Have I ever told you my nightmare parent story?
No? Well, let me introduce you to one of my greatest coaching failures.
I was ready to leave the all-star gym I was currently working at and move on because it was a bit of a toxic environment. I was ready for a place that would appreciate me.
And, boy, did they. But they also expected a lot of me.
I should also mention I was 23 and only a year out of college. I was supposed to take over for the previous coach whom everyone loved deeply and had practically started the program. It left me with huge shoes to fill.
So I set out to fill them well.
At camp, we got first place for the week and second in competition. We got spirit awards every day. We were on fire and school hadn’t even started.
We had skills the team had never acquired in their entire history. We were rocking it at pep rallies and most of the time on the sideline (hey, everyone has a bad day!)
By my own measure, I was successful. On the outside our team looked fantastic … but midseason cracks started to show.
It turns out one girl was bullied by another and quit the team. I was oblivious.
And as we moved toward competition season, the pressure rose on us all. We started seeing stunts get worse and the team’s heart just not being in it.
And all this time, something was working outside of the squad to taint the attitude.
As it turns out, that was a parent.
I tried hard to get us on track, and I was taking notes the WHOLE season so I knew how to improve the next one. I knew I made mistakes, but we all do and I was going to learn from them.
One parent didn’t want to give me the opportunity.
Late in football season, when I sensed an attitude shift, it turns out one parent was working to turn the others against me.
We had a couple of phone calls and I thought we had worked out our issue … but we didn’t.
She went covert and nasty. And when it came time to get a new team signed up, almost no one did.
The two juniors-about-to-be-seniors (the rest were freshman) were the only ones who wanted to be on the team next year.
I was honestly flabbergasted and utterly shocked.
I had prepared for a new season. I had worked diligently to fix the mistakes that I saw from this one in my plan for the next. But the parents wouldn’t give me another chance, and asked their daughters to do a different sport the next year to vary their experience.
As I spoke with the athletic director, it became evident in the midst of a successful year I had still failed because I failed to get the parents (well, one very influential parent) on my side.
I thought dealing with parents was about reacting well to their challenges and resolving them … but I was missing half the picture.
THE PROBLEM WITH BEING REACTIVE
Reacting is very much a part of any relationship–really any endeavor–in life. There are always challenges and surprises, and reacting is how we manage those things.
But when it comes to coaching, if all you did was react, you’d have a terrible program. And it’s the same when dealing with parents. I was only letting them talk to me when they had a problem–when I had to react.
When you do that, you make yourself a bad guy and don’t allow a previous relationship with the parent to inform them or give you the benefit of the doubt. They simply don’t know you, and they don’t know why they should put their child in your care.
Reacting is necessary, but it shouldn’t be the whole picture.
MY #1 TIP? BE PROACTIVE
So, the fact that this didn’t occur to me sooner is a bit tragic really. I’m a communicator, and I know that first impressions are important as are touchpoints to build relationships.
It’s how we all move through relationships–spouses, friendships, and, heck, even you and me right now are doing it. When we don’t do that, we’re setting ourselves up to fail.
We need to be proactive. We need a plan. We need to communicate.
You’ve got to know what parents will really cause you trouble. You’ve got to communicate early and often. And you’ve definitely got to tell them good stuff and not just deal with them in the bad stuff.
You need all of that to build a successful program, because you don’t have one if you don’t have parents. They get your kids to practice, pick them up, and care for them outside of your gym.
You rely on them. Your cheerleaders rely on them. And they rely on you. Give them the chance to see who you are, that you care, and that they can trust you with their child.
If you want to know how to build a successful parent plan, I’ve got an e-book all about it.
It’s based on the plan I created that got me successfully through four years with a different program just after this. It’s how I managed to stay sane and employed. And I’ve put it together for you because I don’t want you to have the same disaster I did.
That experience changed my life and almost made me quit coaching the sport I love. But instead I let it change me and make me better. Today, I want to help you do that too–but without the really icky part. So let’s do it!