Sunday, January 12, 2014

Problem Parents. Remove the parent or cut their kid? Or both. OR NEITHER.

Would you cut a kid because of their parents? Sometimes I like to ask the question just to spark a conversation.

I am not talking about parents who complain and accuse after their child is released.  I am talking about a player and parent still in your program.

Let's clear something up first.  Good parents outnumber problem parents in a big big way.  Good families are what make coaching enjoyable and rewarding.   The media has wrongfully demonized parents, but the problem parent does occasionally exist and needs to be dealt with.  Never forget, the problem parent in sports is the exception, not the rule.

If a coach has a problem with a lot of parents every year ... you have to take a look at the coach.

Back to the question.   Cut the kid?  There are so many possible arguments for both the "yes" and "no" side of the question, however valid or invalid.

Yes, the parent is a pain in my rear.

Yes, I am a volunteer and don't need the hassle.

Yes, it's important to remind everybody who's in charge.

Yes, the parent is a cancer on the sideline.

Yes, I know the parent wants to apply for the team next year.

Yes, the parent refuses to comply with my rules.

Yes, the parent likes to cause trouble over social media.

Yes, the parent yells at the ref and our team pays the price.

Yes, the parent makes inappropriate comments to other parents, causing problems.

Yes, the parent speaks ill of me, behind my back.

"Never forget, the problem parent in sports
is the exception, not the rule."

Yes, the parent was a pain during tryouts.

Yes, the other players are exposed to that parent's poor language and behaviour.

No, the parent wasn't trying out.

No, it hurts my credibility.

No, the team is about the player.

No, the parent is not part of the on-field equation.

No, as long as they write cheques and drive, they can say what they want.

No, I will earn the parents' support.

No, it's not my place to give a player the feeling their parents are hurting their reputation. (but they will figure that out sooner or later)

No, the parent will eventually make the decision to leave because of my lack of responding to their issues.

Let me rephrase the question: are you able to look at a child after letting them think the reason you released them was because of their ability?  When it was really motivated by their parent.

Now, if you are a "pain in the rear" parent reading this, don't be feeling so high and mighty.  
You should  know that if you are a nuisance, you are putting the thought of releasing your child 
in your coach's head, every day.  Some situations are certainly not worth the hassle.

If you take steps to retain the player but keep a problem parent away, you remove one problem, but now you have the problem of a confused and hurt young person having to watch their parent stay away.  That would be devastating.  I've heard of coaches cutting kids and making sure they knew it was because of their parent.  Who are you to tell a child his parent is negatively affecting his life?

What is your job as coach?  To only coach soccer?  You wish.  Your job is to contribute to the development of a young person and provide an enjoyable and safe environment for everybody involved. Then you can coach.

Cut a kid because of his parent?  You draw attention to both of them.  Not your job.  Remove a parent and keep the kid?  Same result and still not your job.

If that player truly deserves a spot on your team then you need to clear any concerns you might have and set some boundaries.  Speak to them on an adult level, away from the field and allow them to bring a friend or spouse if they wish.  Ensure you are not alone and it might be a good idea to have a club executive with you.  But have the conversation and keep the spirit of the conversation being about the player.

Anything you discuss with this parent should already be addressed in your Team/Club Code of Conduct.  Work it out, have a discussion, but ensure they know that you care about their child enough to make the effort to have this conversation.

At the end of the day that parent might elect to move their child off your team, but leave that decision up to them.  Shake their hand and wish them well, sincerely.

My experiences with some of the coaches who approached me over the years is that they discovered the parent didn't realize their behaviour had reached a point of concern and were ready to "play nice".

My own experiences?  Over the years, I've had relatively good relations with parents.  I've had some parents sincerely speculate/accuse that I released their child because of them.  That's not a true parent problem as they are already out of the picture.  I've had a few speculate they were responsible for the selection covering, what I think, was their reluctance to pin the cause on their child's abilities.  (I can only imagine what they tell their children.)

I did have two serious problem parent situations at the club level and I completely regret how I dealt with them, but did learn from them.  They were both over 10 years ago.  In both situations, I ended up losing out on working with good boys who were decent players. Two bad situations in 26 years isn't bad at all.  But it's two that I could have dealt with better than I did, and didn't.

Over my many years as a hockey parent, I've seen kids get cut because of their parents all the time.  ALL THE TIME.  And to their faces.

At the club level, where it's community sports, I believe children deserve a chance to be sheltered from paying the price for a problem parent.  There is another attitude for many at the elite stream.  If a parent is going to ruin their child's chances as they move up the ladder, you may as well save that next coach the problem and get them out of the system now.  I'm not sure how deeply I agree with that philosophy, but I do know parents ruin their son/daughters careers all the time.  I had a voetball (soccer) agent in Holland tell me they will cut a client loose as soon as they feel the family is not of the "right attitude".  And he says it happens all the time.  His explanation is that there is so much for a child to deal with while making their way through a professional system, that not having smart parents will make the job so much more difficult and not worth the investment.

I know a family with a son who was expected to get drafted during the first five rounds of the Ontario Hockey League draft (junior hockey).  His father told me "yup, we spoke to several teams and I was asking about playing time and what we were expecting".  I politely asked him if that was a smart thing to do and he said that's how it's done.  I can assure you that I knew that's not how it's done.  Draft day came and went, and their son was not drafted at all.  Not even in late rounds where people take chances on kids.  This story is not unique.
So, where does that leave us?  A parent is running wild, stressing you out,  while you are trying to coach a team, as a volunteer.  Any scenario in which you force a parent and/or child to leave leaves you looking/feeling less that 100% at ease.  It's far from easy, but there is always a way to navigate the situation.  Even if that way is an adult conversation that ends in their decision to leave. 

Some ideas for you with respect to stemming problems:
  • Make sure your code of conduct and expectations are shared at tryouts.
  • Be professional and show discretion in how and with whom you share information about players.
  • Do your best to not be prejudicial with new families based on comments from other coaches.
  • Focus your efforts, conversations and actions on the players.  Avoid the normal parent scrum after sessions to "talk shop". 
  • Pick your team staff wisely, in that they support what you are doing.  Some parent problems do start with assistants who might have loose lips.
 Some ideas for you with respect to dealing with problems:
  • Plan your approach.  Be smart.  
  • Do not plan your approach alone.  Seek advice.
  • Talk to a club executive before taking action.
  • Make the player priority #1.
  • If you need to have a conversation, have it away from the field. 
  • Put the ball in their court with respect to making a decision to stay/leave and respecting the environment you set out.
Your ultimate goal, and juggling act:  to have that player on your team, the parent co-operating and keep the environment safe from poor examples.  I know it's not always possible, but your intentions and actions have to aim towards that to keep your actions above reproach.

P.S.  Now I am starting to wonder if anybody ever cut my kids because of me :)