Here is the Biggest Challenge Faced by Gymnastics Coaches! Recently I posed a question to coaches on Facebook. The question was “What is your biggest frustration in your daily coaching duties?” I had a good idea of what the most popular answer would be…Dealing with Parents.
In 30 years of coaching I have certainly had my share of the Parents from Hell, but when it comes right down to it, I have to say that most parents are willing to support, loyal and trustworthy. MOST!
The problem that stems from “the bad apple syndrome” is the fact that coaches become gun shy (not wanting confrontations) so they put up a mile high wall and categorize all parents as “the enemy” and the creators of their reoccurring migraines . This is a mistake. I’ve made it! For years I operated and condoned a “my way or the highway” unapproachable system for dealing with parents. It didn’t work very well.
Then I realized I was a parent too, and the world changed! It wasn’t an immediate revelation but being a parent did cause me to question my approach to dealing with other parents’ children. I had a difficult time picturing a coach/teacher/mentor of my children basically telling me that my input was not needed nor important and that I should just drop my kids off at the door, pay my bills and not question decisions that could inevitably shape the character of my child. If I had a concern I felt above all else, that I should be heard. This initiate a gradual shift towards a more understanding approach to coaching what would have to be considered by most parents as the world’s most prized possessions …. their children.
THE COACH-ATHLETE-PARENT APPRECIATION TRIANGLE
The system of dealing with parents evolved over time into what I like to refer to as the Coach-Athlete-Parent Appreciation Triangle. Each corner of the triangle plays a role in maintaining the integrity of the shape (in our case the integrity of the program). Each has to appreciate the role the other plays, the sacrifices and effort put forth to make the entire process work.
The coach appreciates the time, financial and emotional sacrifices that the parent and of course the athlete invests.
The parent respects and appreciates the countless hours of effort, and daily frustrations endured by the coach and the athlete.
The child better fully appreciate the efforts of the parent and the coach and the related contributions towards their success as an athlete.
THE TRIANGLE gives everyone a vested interest in the process thus creating a feeling of importance. Nothing makes someone feel more insignificant than a system that acts as if they don’t exist. Parents are important to your program, coaches need to make them feel this way because the final line of the story is… they hold the trump card.
With this being said there is a need to clearly define the lines that may not be crossed. A problem in this area is usually the result of:
- Poor communication or lack of an initial explanation of the expectations
- failure to enforce your expectations (give them an inch and they will take a mile)
- Fear of pulling the plug on the terminally lost (some parents will want to cross the lines often.)
If proper communication and warnings don’t put an end to the problem, then it is in the best interest of your program and your SANITY, to pull the plug (here’s a quarter, call gym x for your next gymnastics lesson.)
The boundary lines will be different in every program to match the goals and expectations of management, the individual personality traits of those setting the rules (things that bother one coach, may be trivial to another.)
Here are some of the boundary lines we use:
- If you have a concern, feel free to address it but please use the proper channels. Start with the coach involved. Then, if needed progress to the head coach of that level, and then finally to management.
- Never air your concerns in open forum. Airing grievances amongst other parents serves little constructive purpose. It places others in uncomfortable positions, sets a poor example for how to handle your personal problems and infects the team atmosphere of our gym.
- The inevitable urge to question coaching decisions, inner gym fairness and equality, and perceived favoritism, etc. should be squashed in an explanation that the program truly has the best interests of ALL ATHLETES at heart. Those parents that continue to have reservations about the fairness that their daughter receives should consider other programs (if this is truly their belief, why would they continue to subject their child to these potentially destructive actions…. they should go elsewhere.)
- Concerns should be conducted in a productive professional manner (at the appropriate time and place) with the expressed intention of finding a solution, or seeking to understand the reasons related to the issue. Generally it is best to schedule a time convenient for all concerned parties. Attacking a coach before, after or during practice is not a good idea… they may attack back.
- Although parent goals for their child are important, they need to realize that these goals should be attached to safety, character development, and mental/emotional well being. Input on gymnastics specific concerns should be left up to the professionals (training groups, competitive level, assignment competitions, line up draws, level advancement, etc.) Seeking to understand a gymnastics related decision is certainly well within their parental rights, but dictating or questioning gymnastics decisions …. NOPE!
- Parents should contribute to the discipline of the program. Arrive on time, assist athletes with nutrition, proper rest, and hygiene, reinforce respectful behavior from their child, never distract athletes during training, report pre-arranged absences, support gym rules and policies etc. Parents who consider these issues unimportant only set the tone for the athlete to follow suit.
- Parents are a representation of your club when at competition or when traveling wearing your TEAM COLORS. Representation should always be professional, classy and courteous. Trash talking other gyms, athletes or judges is not allowed. Parents are not allowed to address any meet official UNLESS it is to say THANK YOU. Legitimate concerns should be relayed to the coaching staff who can then decide the best course of action.
- Parents should always make it a habit of presenting the coaches with significant tokens of appreciation on their birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries and all other major and minor holidays that are signified with the closing of the local banks and post offices. (OK NOT REALLY … just seeing if you were paying attention).
I suspect that those that know my personality are reading this with a bit of skepticism and waiting for the punch line. Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that I run a program where parents are met at the door with their slippers, a cup of coffee and a bouquet of roses. It has been said that we are as tough on our parents as we are on our athletes and so it should be. Parents should be held to the standard that your club feels is acceptable and nothing less. In the process, a bonding trust is established and it is this sincere trust that forms that backbone of our parent-coach-management relationships.
Program management will find that creating an atmosphere that has a pro-parent environment is far less stressful and time consuming than the opposite option. We try to encourage participation on travel events, team bonding events, booster club organization and administration, allow the viewing of training, etc. in an attempt to create a feeling of importance. Developing that mutual trust and respect creates a situation where you now have loyal supporters and allies rather than a group that teeters on jumping ship whenever the opportunity presents the perception that the grass is greener OVER THERE.
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