Negative sports parents are toxic. Everyone knows it, but not everyone knows how one complaining parent can wreak havoc on a team.
I have seen negative parents completely alter the experience for the entire team. Over two decades of coaching, I have been through this situation a number of times. Here is how I see it play out.
Parents usually complain because they really want their child’s team to do well. They want their child’s team to be amazing, for everyone to perform to their potential. I get it.
Coaches’ strategies can be confusing and sometimes it does not look like progress is being made. I get it.
Parents worry that they are wasting their time and money and the team is not going to be great. They worry that their child will be disappointed with a poor competitive result. I get it.
But, please let me tell you the real effects of complaining about your child’s coach. This is what happens and it happens in a snap.
- Coach-Athlete Relationship Deteriorates
Subconsciously, your child will be forced to make a decision about who they can trust. Coach says we are doing great. Mom and Dad think the team sucks. They can’t both be right.
If an athlete does not trust me, it is extremely hard to get the best out of them. Much of what we ask as coaches is physically uncomfortable or counter-intuitive. It takes a trusting coach-athlete relationship in order to get good results.
I can tell when a parent is worried about the progress of my team when an athlete starts to ask a different category of questions at practice. I call these the “dinner table questions,” questions that have clearly been initiated by an adult in the family and the child feels they need to get an answer from me to assuage the adult who is worried about the team’s progress.
Whenever I know a parent is upset I immediately start to give extra attention to their child, try to joke around with them more, try for more connection. For years, I did not know consciously why I did this. Only recently did I clearly understand that this is my thought. My days with this kid are numbered. What I mean by this is: My days of getting this kid to do what I ask are numbered. I have lived through this enough times to I know that if the parents are not on board, I will begin to struggle in getting the most out of the athlete.
- Team Unity Deteriorates
When one athlete starts questioning the coach’s ability to lead it doesn’t take long for their teammates to pick up on it. It is common for children to be fearful of not following the crowd. Teammates will quickly take sides, those who believe in the coach, and those who don’t.
- Results Slow
The fear that started all this is actually the unintended result of parent complaints. The team does not reach their potential. With athletes who are distrusting of the coach and unfriendly with each other, the team cannot achieve the highest level of synergy and success.
PARENTS: Does your coach seem like they are asleep at the wheel? Are they making terrible, confusing decisions? What should you do if you don’t think the coach is doing a good job?
- Ask questions. Coach’s methodology or priorities are not always clear when observing practice. Ask for a phone conference or a face-to-face meeting. Try to stay calm and go in with an open mind. Chances are your coach is doing their best to try to make the team great.
- Encourage your athlete to ask the coach what they can do to help the team improve. Encourage your athlete to foster positive relationships with their teammates and coaches.
- Work hard at keeping a positive perspective throughout the season. Be the best supporter and cheerleader for the team. Do not engage in negative conversation with other parents. This does nothing positive to support the team. If you need to avoid practices or avoid sitting with parents from your team, do it. Know what you need to do to stay the most positive.
- At the end of the season, determine whether this team is a good fit for the priorities of your family. Not every sport or every team will be in alignment with your family values and that’s okay.
COACHES: Parents grumbling in the stands? Do you duck and run to avoid your athletes’ parents? What can you do to cut down on parent complaints?
- Educate your parents from the start of the season. Youth sports progression is not linear. The team will improve over the season, but the improvements will not be evident every single week.
- Talk to your parents. Parent meetings, parent-athlete-coach conferences, conference calls to talk through tricky situations. All of this is TIME WELL SPENT.
- Share the why. When making major decisions or changing plans tell your athletes and parents WHY you are going in that direction.
- Be clear about your priorities and your coaching philosophy. Don’t take complaints personally. Take a neutral approach to feedback. It tells you nothing about your coaching capabilities, but loads about what is important to that family. You cannot serve everyone, but you can make it easier to communicate if you are clear on your values. Each family has to decide if competitive sport is a good match for their values and has the right to decide what sport and what organization to join.
Coaches and parents, please let me know if this information resonates with you and if you have other situations where you could use some support.
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