Nobody looks forward to confrontations with irate or irrational parents, but it is wise to be prepared for them. It may enable you to concentrate on your real job--helping your athletes grow and develop, and having a positive sporting experience.
Below are 17 proven strategies for handling irate parent complaints and resolving these issues in a way that should preserve your credibility and leave the parent feeling satisfied with the interaction.
Keeping it Positive
When approached by or contacted by an irate parent, always schedule a meeting for the following day--giving you time to prepare.
Never discuss a parent's concern in public--on the court or field. Always hold the meeting in private, to prevent the parent from making a scene or trying to enlist the support of other fans.
Since the parent definitely has the initial advantage, try to ascertain the parent's concern before the meeting. Confer with other coaches. Have there been any previous incidents? Why is the parent upset? The child's limited playing time? The child is not starting? The child is not getting enough shots or enough points? If the parent is irrational, the coach may never get to understand the complete reason.
If possible, document the facts or details of the parent's complaint. Determine whether any and all supportive information will be available at the meeting.
When meeting with the parent, always have another person sit in on the meeting, perhaps the AD, assistant principal, or another coach--someone to verify what actually takes place. Meeting alone with the parent can develop into a no-win scenario.
At the meeting, allow the parent to vent his or her issues. Make mental notes, but do not interrupt.
When your turn comes, offer an honest point of view, but never offer more information or more of an explanation than necessary. The parent may be looking for that little crack to launch an attack or to gain a foothold for the argument.
Be on the alert. Don't allow the conversation to go off on a tangent or allow the parent to introduce extraneous issues in order to build a stronger case.
Make sure to keep the discussion focused on the athlete and the specific concern. Steer away from comparisons with other athletes.
Avoid making generalizations about the parent's motivation, attitude, or character, and avoid making it judgmental, moralistic, or accusatory statements about the parent. All of these things can hinder the progress of the meeting and the possibility of a final resolution.
If the parent is taking notes, be careful of what you are saying. Try to keep things on a very basic level.
Stay positive and try to find some common ground as the meeting progresses. Remember, you want to find a solution to the problem.
Even if the parent becomes rude or raises his or her voice, maintain your poise and be professional. Never sink to the parent's level. This could be just what the parent may be trying to do--have you lose control.
When the conference is finished, thank the parent for coming by and offering a point of view. A great closing is "I'll take it into consideration," meaning that you have listened. Which may be exactly what the parent wanted to hear. Mission accomplished.
After the parent leaves, particularly if you have been verbally attacked, turn to your observer(s) for support and to reaffirm that you are trying to make a difference in the lives of young people.
Always keep a folder with complementary or congratulatory notes, exemplary evaluations, and letters of commendation. After one of these meetings or confrontations, you should reread some of them. You may need a little reassurance on the respect in which you are held.
Even if the meeting or conversation turns out to be unsettling, try to analyze it. What could you have done differently or better? You can gain from this searching review. For example, you may want to change or add to the team rules. You may want to cover a certain topic at the next pre-season parents' meeting. You may come away with an idea that can prevent future confrontations. You should be able to learn and grow from such experiences.