Soccer Skills:

Difficult Soccer Parents: Help!

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Difficult Parents are...Difficult (Paul Cross)

Difficult parents can turn any season into an unpleasant one. I am not sure you will ever succeed 100% of the time when dealing with difficult parents, but the strategies and tactics below will put you in a much better position to have a successful outcome when dealing with difficult parents.

Let’s define a difficult parent:  a difficult parent is someone who is upset with you because of something you did or didn’t do or something that happened (you fill in the blank).  In addition, they can complicate the situation by not being a good judge of time and place.  That is, when and where to address the issue with you or anyone else.

A difficult parent can be upset with:

  • Playing time (either their child getting too little or some other child or children getting too much)
  • What position their child is playing vs. where the parent thinks they should be playing
  • If a child plays for both a “club” and a “recreational” team at the same time or any multiple teams in one season; wanting preferential treatment because of talent and not commitment
  • They believe there is unfair treatment when discipline is required
  • Constantly berating officials as if they are entitled to such behavior
  • Constantly “coaching” from the sidelines
  • Generally not onboard with your “vision” of the season and your program
  • So how do you deal with these issues and any other issues that you can share from your experiences?

I believe the simple answer is, EXPECTATIONS. As a coach of our youth it becomes your responsibility to envision what you believe the season will look like and share your vision with your parents, your assistant coaches and the kids on your team.

Word of Wisdom:  approach expectations from a positive standpoint.  That is, do not call a meeting and simply “dictate” how things will be done.  Do not come across as if this is your kingdom and you are the king or queen.  That approach undermines what you are trying to accomplish.  Your expectations may be well thought out and very helpful, but if they are delivered in a condescending tone or “it’s my way or the highway” tone, it comes off negative and you may have created more problems for yourself because some parents may be put off by your tone, your attitude and your delivery.

Pre-Season Meeting:  it is the beginning of the season and no one is in the heat of the battle.  This is the time to deliver you pre-season meeting with energy, enthusiasm and, above all, let the children and parents know that you and your assistants are in the trenches with them and that all the expectations apply to them as well as the children and parents.  Everyone is in the program together.

At your pre-season meeting lay out all of your expectations for you, your assistants, the parents and the children.  Share with them how you want them to communicate with you especially if a child is going to miss a practice or game.

However, if the issue is sensitive in nature or possibly emotional outline the following plan:

  1. Parent or child, if you are upset about something, please give it a lot of thought.  I will give you the same courtesy if I am upset about something.
  2. Cooling Off Period:  Please wait 24 hours before acting on your issue.  I will do the same.
  3. Time and Place:  Let’s set up a time and place to meet (if not using a phone) and let’s discuss the issue.

The beauty of this approach is threefold and maybe more:

  1. You have now set an expectation and put in place a process to cover just about any parent complaint and in some respect, you have defused just about any issue before it can become explosive.
  2. All the parents attending your pre-season meeting will agree that this approach is reasonable and doable.  Why?  They are not in the heat of the battle.
  3. You have calmly set the expectation and you have announced to all parties how you and they need to address sensitive or emotional issues.

Now a process is in place and if a parent or child abuses the process, you can say: “we have a process to discuss you concern; please honor that process.  I will do the same for you.”  It allows you to defuse the issue immediately and puts the responsibility back on the parent or child to address the issue (24 hours later) with an agreeable time and place for all concerned.

Coaches, this process works.  In addition, you can use it for any expectation within your program:  yelling at officials, coaching from the sidelines, playing time, commitment to the program, etc.  The overall goal is to give everyone a process to use and, at the same time, avoid on field or on court or on parking lot discussions which can become heated very quickly.

You may not reach every parent or child, but you will have made an honest effort to outline a process that everyone can use during the course of the season.  I truly believe that the success of most seasons start before a soccer ball is ever kicked.

Finally, give all parents and children a process to address you and your assistants, deliver your expectations in an upbeat manner and have you and your assistants follow through on your expectations with great consistency.  Have a vision. Share your vision in an upbeat manner. Create a process to defuse issues.  Reduce your problems.  Thank you for coaching our children!

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Bill Bommarito is the President and founder of Coaching Coaches, LLC. Coaching Coaches trains grade school and high school coaches and activity leaders to provide the best possible sporting experience or extracurricular activity experience possible. Coaching Coaches' training programs can be delivered online or onsite. Bill can be contacted via email.

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