A young coaching colleague called me the other day. He said he needed to vent and get some advice. I told him that I am a good listener and my advice is free! He proceeded to unload a LOT of frustration that had been building since early in the football season. The main issue was:
dealing with parents who have a vastly different opinion of their son’s ability level than his coaches do!
*I need to add that this coach’s team went 9 and 1 and lost in the 2nd round of the state playoffs. Those of you who struggled to win a couple of games this fall… a “tip of the hat” to you!… for your perseverance and composure. I bet you’re thinking (from your perspective) that a coach who’s gone 18-2 over the last 2 seasons (he’s only been at this school for 2 years, by the way!) would be smiling and laughing all the time. Instead, he’s calling me to ask for help… cuz these 4-5 parents are spoiling the whole thing for him.
As some (a LOT??!!) of you have to deal with, he was upset over the attitude of those parents who thought it was their place to not only complain about every little thing but… would call and write letters to the principal, AD and even downtown to the superintendent’s office. The sad part of it is: the players whose parents were being the stinkers were not bad kids! The other interesting aspect of this whole situation is (as I said earlier), the players in question were NOT talented enough to get the D1 scholarship that their parents were positive they deserved!
He finished and I asked: “Do you want my advice?” I always ask cuz sometimes people just want to get it off their chest! He responded, “Yes, please!”
My first question was: “Have you gone to your administration and AD about this situation/these parents?” This, I think, is important— to keep your administration informed about what’s going on in your program. I always liked to give my AD or principal a “heads up” if I knew that they were going to be getting a call from a disgruntled parent. Administrators appreciate it when you can keep them from being “ambushed.”
The coach said, “I have talked to them. Unfortunately, my AD was NOT sympathetic to my situation. In fact, he implied that he was tired of having to deal with all the mess. I was stunned that he would not stand up for me.” Wow!!! If you’re not getting support from your administration, then you really do have a problem!
“Have you met with the parents of these players? I asked. He had and basically had not gotten anywhere with it. I told him that I was sure that he felt “boxed in” on all sides! He sighed deeply.
I was left with the BIG QUESTION for him at this point. “Coach, is this situation bad enough that your only recourse is to resign? In other words, have they taken the enjoyment… the satisfaction… out of it that you get from coaching? If so, then you need to prayerfully consider submitting your resignation. You don’t get paid enough to be robbed of the joy of coaching!” I might add that this young coach does things the right way. He is smart and motivated and cares about his players.
My “last resort” question gave him pause. He said, “We’re talking out of 75 players… about 15% of the parents are causing problems. That means that 85% of the time I like my job. It’s the other 15% who make it NO fun!” “Is that enough to make you want to resign?” I asked again. He said, “No. I really want to coach here.” OK, what do we do from here??
My recommendation was to meet with the parents of all returning players— one on one and in their homes! Yep! Call and ask for an appointment when you can come by and talk. You can’t do these meetings with just the disgruntled parents or they’d see right through what you’re doing! It’s important to meet with all of the parents. And, one on one is best. You need to go into that meeting with two points you want to make: 1- you care about their son as more than just a football player. You know that they’ve put their trust in you, as the coach, to be responsible for their most prized possession— their son. Share about the things you do, besides molding him into a football player, to help him mature. 2- If he wants to play college football, you will do everything you can to help make that dream come true. However, you cannot GET him a scholarship!!! You will promote him, get his name out there and give him opportunities to show his talent on the field. But, he (the player) has things he has to do in order to get that chance. Here’s where you share what the expectations are in order to start on your team. I never had a problem explaining to a parent or player what he had to do to get better. If a parent, with an attitude, came up and asked, “Why isn’t my kid playing?!!” I would turn that around and say: “The decision as to WHO starts and who is a back-up is solely the decision of my coaching staff and me. I would be glad to meet with you and discuss the things that your son needs to do to improve his chances of starting, though. Would Monday afternoon at 2 pm be convenient for you?” Treat parents with respect but also emphasize that you are the one who leads this football program.
Is it easy? No. Will you build good will with every parent? No. But, by meeting with them, you plant seeds. Seeds that hopefully, over a period of time, will build good will and understanding. I learned that you need to keep doors open as far as communication is concerned. Doors to your office, the AD and principal’s office and even doors to parents’ homes. You’re never going to please all of the people all of the time. However, as my daddy used to say: “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar!”