In this piece we are particularly discussing dealing with parents. Working with parents is just part of the landscape but for some of us this is never fun -- even when most of the lacrosse parents are nice, understanding, reasonable people there tends to be at least one overzealous parent that can make the whole thing a nightmare.
These are the lacrosse parents who, for example, call on the phone demanding to know why their son isn't getting more playing time. Sometimes they arrive during practices or games to make this demand. Another example is the parent who pulls their kid away from the coach during the team huddle or at halftime to let him know what he should be doing without consideration of the game plan. How about the parent who will incisively push his ideas on you about how to win and take it as a personal attack when you do not apply his input? Or the ones who will send you a scathing e-mail the next morning and tout himself to be a classy individual for not letting you have it immediately after the game? We all have examples, you know the parent we are talking about.
Although dealing with these parents is probably never going to be our favorite thing, it is something that we have to learn to get better at. This is a fact of life and by the way a life lesson of the game -- for coaches!
The good news is that it can be made better. There are steps you can take in advance to cut down on the number of unpleasant instances you encounter later during a season. These steps and tips can help you not only retain your authority and credibility as a coach, but will help improve quality communication between you, your players, and their parents.
The central lesson: Parents Are Doing What They Think Is The Best Thing For Their Child.
You need to start from that same place.
There are many ideas on how to accomplish this and we do not expect you to agree with all of what we cite here. You might even think some of our ideas are wrong, so as we send them in the coming weeks we invite you to give your opinions on Facebook on the post regarding the suggestion we are making. This discussion will help us all become better coaches.
A Fact Of Life: We each have opinions on how to handle difficult parents but we can all probably agree that you can't please everyone. It is a sad truth that once you step in to the coaching spotlight there will be some players and parents who want you to do something differently; thus, it is vital that you stay true to the coaching principles and techniques you think work best, and more specifically, the techniques that work best for your style. After all, you put in the time to work with and understand the needs of your players and you are the one in front of them. No matter how knowledgeable a parent may be, nobody understands your team and your personal situation as much as you.
The most important thing you can do with parents to establish your lacrosse coaching perspective and style is to conduct a pre-season parent meeting. A meeting like this will help others better understand your approach and reasoning long before the first practice whistle blows. Even if you are brought on late in the hiring cycle you should still hold a parent meeting as soon as you can, because there are many things parents need to know from you that can prevent confusion and that will align the parents to the goal of helping their kids within the framework of the team.
If you make your expectations clear ahead of time, and if you stick to them, you are putting yourself in a good position. While you might not say it to them exactly how I write this next part, if you have your rules and abide by them dealing with them is a fact of life for the parents to adjust to.
To make the best impression in the meeting, be organized and prepared. Have some concrete points, rules, and guidelines, and also be ready to listen to questions the parents have.
1. What should you bring up to parents in the pre-season meeting?
Discuss what you expect from the parents:
- How lacrosse parents can best help their child. Parents need to know that being late to practice is a big deal, that their child will need equipment to play (mouthpiece and cup are typically forgotten), that they can greatly support their child by attending games, praising their hard work, focusing on positives, etc.
- Set guidelines for game days. Make sure parents understand that you expect them to behave on game days. This means positive cheering, not putting down other players, no yelling at the refs, and no criticizing you or other coaches during the heat of a competition. Put your foot down early and firmly about “sideline lacrosse coaching” from parents; typically this frustrates/embarrasses the child more than you as the lacrosse coach, confuses the kid, makes for some bizarre decision making on the field, and leaves everyone trying to figure out why it is happening.
Discuss what the parents should expect from the team:
- Make it clear from the start how playing time will be determined. If you want all the kids to play for equal minutes, tell that to the parents. If you base playing time on attendance, work ethic, off-season participation, skill level, or any of those things, let the parents know.
- Inform parents about the school / club policies. Just as your players are working within a team structure, you are all working within a school or club structure. One general comment: you need to give that organization the same respect you want your players and parents to give you. If you do not you are a hypocrite, you are introducing inconsistencies, and you are asking for disputes. Families on the team are part of this larger community and you should present that thought to the parents because they can help and will probably find that the policies help them too. The most obvious item to go over at that time is grade eligibility requirements the school may have. Another example of a school/club policy is that coaches do not drive players at any time (coaches are not a taxi service for practice).
- The team comes before their child. All parents are looking out for their kid first. We are being foolish if we think otherwise. What all parents need to understand is that if their son has a team first mentality his playing experience and personal growth will be much better, because in fact the team depends on him, so if parents can help nurture that idea at home and in the car to and from events the season will go better for everyone including their kid.
Discuss what parents should expect from you:
- Outline your personal rules. What are your rules about being late to practice or missing practice and what are the consequences? What are your rules about communication? Do you require players to always approach you with issues before the parents? Do you allow parents to talk with you before or after games? Go over all these things so parents know what to expect. They might not agree with your rules but it is way easier to accept the consequences if they know that you have the rules before they come up rather than if they emerge as the season goes along.
- Go over your objectives and philosophy for the lacrosse team. If your goals are to focus on your players' lacrosse development and personal development, then tell the parents. If the team goals are instead about something else, parents should know, though if that is actually the case we would suggest that you reconsider and be very sure; it's probably because you are coaching professional adult players though even then there is still great character development that should be on the coach's mind. College coaches certainly meet with parents and have great personal responsibility for their players, so for most lacrosse coaches you can talk to the parents about your vision to help the kids develop the fundamentals required to improve in the long run. As coach you are trying to teach honesty, work ethic, teamwork, and things that will help your kids be successful in the future and at the most important game of all – the game of life. Explain what all that means to you in the framework of a lacrosse program.
2. Explaining Your Coaching Philosophy
Your coaching philosophy is an intangible collection of opinions and style decisions that might be somewhat complex to define, however there are some simple ways to show your mindset and your approach.
The most direct way that everyone quickly understands is how you make decisions about playing time. Most coaches view playing time not as a right; it’s a privilege. Parents and players both need to understand this so make sure this is clearly explained in the pre-season meeting with parents. Lay out exactly how you dole out playing time. Yes, it’s probably going to go to the hardest workers, but what do players really have to do to earn playing time? What do they have to know? If you coach a youth team and playing time is equal, parents need to know that. If not, you’ll get parents that think their kids should be playing more than others (so they can win the game). Spell it out so that there’s no confusion, and it will also motivate the players to do the things you want to see.
It’s important to tell parents how much you care about all the kids on the team. Emphasize that the lessons you’ll be teaching them over the next few months will not only develop them as players, but as men. Bringing this up will help parents remember that the biggest benefit of the sport isn’t about winning or playing time, it’s about personal development.
It’s also important to explain how you feel about things like sportsmanship, honesty, and ethical behavior. These values are important in sports, and parents should know that you’ll be on the lookout for these things in their kids.
It’s critically important for parents to understand your philosophy. This will eliminate countless problems down the road.
Below are some suggestions for philosophies, rules, and steps you can take to establish them:
3. Create A Player Handbook
If your school or sports program doesn’t have any kind of player handbook created, then you need to make one before the season starts. The handbook should explain the rules of behavior, punishments, scheduling, and practices times. It also needs to detail game day expectations. For instance, will your players be required to dress up for travel to and from games? Will travel with the team on the bus to and from games be mandatory?
The more players and parents know about what you expect, the fewer problems you’ll have later on.
4. Create A Contract
When you create the player handbook you should also create a contract for players and parents to sign. The contract will say that the players and their parents have read through the handbook, and promise to abide by the rules you’ve laid out.
5. Send a Parent Letter
You should write up a good parent letter (and maybe even parent specific contract) and send it to everyone. Not only can this prevent problems, but this can also be a powerful tool that you can refer to when parents start complaining. The important thing is to document the proper things and give them to the parents so you can refer to the guidelines at a later date.
Here are a few good sample letters for you to consider:
6. Know Your System
Before you start your first practice make sure you clearly understand the rules and policies that are in place in your school district and athletic department. How do they enforce school policy and behavioral problems? Do any of the rules/procedures you have in your handbook conflict with school district or athletic department rules?
You need to have complete support from the administration if you’re going to be handling parental complaints. If a parent goes over your head, then your administration needs to refer them right back to you and should feel confident doing so -- manage those relationships properly with good communication and respect.
7. Require Players to Talk With You First
It’s important to explain that if someone has a problem with their lack of playing time, the player, not the parent, should talk with you first. In the real world, people must know how to communicate and a lacrosse team is a great place for your players to learn this skill.
This should be a rule that you explain during your first parent meeting, put it in your handbook, and remind parents during the year.
Parents and players also need to know that you’re going to be treating their kids like young men and women. Many younger players are used to having their parents “take care of things” for them (like calling the coach to get them more playing time!). Again, however, you need to make it clear that players need to speak with you first about any issues they have. If a player feels they deserve more playing time, then they should bring it up with you.
8. Let Parents Watch Practice
Now this might sound like a recipe for disaster, but it’s not. Letting interested parents watch practice time will enable them to see how you run the show, how players behave, how you critique, and how you make decisions about who gets to play and who doesn’t.
Most importantly, parents will begin to “buy in” to your philosophy and tactics. As we all know, a big part of coaching is selling. And while you are selling your players on your philosophy, with enough repetitions, the parents will get sold on your philosophies and on you as a coach. Sometimes they just need to get to know you, understand you, and learn about your program. Letting them watch your practices is a great way to do that.
If you let them watch, however, make sure they understand that they have to be quiet...
9. Sell Your System
You want to know who your biggest fans are? Your players. If they trust you and believe in what you’re doing, then they’re going to defend you against their over-zealous parents. So, make sure your players understand why you’re doing things the way you are. Sell your system to them, and they’ll sell it to their parents.
10. Get Tough On Complaints
Although it’s important to listen to what parents have to say, it’s also important to stand up for what you’re doing. Remember, you’re the coach. If parents don’t like what you’re doing, then they can put their child in another school system to play under another coach.
Sound extreme? Well, sometimes giving parents a dose of reality can help bring them back down to earth.
11. Promote the Family Atmosphere
Many coaches try to promote a family atmosphere during games. If you want to, and you can pull it off, it could very well endear you to many of the parents. So, let them attend practice, and create a special section for them to sit in during games. This extra effort on your part might go much further than you think.
12. Find Opportunities and Playing Time for the Second Team
If you’re in a situation where you are not able to get everyone playing time, then you need to find opportunities for everyone. As a coach, you owe it to the players on the team to get opportunities.
Find more JV games. Play a 5th quarter with the second group. Contact other coaches to arrange “2nd team” games. Arrange scrimmages.
Some kids just need an opportunity and need confidence. You’d be amazed how many players develop late and you never know who those kids will be.
If you never play these kids you are taking away their opportunity. If they bust their butts in practice, then you owe it to them to find them games! Not enough coaches make the effort needed to get all their players plenty of experience.
13. Designate A Parent Liaison
Some coaches swear that having a parent liaison is vital. Think about it; you’re basically the end-all, be-all of the team. A parent can start talking to you after practice about the upcoming holiday schedule and end up screaming at you because their kid isn’t getting enough playing time.
This is why you should assign one parent, preferably the parent of a kid who plays a lot, to be your point of contact. Any communication from parents needs to go through your liaison first. He or she filters out the fluff and then sends the rest on to you.
14. Provide Parents with Tips to Contribute
Simply offering parents some tips and guidance can improve the attitude and morale of everyone involved. Almost all parents truly want to help but they don’t usually know how. By educating them you can divert their energy towards things that will be positive to your program. Here’s an example of some parent tips that you can offer:
Letter To Parents From Dom Starsia, University Of Virginia Head Coach:
15. Stay Out of the Stands
We recommend that you stay out of the stands during the season. After all, plenty of parents will want to talk with you before or after games, but, is this really where your attention needs to be?
Probably not. You need to be focusing on your players, not their parents. If you want to get to know your players’ parents, then summer and fall leagues are the best time to do it since those are generally looser and almost everyone has a chance to play.
16. No Talking on Game Days
You should establish a rule that parents are not allowed to speak with you about playing time or any issues on “game day”. Those conversations must be scheduled for another day. Emotions are too high during game time and these issues can be handled much more effectively at a different time.
So, make it a rule that you won’t talk with any parents before or after games unless it’s an emergency. And, it’s smart to bring this up in your initial parent meeting, as well as putting it in your handbook. Remind parents the reason for this: you’re there to help their children become better players.
17. Schedule A Private Meeting
If a parent comes to you and wants to start yelling on the court, absolutely insist they set up a private meeting with you the next day. It’s not good for the players, and the other parents, to witness an argument. So, take it off the court. Setting up a next-day meeting will also give you time to prepare.
Before you meet with that parent, spend some time thinking about why they might be upset. Is it their child’s playing time? Is there a conflict with another player? Coming up with various scenarios can help you see things from that parent’s point of view.
It’s also a good idea if you can get someone else (like an assistant coach or athletic director) to sit in on the meeting as well. This might help the parent be more objective, as well as providing you with another set of ears.
18. Handle Blowouts With Calm Steadiness
No matter how hard you work to prevent it, there are always going to be the inevitable irate or overzealous parents to handle. It just comes with the territory of being a coach. So how can you handle the big blowouts when they happen?
First, listen. Let the parent have their say and don’t interrupt them.
When it’s your turn to speak, then explain your point of view slowly and clearly, and, keep your focus on their child. Don’t do comparisons between their child and another player.
If the parent starts raising their voice, do not match their tone. Stay in a calm normal tone and try to keep avoid saying negative things. Kind of like the stuartess on a plane, imagine what would happen if she raiser her voice.
You nay even want to offer to allow the parent to come to practice so they can see what is happening. Besides, how can the parent have an opinion unless they have been to all the practices?
Here is the worst part let them spout off at the end of the meeting. Thank them informing you of their concerns, even though you may biting your lip, and let them know you hear them. It could not hurt when the meeting is done to get some feedback. You alway tell your players to take it from you so do no be a hypocrite. Getting sincerer feedback can be vital to handling these situations as they come up. If that sounds familiar it is probably because you have said it to your players many times.