Updated: Feb 8, 2018
Let’s begin with a story.
When I was a child growing up in the studio my mom was basically mute. She never caused a fuss, had complaints to share with my teachers, rarely did she react if I shared an embellished story. She never approached other parents to discuss the actions of their kids. Etc. She wasn’t a dancer growing up and therefore felt she was paying professionals to do their job. She trusted in the system.
But I think this made the concept of complaining if you didn’t like the way something was running, foreign to me. I believed if you don’t like it - you leave. Or you start your own program. But like most things - one way isn’t always the right thing. This isn’t about sharing horror stories, or commiserating on parent stories. It’s more than that.
Now I am a coach, and often my parents are phenomenal. But it’s taken a while to get the hang of complaints, to understand where others are coming from etc. Now, here are some simple steps to handle this often most discussed topic among coaches.
First of all, you must understand one concept if you are to remain un-emotionally attached to these reactions and realistic. I like to call it the 20 - 60 - 20 rule. It’s saved me and my sanity about 90% of the time. It goes like this. 20% of people are going to love you no matter what you do. You can make a mistake and they are going to believe in you and your intentions. They will often communicate their approval of you. 60% of people will be on the fence. They will evaluate your moves and each instance of interaction they will form their opinion of you and/or your program. This is often the people who have never done something like this before. And 20% will never like you. No matter how wonderful, knowledgeable, and professional you are, they just won’t care for you and will always believe there is a better way to do something.
Now, something I’ve learned is most of this rule is based on expectation which you do have some control over. For example, if you have a pre-tryout meeting, parents and potential members can get a feel for you. Is this team about fun, national championships, work, growth? This is important in attracting the team members and families that will understand from the jump, if this is the place for them.
Often when a parent is complaining about schedule, demand of effort, etc - this is a missed connection on expectations. How would you address this moving forward
There are times when you are in a state of growth and your team becomes more competitive or vice versa. You will have friction since a students overall mission in joining as a freshman stayed the same, but the teams changed. This is ok! Just have an open, honest, and respectful discussion around the topic!
Sometimes a persons expectation about how you run the team, connect with the athletes, etc. were predetermined by an experience on another team or with another instructor. Maybe you will always come up short to them because of this. And this is NOT in your control.
Now, imagine a parent has launched the bomb. They’ve sent a huge email detailing everything they disagree with to everyone with influence at your establishment. We’ve all been there. Here are some simple ways to do your best at diffusing a situation:
Always speak in person - never email.
Make sure you speak to both the parent and the athlete - this will eliminate any misguided info, and identify core issues.
Require a 24-48 hour cool down before meeting.
Make sure all points are addressed and ask all parties to re-state their understandings before moving on.
Ensure parents feel listened to - though sometimes they are misinformed, this is their baby. Make them feel you are safe space.
Seek to understand. Nobody's perfect. A humble leader is a true leader.
Know why you coach - and your mission as a coach. Remind yourself of this throughout your interaction.
Keep the 20-60-20 rule in mind and think over whether this is A. an opportunity to repair the relationship. B. a chance for growth as a coach moving forward. Or C. This is something you honestly don’t believe you could have changed, and will have to move on.
Document your interactions for protection.
And two last little tips:
Make sure you openly attempt to make contact at games, etc. Often in the season you become a story in a household rather than a person parents know independently from their child. If you connect with parents more, they are likely to approach you at the onset of an issue rather than when it has become a nuclear bomb.
Make sure you address all these communication expectations in your pre-season contract!
Lastly, thank you to all the parents throughout my journey who took the time to understand me, why I coach, and that I have the humility and care to learn from my mistakes and continue on this journey together. It’s truly been a blessing and an honor.
Happy Coaching from us at Choreography Wire!