One of the most difficult things to deal with as a coach are difficult parents. The one thing I learned in my years is that the first thing you say to them during a confrontation will set the tone of the conversation. Most parents are upset because of playing time and they want to make you understand that their son is the best player on the ice and how come you don’t see that. Typically you can see it coming because they are waiting for you to come off the ice and as I said, how you deal with that first encounter can determine the level the conversation goes to.
We all like to say that we don’t speak with parents after a game, that they should work with the team manager and cool down for 24 hours before a confrontation so they have time to think things through. We also know that typically doesn’t happen. I will say that every situation is different and since hockey is a physical sport the parents tend to think they can intimidate some coaches. I’m a pretty big guy so most of the time parents I deal with are a bit more subdued, but I have seen situations where a coach is cornered by a big dad and placed in a position to maybe defend themselves physically.
What I always say to a parent who confronts me is “I can understand your situation and I’m willing to talk to you about it, as long as you are willing to hear my side of the story”. This typically puts the parent in a position that they must agree to have a conversation instead of just telling you that they are right and you are wrong.
The parent will most times start by saying, “my son is better than player #2 and I don’t understand why he doesn’t play more". Right there I will step in and say that “this isn’t about any of the other players, it’s about your son and his playing ability”. I will always do my best to be honest with my assessment of the players ability and tell the parent what the player needs to work on. Maybe they aren’t as strong of a skater as they need to be and I will tell the parent that his son should go to the open ice sessions at the local rink and get in some extra skating.
Last season I had a situation where the fifth defenseman wasn’t getting on the ice every third shift. The defensive coach was running the first four and alternating number five and six every other shift. This apparently caused the parent some heartburn and he started yelling at us from the stands. Now in our area high school hockey is pretty popular so the stands are typically full of students and parents, so for me to hear him yelling, he had to be pretty loud. When the game ended I saw he was waiting for me at the door coming off the ice and with him were two other young men, apparently a brother and his sister’s boyfriend. As I expected he started yelling right away about ice time and how his boy was better than a few of the defenseman who got plenty of ice time. Before too long we had a crowd around us of parents and the rink security because I think they thought that I was going to explode at the guy, but instead I took the tact to deflect his argument. I said “if you want to talk to me we can talk, but if you’re going to yell, I’ll walk away and ignore your concerns”. Right away it stopped him in his tracks because he knew if he wanted to get his point across he had to calm down and be civil with me.
We had a good discussion about his son and agreed that he wasn’t the best skater, but had a lot of heart. The parent realized that maybe the coaches weren’t completely wrong in their assessment of the situation and we would work on making him a better player as the year progressed, which would allow him more ice time.
The next thing I did was suspend the player for one game because of the actions of his father. I think that it’s important to make sure the player helps control the parents, plus it set a good standard for all the other parents.
The bottom line is that it is very difficult to deal with parents at times and you need to keep your cool and not make the situation worse. I’m fortunate because I don’t have a son on any of the teams I coach, but most coaches have the added headache of “why is your son on the ice more than my son” issue. Just stay calm and deflect the conversation back on the parent to be reasonable or there will be no conversation.
I hope this helped in some small way. Sometimes coaching is a thankless job, but we do it because we love the game and want to teach the players this great game. Good luck this season with the situations that will inevitably crop up.