Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

Dealing with Difficult Parents

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.

Filed under: General

7 Responses

  1. Jim bell says:

    I like your article but I don’t understand how we’ve gotten to the point that the coach is ALWAYS right. Most articles, including yours, discuss the issue of parents from a stand point of the coach is right and how to deal with the parents that can’t see that. I am all for professional conversation… Calm.. Collected but to deny that there are coaches with hidden agenda (usually involving their own player) would be inaccurate. Some coaches don’t understand how to deal with younger kids…. They are are too intense etc. Yet, there are few articles on how to deal with coaches that truly misguided and possibly doing more harm than good. I the coach is always right and any parent that tries to bring these concerns is labeled the problem parent right away. This should be a two way street. I’m sorry, as much as I appreciate there hard work and volunteering, coaches are NOT always right and may need some guidance.

    • Well said. We can’t afford to grant that level of autonomy to any person, including coaches. Deciding how to grow and feature your son or daughter as a player should be a balanced team effort between the coach, the player and the parents.

    • Anonymous says:

      There’s a very easy way to deal with coaches who you don’t like, agree with or think are bad coaches, you remove your child from the team and go play elsewhere.

      I don’t see any where in this article where Coach Nielsen says that coaches are always right. In fact coaches do make mistakes, they’re human and it’s going to happen and yes, there ARE bad coaches out there. Having coached high school hockey for over 10 years now, I’ve had both great and horrific experiences with parents. As a new parent myself, I understand the love a parent has for their child and that they want nothing but the best for their child. Before firing off on a coach, say this to yourself:

      “Is it best for my child for me to be involved here, or would it be better to have my child work with the coach on his own and develop as a young man/woman to find out what they can do to improve?”

      In the end, for me, coaching is about getting your child ready for life, not for a game. If the parent keeps jumping in at every sign of trouble, the child will never develop the skills to handle difficult situations on their own.

    • Anonymous says:

      When you fill out your coaching application and VOLUNTEER to run a team, then you can decide who plays when, where and for how much time. Until then, the decisions that the coaches make should be respected by everyone. You may not agree with them, but you aren’t the one out there day after day, night after night, sacrificing your time to teach these kids.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’m a coach of a girls’ volleyball team, just stumbled across this posting, and the only problem I have with it is that I did not find it sooner.

    The details that you put forth in how you have dealt with parents by diffusing and deflecting the situation will prove invaluable, if only the parents would come directly to me, instead of griping to each other and to the AD.

    Frankly, I LOVE the idea of sitting the child for the parents’ childish behavior. It may make the parent upset, but hopefully it will cause them to think a bit more before reacting as well as how their actions / words reflect on them and what it is teaching their children.

  3. JimmyBean says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …This blog rocks! I gotta say, that I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

    • Jim, thanks, the kind words are much appreciated. I try to post as often as possible, but right now with the season just starting I am pretty busy. It’s really great that you took the time to leave a comment on the site and a nice comment as well. I only started this blog about 30 days ago and I am already getting over 100 hits a day. This is way more than I expected, I hope I can keep up my end of the bargain.


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