Statistics on why youth coaches across all sports, including basketball, quit haven’t really been compiled, but this number might shed a light on one potential reason: 75 percent of coaches think parents place too much emphasis on winning. Overbearing, difficult parents can suck the joy out of coaching and drive even the most patient volunteers from their roles.Of course, most parents in youth basketball leagues are reasonable and fully supportive and appreciative of your efforts. Those few that aren’t can make you crazy, but with the right attitude and a cool head, dealing with difficult parents is possible. Here are some tips how:
Communicate from the Start
As soon as you get your roster and have parents’ contact info, begin communicating with them. Tell them about yourself. Explain your philosophy about coaching and how you handle playing time (which, for rec youth basketball teams, is often set by the league—players must play at least one quarter, if not two, each game). Detail your expectations for the kids as well as for parents. Emphasize that the ultimate goal is for the players to improve, learn teamwork, and have fun. Answer parents’ questions and start a dialogue.
Invite Parents to Help
A good strategy to deflect difficult parents’ complaints is to ask them to help you, either as an assistant coach or just as an extra grownup at practices. Not every parent will be cut out for this—the ones who don’t mind screaming at young players generally don’t make the best coaches—but ones that simply complain too much or constantly ask questions can feel more part of the process and see the challenges you face as coach (and hopefully sympathize). With this strategy, you are becoming allies with difficult parents rather than adversaries.
Keep Your Cool
Emotions in basketball, even rec youth basketball, naturally can run a little higher than in other sports; even the most even-keeled coaches can find themselves raising their voices at referees in the heat of the moment. Enter a difficult parent disagreeing or outright yelling at you; resisting the urge to yell back isn’t easy. Your best strategy in this scenario is to avoid escalating the argument. Take a deep breath, listen to what the parent has to say, and then respond as calmly as possible. If you realize a calm conversation isn’t feasible at the moment, tell the parent you will be happy to discuss the complaint at another time—often, angry parents won’t be so angry the next day. Enlist the help of league administrators if you feel you need a mediator.
One final piece of advice: Don’t argue with parents over email or text messages. Such communication can be easily misconstrued during a heated disagreement. Looking someone in the eye to discuss a problem often is more rational and more constructive than engaging in a digital argument.
Some of the biggest disagreements you may encounter with difficult parents in youth rec basketball is playing time, or how they perceive their children are being used in a game. Often, these parents may believe you are holding their kids back. The problem with this line of thinking is that this is rec basketball—it’s not meant to be so competitive that a player will develop mad skills that will someday yield a college scholarship (and likely, you don’t have the advanced coaching skills to guide such a player).
If a parent is continually harping about playing time, a comp/club/AAU team might be a better option for the player (if you think the player is ready for that next step). Though that might not be feasible in season, the suggestion might just remind the parent that a rec team is about the entire team, not just one player.
A difficult parent can be a thorn in your side, and most often, he or she is out of line. However, every once in a while, the parent might just be right. Complaints about game strategy or not playing your stars enough usually is a sign the parent is taking things too seriously. Complaints that you aren’t playing your less talented kids enough or yelling too often might be a sign you are taking things too seriously. This is why listening to difficult parents, no matter how difficult they are being, is important. Keep communication lines open, and adjust your coaching style if necessary.
How do you deal with difficult parents in youth basketball?