By Dr. Alan Goldberg
Believe it or not, 99% of all parents out there are sane and workable. If you want to be a successful coach you have to deliberately make an effort to train them. The following is a list of strategies and ideas that will help you in this endeavor.
Most parents who push, do so because they don't know how to be helpful and do not understand the effects that this has on you and their child.
You are in a position as a coach to give parents the 2 things that they want the most and that frequently causes them to say and do unhelpful things. They want their child to feel happy. They want their child to be successful.
Help parents redefine what it means to be a winner. Winning is not about coming in 1st. It's about pushing your own limits and constantly striving to do better than your best. You're a winner if you drop time off a previous best, even if you come in dead last.
Help parents redefine competition. It is not appropriate to distract an athlete with thoughts of beating someone else. Help parents understand that a focus on the competition usually results in slower times and performance problems. The competition is your partner and your real obstacle lies within. Train them to encourage their children to compete against themselves.
Help refocus parents. All too often parents get their children to be concerned with the uncontrollables (UC's) in a game (i.e., weather, officiating, etc.). Teach parents that a focus on the UC's will only get the child into performance trouble. Instead the athlete should be encouraged to focus on what they can control (i.e., themselves).
Don't use a crisis intervention model with parents. Don't wait for problems and emotions to arise before you are forced to deal with them. Use a preventive model and commit yourself to training parents from Day One in your program. Actively educate them with verbal and written material.
In writing, state clearly your coaching philosophy, coaching style, club policies and view about competition. Don't leave any of this material to their imagination. They have a right to know and you have a responsibility to clarify these for them.
Clearly define the roles of athlete, coach and parent so they know what is expected of them and how they can best help the team. For parents specifically state that coaching is something you do and they don't. Define what it means to coach so that they won't have any confusion about the matter.
Define appropriate game/practice behavior, the do's and don'ts for both athlete and parents and explain why this is so. Spell out clearly the consequences for violating appropriate behavior so when you intervene it doesn't come as a surprise.
Establish yourself as an expert. You know the sport, (even if you're inexperienced) and it's your job to see that things are run the way you see fit. Although parents may challenge you on this, act as if you are the expert in a non-defensive way. If you feel unsure of yourself consult regularly with other more experienced coaches.
Define a common mission for the team and organization. Let parents know where you want to go and how they can help you and their children reach these goals.
Communicate. Keep lines of communication open between you and the parents. Be approachable. Encourage them to bring their problems to you directly. Listen to them and give them the feeling that you hear them and can understand where they are coming from, even if you don't agree with them.
Keep professional whenever possible. Do not use your emotions to respond to problem parents. If they push your buttons, keep your emotions out of your interactions with them. If you lose your professional perspective, you can't be effective.
Help parents understand the developmental perspective you have in training. Most parents don't understand why their child isn't having success. Explain to them about the long term process you are involved in with their child and the proper way to measure success with it.
Teach parents the principles of peak performance which they can then use as a guideline for what to say and do with their athlete.
Dr. Alan Goldberg is a nationally-known expert in the field of applied sport psychology, Dr. Goldberg works with athletes and teams across all sports at every level, from professional and Olympic caliber right down to junior competitors. He is the author of 25 mental toughness training programs and Director of Competitive Advantage. His website is www.competitivedge.com.