Again, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first. Not all parent groups are the same, in fact, none of them are! We are dealing only in extremes of the stereotypes so that you can get an idea of what could potentially exist out there. It is likely that your group will be much more towards the middle of the scale. Even so, most of the ideas below will have benefits for all teams and coaches.
The first step is the most obvious one – improve your communication. Remember also that communication is not just talking to people; it is also listening to people. We recommend you have informal team meetings after practice at least once per month during the season. Also have a meeting right after tryouts to explain your philosophy and any rules that you have. Use the meetings to briefly and enthusiastically explain what you have been doing and what will be happening next, then sit back and encourage them to ask you questions and to let you know how they feel.
At the beginning and end of practices, games, or team events, it is important that you appear approachable for any parents you happen to walk past too. Ask them how they are and try to learn their names! Although you may have policies about parents talking to you right after games, there is no harm in acknowledging that they are there. As a coach, the skill to develop here is the ability to get out of your “game concentration face” for a few seconds to be able to talk to people.
In an individual meeting situation (parent approaches you, sets up a meeting with you etc), especially, when they are upset about something, the most important first step is to listen. We recommend spending as long as it takes at the start to hear everything they have to say, to the point that they run out of words. This will first show that you are willing to listen, give you time to think about how you want to respond, and also weaken their desire (read tire them out) to interrupt you during your turn. That done, try to remain calm and professional. Although you must remain strong and in charge, you should try not to dismiss or debate everything. Try to understand their point of view, but then also diplomatically explain yours if it is different.
The next area to think about is team and individual emails. Remember that a large part of communication is more than just the words (body language, expressions, tone, emphasis etc.) and this is all lost in emails. When you write it you might hear all that extra tone and emphasis in your head, but when someone else reads it they hear it completely differently. Try to keep emails factual and as neutral as you can. Any issues with specific people tend to be better addressed in person or at least on the telephone so there is no confusion about exactly what you mean and how you mean it. Also people find it harder to be critical and negative when they actually have to talk to you rather than hiding behind a keyboard.
Finally, for any group function or tournament, make the effort. The more you try to talk to parents beyond soccer the more that they will see that you are a real person. Given that you and they are trying to develop their children to be more than just soccer players, the effort you put in to show that you have personality and charisma will go a long way when they have minor issues down the line. Also, if you can have a good relationship with the parents, you are way more likely to enjoy your job and actually look forward to seeing them at tournaments and other social functions.