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Even if you set clear ground rules for communication and follow the Do’s and Don’ts of parent interaction to the word, you will still have those inevitable confrontations. A parent will take exception to something you purposely or accidentally did. A parent will disagree with your decision-making or coaching style. A parent may even want to flex his or her muscle a bit.
No matter the reason, you can still turn a potential powder keg into a moment of growth for the parent, the player, and coach if you follow a few simple rules of engagement.
1. Speak Calmly and softly
You do not need to placate or condescend, but you do need to lower your voice, slow it down, and soften your tone. People instinctually mimic others. If you calm down and soften, they will too. Please don’t say things like “calm down” or “please stop yelling”. That exacerbates the situation. Simply model what you want.
2. Change your stance
Speaking of mimics. We also mimic body language and facial expressions. If you want to keep a conversation calm, change your demeanor. Open your eyes a bit, soften your cheeks, and stop pursing your lips. Try to soften your visage to remove angry cues. As far as stance, uncross arms, lower your hands a bit and talk palms up. Slow hand movements down and make them more “open armed” and inviting. Slow your head nods, and unroot your feet a bit to remove rigidity.
3. Let them speak openly
They may say hurtful things and they may be way out of line, but let them speak. Cutting someone off or jumping to the defensive immediately creates a stand-off. Many times all they want is to be heard and validated. They vent, you acknowledge it, and they feel much better. Now you can calmly work toward resolution. Try not to refute what they say (this invalidates it), but reframe their concerns back to them, indicate you see their point of view, then discuss what to do moving forward. Sometimes we hear what we just said and realize the error on our own.
4. Let the child have a voice
Adults do not always want what the children want. If the player is old enough, include him or her in the talk. Or keep the talk focused on the needs of the child. Many times, a reminder that a child’s welfare is at stake can calm all parties. Keep the focus on why you are there in the first place.
5. Focus on controllables
Clear heads must prevail. Our frustration and temper will grow if we are focused on things out of our control. We cannot control competition, weather conditions, etc. Stay focused on the things you and the parents can control to keep people calm. We feel better when we feel in control.
6. Stick to the process and make a plan
Outcomes should not matter. Focus parents on development, on the process, on the marginal gains you have been making with their child. Trophies, wins, and All-Star nominations don’t matter if we take our eyes off the path. Work with the parents to make a plan together. Including them will reduce stress and shows them a roadmap for getting to the goal (which is usually where they are focused).