.
Hopefully, once this happens, tensions have been soothed, and the experience improves for everyone.
But It’s Not Always Their Problem
For many of the coaches that I have known in my years in this profession, that is how the majority of their player and parent issues have been.
However, I have also seen my share of parent problems that were really not parent problems at all.
They were coach problems.
Far too often, I have seen coaches who set themselves up for future parent problems. These coaches could have averted the future problems by focusing on one of the most important elements and skills in coaching, teaching, and leadership in general—Communication.
Coaches who fail in terms of clear communication are just asking for trouble. They are setting themselves up for scorn, ridicule, and contempt from those to whom they should be communicating.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw
I have always loved Shaw’s quote. It gets at the heart of so many issues that we have with one another: “I believe that because I said or wrote something to you, you understood it perfectly, and there can be no debate on what I said or meant.”
But as we all know, time and time again, our words get misinterpreted. This can happen for a variety of reasons. One is that we don’t choose the right words to make clear what we are meaning. Another is that we are talking over the level of understanding of our audience, in this case our kids and/or their parents.
Sometimes poor communication can lead to our kids telling their parents we said something when in reality, we didn’t say that or say it the way they told their parents we said it. Or their parents heard it differently than the way their kids told them, or they interpreted the words differently than the way we meant it.
Here is an example of that:
A few years ago, a coach in our school district told players that summer activities attendance would affect whether or not they made the team and how much they played on the team if they did make it. (In our state—and I assume in just about every state in the nation— there is a rule that says coaches can not base squad selection or playing time on attendance at off-season activities.)
Many parents were outraged when they heard this from the coach, and they should be outraged at it . . . if that’s what the coach meant.
However, what the coach actually meant was this: Players who don’t play in the off-season are not going to improve like they need to, so if they want to maximize their chances of making the team and getting playing time next year, they need to show up to a lot of the off-season workouts and activities.
That statement would make total sense to every coach, player, and parent in the world who hears it. “You must play in the off-season if you want to improve enough to play during the season.”
However, if coaches don’t make it clear that this is what they mean by such a statement, they are setting themselves up for a huge problem.
There are many examples that you and I could point to where coaches said something that led to this type of misinterpretation of what was meant, which in turn led to a parent problem for the coach. But in each instance, it would be the coach’s own words that created the problem, not anything that the parents did.
Make sure you say EXACTLY what needs to be said to make sure that people know what you mean.
Clarity is critical in any communication. If you are not purposefully working to create clarity, most likely you will be creating cloudiness and chaos.
Purity of Intent
Another area where coaches need to make sure they are clear is in their intent.
What are your intentions in coaching the young people you coach?
What is your why?
What is your philosophy?
Make sure that you have a purity of intent with regards to why you coach.
We all want to win games and championships. That is a goal for everyone who plays and coaches sports. Developing a competitive spirit and environment for teams is a very important element of what coaches do.
However, too many coaches take that competitive drive and spirit too far. They focus solely on winning and forget that we are here to do so much more for the kids in our care. Pretty soon their own perspective and intent is warped, and they get caught up in the “win-at-all-costs” mindset. This creates a downward spiral that far too many never get out of.
Don’t ever forget that your role is to provide kids the opportunity to have a positive athletic experience. You must always strive to do all that you can to provide that for them.
Once you figure out your intent, your why, and your philosophy, you need to make sure you communicate them clearly to all of your people. This includes your players and their parents.
They need to know why you do what you do and what you are trying to accomplish. You need to continue to stress and emphasize it to everyone. Then, you need to do everything you can to accomplish it.
Coaches who stop focusing on their why and their philosophy start losing their way.
Soon, players and parents wonder what you really are about. They start to doubt everything you say if you stop doing what you say you will do and stop focusing on what you say is important.
Focus on doing what’s right, communicating what that is to your players and parents, and then working hard to do just that. And again, focus on communicating it all clearly.
Follow Your Standards & Guidelines
The idea above leads to one of the biggest areas where coaches create their own parent problems—not following the standards and guidelines they have set up for their teams and programs.
When you say you stand for something, STAND FOR IT!
When you say a certain guideline or rule is something people need to live by in your program, live by it and hold those who don’t live by it accountable.
This is what integrity is all about—when your actions are in alignment with your words and beliefs.
Too many coaches A) don’t even establish standards for their programs, or B) don’t enforce them fairly and consistently.
If this is you, it becomes a HUGE red flag for anyone who watches you, especially your players and their parents.
It is critical that you handle this potentially volatile situation carefully. If you can’t live by it or enforce it fairly, you shouldn’t have it as a standard.
Kids and parents see how you either do or don’t live by the standards you say you will live by. There is little that will ruin your credibility more than showing a lack of integrity and character by not living by the standards you say you will live by and not holding your players accountable to those standards you say they must live by.
There are so many instances of coaches not following their standards or not doing what they say they will do. The parent problems that these created could have easily been avoided had those coaches simply followed what they said they would do.
One instance to illustrate this that I dealt with in my years as an athletic director was when we had a coach in our school change the lettering policy for the program right at the end of the season.
The coach did not like how some of the team members behaved or how they didn’t handle a certain thing, so the coach tweaked the criteria for receiving a varsity letter right before the end of the season. Those elements that the players were not handling the way the coach wanted were not part of the coach’s original lettering policy. Therefore, those players could not be held accountable for them through that policy.
So, the coach decided to change the policy.
A huge uproar ensued from those players and parents who were affected. First, the coach’s decision to change the policy midstream was a big mistake.
But then, the way the coach handled it compounded the problem. The coach didn’t tell anyone about the change. Players just found out at the end-of-season awards banquet that they had not received a letter without any explanation.
The parent problem this created was not a parent problem; it was a coach problem. This was a problem that the coach created, and it was totally avoidable.
Treatment of Players
One of the biggest areas where coaches create their own problems is in how they treat their players.
You would think it would go without saying that coaches need to treat their kids with respect and dignity at all times, yet we hear far too many stories of coaches not doing so.
Many of these coaches will hide behind the idea that they are just “coaching ’em hard,” a concept I discussed in a post last October. Coaching kids hard is a good thing if it’s done right.
But when coaches behave inappropriately by treating kids poorly, humiliating, belittling, embarrassing, or demeaning them, this is the ultimate in creating problems for themselves. No parent is going to stand for such treatment of their kids, nor should they.
The coach who suddenly finds himself or herself with a parent problem as a result of one of these types of situations deserves whatever he or she gets. There is no place for such behavior from coaches in this day and age.
Once again, we have all heard our share of horror stories with regards to coaches behaving badly when it comes to treatment of players. Don’t be that coach. Rise above any temptation that any moment you find yourself in might lead you toward some type of bad behavior of this type.
Consider ahead of time what that kind of behavior would look like and then stay away from it at all times. Be proactive with how you might choose to react to situations which could lead to such behavior, and make sure you have a plan for how to behave properly.
When you coach your kids from a standpoint of love and respect, this never becomes an issue because you would never think of doing anything to treat them in such an inappropriate way. Doing the right thing is the easiest thing to do because it is the only thing to do.
Be Your Best for Your Kids
Of course, there are countless coaches in the world with countless stories illustrating how they create many of their problems with parents and how those problems are often avoidable and of those coaches’ own doing.
Coaches need to be better at recognizing the problems they themselves create. They then need to do everything they can to not do the types of things that lead to these problems.
So, coaches: the next time you are complaining about a parent you have a problem with, look in the mirror first and see if maybe you have a you problem more than a parent problem.
Think hard about how you have handled yourself, what you have done, and what you have said that may have led to this situation you find yourself in.
If you realize you have been the problem, start behaving the way you need to behave, so you don’t create more problems for yourself.
Think before you speak and act.
Focus on everything you say and do.
While you may not eliminate all of the potential parent problems you might have, you will be taking steps to make sure that you are not creating the problems yourself.