I know it is hard to believe sometimes but 99% of parents really are sane and reasonable. If you want to be successful as a coach you have to make an effort to educate your athletes’ parents and help them understand how to be a better sports parent.
Here are a few ideas that will keep your parents on-side and not off-side:
Ø Most parents, who push their youth athletes, do so because they don't know how to be helpful and do not understand the effects that it has on the coach, their teammates and their child.
Ø As their child’s coach you are in a position to give parents the two things they want the most, which often causes them to say and do unhelpful things. They want their child to be successful and they want their child to feel happy.
Ø As a coach you may need to help parents redefine what it means to be a winner. Winning is not about which team scores the most goals. It's about pushing your own limits and constantly striving to do better than your best.
Ø Help parents redefine competition. It is not appropriate to distract a player with thoughts of beating the other team. Help parents understand that focusing on winning the game and scoring goals usually results in performance problems. The game is your partner and your real obstacle lies within. Educate them to encourage their children to compete against themselves.
Ø Help refocus parents. All too often parents get their children to be concerned with the uncontrollables in a game. (i.e. linemates, personal ice time, the other team, ice conditions, the coaching, the stars of the team etc.) Teach parents that a focus on the uncontrollables will only get the player into performance trouble. Instead the player should be encouraged to focus on what they can control (i.e., themselves).
Ø Be professional. Don't use a crisis intervention model with parents. Don't wait for problems and emotions to arise before you are forced to deal with them. You will learn quickly that no matter how well prepared you are, you CANNOT win an emotional argument with a parent. Do not use your emotions to respond to problem parents. If they push your buttons, keep your emotions out of your interactions with them. If you lose your professional perspective, you can't be effective. Instead, use a preventive model and commit yourself to educating your parents from the first time you meet them. Actively educate them with verbal and written material.
Ø Clearly state your coaching philosophy and coaching style, in writing, and include your team and association rules and policies. Don't leave any of this material to their imagination. They have a right to know and you have a responsibility to clarify these for them.
Ø Define the roles of the players, coaches and parents so they know what is expected of them and how they can best help the team. For parents specifically state that coaching is something you do and they don't. Define what it means to coach so that they won't have any confusion about the matter.
Ø Outline appropriate game/practice behavior, the do's and don'ts for both player and parents and explain why this is so. Spell out clearly the consequences for violating appropriate behavior so when you intervene it doesn't come as a surprise.
Ø Establish yourself as an expert. You know the sport, (even if you're inexperienced) and it's your job to see that things are run the way you feel they should be. Although parents may challenge you on this, behave as if you are the expert in a non-defensive way. If you feel unsure of yourself consult regularly with other more experienced coaches (find a mentor).
Ø Express a goal and mission for the team. Let parents know where you would like to go and how they can help you and their children reach these goals.
Ø Communicate. Keep lines of communication open between you and the parents. Be approachable. Encourage them to bring their problems to you directly. Listen to them and give them the feeling that you hear them and can understand where they are coming from, even if you don't agree with them.
Ø Help parents understand the developmental perspective you have with regards to practicing. Most parents don't understand why their child isn't improving immediately and winning everything in sight. Explain to them about the long term process you are involved in with their child and the proper way to measure success with it. Remind them that becoming a better player is a marathon not a sprint.
Ø Teach parents your principles of peak performance which they can then use as a guideline for what to say and do with their player.
Remember that to parents and players perception is reality. If the perception is that you don’t know or don’t care that becomes their reality!