How can we best manage our netball parents?

How do you really manage this and approach the parents to maintain a clear relationship with them?

Coaches of junior sports know all too well that it often involves dealing with petty behaviour, a little bit of jealousy, definitely high emotions, plenty of whinging and maybe some social conflict.

And then there are the kids……

How many of us have those one or two parents that make your job as a coach that little bit harder? Sure, they think they are being well-intentioned, but gosh wouldn’t it be awesome if we could just do our job without being questioned on every decision we make?

As junior coaches, we are well aware that working with parents comes with the territory, but managing over-enthusiastic parents is not fun for anyone. I am sure that you have all experienced the parents who are constantly trying to coach their child from the sidelines, the parents who demand to know why their child isn’t getting more court time or isn’t in certain positions, or the ones who offer their unsolicited advice on strategy and combinations.

We have the overprotective parents who contribute to a lack of resilience in our young players, the super competitive ones who are obsessed with winning above all else, and then we have those who tend to have inflated opinions of their child’s abilities and are desperate to relive their former glory days vicariously through their child. You know, those parents.

The parents that instigate comparing their child to another, those that foster animosity between their child and their teammates, or their child and their coach! And we can’t forget those who share their opinion with other parents or players in the team and sow seeds of doubt regarding the coach’s approach or decisions everywhere they go, yet never ever approach the coach themselves – these, in my experience, are the worst kind and the most toxic to club culture.

Alas, we’ve all been there! Although working with these types of parents is never going to be our favourite part of the gig, it is something that we have to learn to do effectively so that we can reduce the number of unpleasant instances during a season. So what are some strategies, methods or approaches that can help prevent an ugly situation before it happens? I have said this before, but managing parents as a coach at a junior level should be more about pre-emptive measures before the big ugly situations arise, and in my opinion the key to this is open communication – it is the most important tool you have when it comes to working with parents without a doubt. What this looks like can be very different from one individual to the next, and in some instances can be guided by the club that you are coaching within, but certainly gaining the cooperation and support of your parent group is one of the best investments you can make as a junior coach, and a multi-layered approach is often required to reach all parents effectively.

Preventative measures such as having meetings at the beginning of the season or during pre-season to discuss details of what you expect of the players and parents are commonplace nowadays in most clubs. Make sure that you are very clear about things like your coaching philosophy and your intentions for the development of the playing group etc, but also invest time to explain your boundaries around parental involvement. This may include things like asking parents to refrain from shouting directions and instructions to their child, or any other child for that matter, during the game; that if they have a suggestion or notice a problem to discuss it with you in private rather than when you are in the company of other parents and/or players, and most importantly if their child has an issue with their court time opportunities it should be discussed in private with the coach, not with other parents, not with other children and certainly not on social media!

I think it is important to remember that while these are our primary messages to parents, we can deliver them in ways that are more positive in nature, and those which emphasise the impacts of positive interactions on their child’s engagement in sports. Some clubs/coaches will go a step further and provide a handbook of all of their expectations etc so that everyone can refer back to it throughout the season, as well as parent/player codes of conduct.

While these are all great ideas that aim to reduce the likelihood of major challenges with parents, what do we actually do when that parent does approach us in private with questions about their child’s court time? No matter how hard you work to prevent it, you will always come across some irate, or overzealous parents. The most important piece of advice I have in this situation is simply to listen. Listen to concerns and opinions on the matter despite what you think or feel about them, and do not interrupt. When they have finished speaking, explain your point of view clearly making sure to keep the focus on their child without making comparisons to other players.

It is really important to speak in a calm voice and at normal volume, and to resist the urge to meet their raised voice level should that occur. Keep all comments positive in nature. Having said all of this, there is a strong likelihood that the parents will continue to hold strong to their views and opinions and won’t accept your explanation anyway, but if we approach it in a calm and positive way, we can be happy that we have done everything we could to help them understand the reasons for our decisions. Whatever you do, remember the child’s best interests is what’s important.

I also think it is important not to pigeonhole every parent who approaches you with questions. Some parents are taking the mature, direct approach and are simply seeking clarification possibly due to their own lack of knowledge around the sport, and maybe to be able to support their child better with their own management around court time or positional issues that will undoubtedly occur throughout their playing careers. This said, there will always be a few memorable ones you encounter throughout your coaching career, the ones that threaten repeatedly to take their child to another club, or those that run you down behind your back any chance you get…..but keep in mind that parents are often projecting their own worries and concerns, not those of the child, and it is really important that we don’t let a tainted relationship with a pesky parent impact on the one you have with their child.

By Coach Carrol

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