Thursday, May 10, 2007

Dealing With Angry Parents

Dealing With the Angry Sports Parent
By Tim Kotzur, Barker College, Sydney
(This is a shorter version of the article which first appeared in Sports Coach vol 24 no 1, 2001)
Virtually all coaches at some stage of their career have to deal with complaints from an angry parent. The reasons for the complaint are many and varied, and it makes no difference whether the complaint is real or imagined. No one likes to be the target of a complaint, and it is one of the least desirable aspects of coaching children’s sport. Here are ten steps for dealing effectively with the angry sports parent:

1. Avoid discussing the problem at the game
The first thing the coach should, or rather shouldn’t, do is to discuss the problem with the parent on the field, particularly if the parent is irate. The playing field is not the place for confrontations.

2. Agree to meet at more appropriate time/venue
Rather than discuss the problem then and there, the coach should agree to meet or telephone the parent at a mutually convenient time to discuss the complaint. By doing this, the coach avoids giving the parent an audience, allows the parent to ‘cool off ’, and gives him/herself time to prepare an appropriate response to the complaint.

3. Listen
When the meeting or telephone call from the parent does eventuate, one of the most important things a coach can do is listen. The coach should listen reflectively. Little things such as taking notes and nodding to acknowledge you have heard what the parent is saying are crucial.

4. Avoid interrupting
Even if parents raise their voices or their stories have only half the facts, the coach should avoid interrupting. By interrupting a parent, the coach risks inflaming the situation.

5. Don’t dismiss or become defensive
The coach should avoid defending or justifying their actions. Such behavior at this point will only make the situation worse.

6. Show empathy
Statements like ‘I’m sorry that you feel your child has been treated unfairly’ are appropriate at this time. By doing this, parents are more likely to feel that their problem is being taken seriously. They are likely to be calmer and more willing to find a solution.
7. Clarify the problem
This can be achieved by asking probing questions. This helps both parties to focus on the problem (not personalities), stick to the facts, and avoid being caught up in extraneous issues.

8. Offer a range of solutions
As mentioned earlier, many parents are simply content just to let the coach know. If they want more, try to offer a range of solutions. This demonstrates a willingness to work together to solve the problem. It is important to avoid making promises that you cannot keep. Explain to them what you can and cannot do.

9. Obtain closure
In the ideal case the coach will have outlined the options available to the parent and agreed on a mutual course of action. At this point it is appropriate to end the meeting. It should conclude with three things:

- Leave the parent with a closing action statement (eg ‘I’ll get on to that now’).
- Thank the parent for their interest (no matter how unpleasant the meeting).
- If follow-up is required, tell them when you will contact them (‘I’ll ring you tomorrow’).

This will leave the parent feeling as though their complaint has been heard, and the parent-coach relationship will be strengthened.

10. Leave the door open
There will be cases, however, after this whole process where you will not be able to give the parent the response they are looking for. It is important in these circumstances that the coach leave the door open for the parent, eg ‘If there is ever anything else, please come to me’.

By doing this the parent will at least feel that his/her complaint has been taken seriously, and the coach-parent relationship, however strained, will remain intact. This will help to prevent bad word of mouth by the parent against the coach.

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