Depending on your personality and results, the situations listed below may be regular occurrences for you as a coach. However, for the majority, these are issues that probably come up only a handful of times (if at all) in a career. Even so we figured it was worth discussing them for when they do. Most are limited to what happens right after your team loses, but we’ve seen situations develop out of what at the time seemed like pretty unlikely circumstances, so be prepared at all times!
“Management demands that you upset people from time to time.” (Brian Clough)
“Managers are treated with the contempt they deserve” (Alan Brown)
The game ends, your team just lost 2-1 to what was until today the bottom team in the division. As you are folding up the bench you notice out of the corner of your eye that that parent is striding right across the field in your direction. Red-faced and arms waving, you are subjected to a tirade about your excruciatingly limited abilities as a coach, the unbelievable quality of his or her child, and/or the failings of the kid who is currently taking their place. How do you respond?
Common sense dictates that the same 24 hour rule suggested for team meetings should also apply to parental meetings. Talking when emotions are high rarely achieves anything for either side. We recommend setting a rule at the beginning of the season that no calls or meetings can be arranged with the coach within 24 hours of the end of any game. That gives the parent time to calm down (or wear out the carpet pacing around their living room) and decide whether they still want to say anything. It also gives you time to do the same.
“Jose understands winning and losing are twins in a way. You have to deal with them in the same way. When you win, you don’t gloat and when you lose you don’t go bananas.” (Alex Ferguson)
If you didn’t instigate that rule and are now suffering the consequences – read on! In confrontation, listening is always better than talking. The first rule is to let them say everything that they want to say. Bite your tongue and wait until they have run out of words. This not only shows the parent that you are willing to listen, but gives you some time to formulate exactly how you will respond. Waiting also increases the chance that your response will not immediately be interrupted.
If possible, it is always good to start a response with some form of compliment or agreement. This might be as simple as you saying that you appreciate them coming to talk to you about the issue. From here on in your approach will probably depend on your personality and the issue.. Some people recommend trying to delay everything, telling the parent that you need time to think about what they have said before you respond. This gives you the 24 hour calming down we suggested earlier. Others say that as the coach your job is to make decisions quickly and confidently. Keep in mind that you might not be in the best state of mind to be making those decisions right after the game though.
“When I reached decisions quickly I was drawing a positive response, especially from the players … If I was unsure, I would encourage more dialogue until I worked out a sound reply.” (young Alex Ferguson)
Above all the goal is to reduce the situation, not to further inflame it. Your job is to calm the parent down, without agreeing to things that will hurt you later on. If possible, move the confrontation away from players and other parents. This will limit the stress placed on the parent’s child and on others on the team. When defending your position, be honest and specific. Try not to point blame or accusations back to the parent. Rather than creating further questions, your goal should be to get the situation over quickly. If applicable, arrange a team meeting within 2-3 days to explain your position to the entire team. This dispels any rumors that are being spread and gives everyone else a chance to talk to you in a less emotionally charged atmosphere.
Beyond thanking them for their time, do not talk to referees after the game. Rarely have we seen a situation in which talking to the referee improved the situation of the coach. Usually it leads to further reports being filed by the official and disciplinary hearings. If you know the referee personally and want to provide feedback on their game, there should be at least a 24 hour rule. Next imagine how you would feel if the referee gave you feedback on how you had coached during the game. If you like the sound of that, good luck with your discussion!