Last week we talked about spotting coaches and teachers who are negatively affecting, or, in fact, harming children using bullying tactics in an effort to “motivate.” (Part I: When Your Child’s Coach or Teacher is the Bully – What Makes a Good Leaders) At some point over the course of your child’s athletic career, it may become necessary to confront a coach with a problem. Todd Patkin suggests twelve things to help you turn “the talk” into a score, not a fumble.
Understand that it might be stressful. This may sound obvious, but the fact is, people are often surprised by how stressful a tough conversation with a coach can be. Especially if the coach gives vehement pushback or is less than civil, something as seemingly simple as, “Since I’m around him all the time, do you mind if I share with you how my son best receives feedback?” can turn into a tense, nerve-wracking confrontation. Just be prepared for the possibility!
Let your child go to bat first, if possible. If the situation isn’t too serious, and if you and your child are comfortable, allow her to talk to the coach before stepping in yourself. For instance, it’s realistic for a child to approach her coach on a simple issue such as, “Hey, Coach, what can I do to get more playing time?” It may even be the case that the coach will respond more constructively to her than to you. (As always, it’s appropriate to still keep a close eye on the situation to make sure that your child isn’t in over her head and that there are no adverse effects.)
Get your child’s permission. If you think it’s best that you be the one to approach your child’s coach, get the go-ahead from him before you have “the talk.” You don’t want him to feel blindsided or embarrassed, and it’s smart to get his take on how the conversation might affect his relationship with his coach and teammates.
Keep the focus on your child. Even if your day job happens to be sports-related, it’s best to limit the conversation to issues that concern the well-being of your child. For instance, you’re well within your rights to talk about your daughter’s mental and physical treatment, as well as to offer insight into what motivates her. However, try to avoid giving general advice regarding how the coach manages the team, determines playing time, or relates to other players. And (as is common knowledge in the relationship realm), always use “I” statements like “I feel” or “I think” instead of “you always” and “you never.”
Walk a mile in the coach’s cleats. It’s true: There really are two sides to every story, and coaching can sometimes be a tough and thankless job. If you’re having an uncomfortable conversation with a coach, make a sincere effort to understand his perspective. Try to listen as much as you speak. Remember, some coaches are volunteers who don’t get paid. Others may have to answer to bosses or administrators. And still others may have been placed in a tough position while trying to accommodate other parents and/or players.
Don’t be impulsive. In virtually every situation (not just those that involve your child and his coach!), it’s best to think before you speak and act. Give the coach a chance to get to know your child before stepping in, and try not to speak up until you determine that the undesired behavior is a pattern that doesn’t seem to be changing—unless, of course, it is harmful. Not being impulsive also means refraining from making snide comments or yelling criticisms during games. Handling yourself appropriately will set you up to receive respect and civility when and if you do have the talk.
Say no to gossip. Especially if other parents have similar grievances, it can be tempting to criticize the coach as a group behind his or her back. Resist this urge! You don’t want the coach to hear your complaints from someone else; and remember, gossiping does nothing to change the situation for the better. If you have shared grievances with other parents and decide to confront the coach directly, refrain from listing off the names of other moms and dads who feel the same way—you don’t want the coach to feel that all his players’ parents have ganged up on him. And along these lines, don’t get involved in issues that concern other children and their parents.
Especially if it’s serious, schedule the conversation. Don’t assume that your child’s coach has time just before or immediately following the next practice or game. At these points, the coach may be preoccupied or stressed, and the conversation might accidentally become a public event. Instead, let the coach know that you’d like to discuss something important, and ask her to suggest a good time. (Remember, face-to-face is usually best, as email exchanges and even phone conversations can foster misunderstandings.)
Be polite. You’re always reminding your child to be polite and respectful, so make sure to model that advice yourself! Remember, this is not an excuse to be aggressive or to attack the coach. Instead, think about what you’d like the ideal outcome to be, and tailor your words and actions to help achieve that end. Also, don’t make threats—including threatening to quit the team! (In fact, if there are aspects of the coach’s leadership that you admire, it’s a good idea to start the conversation with those sincere compliments so the coach knows you aren’t just “out to get him.”)
Be sure to explain the problem. Asking a coach to stop a certain behavior or to relate to your child in a different way is important, but it’s also wise to explain why the current behavior isn’t working. Make sure the coach knows that your child is being adversely affected, and how. In many cases, the problem may simply be that the coach doesn’t realize that her way of doing things is causing harm.
Offer solutions. After talking about the problem, offer solutions if you feel comfortable doing so. A coach who truly cares will want what is best for your child too, and he’ll probably appreciate your advice if it is offered in a nonaggressive and respectful manner. Also, be sure to give him a chance to apologize and fix the problem after your conversation.
If you have to turn in the jersey, do so respectfully. Sometimes, your child’s relationship with a coach might not work despite your sincere efforts. Don’t make a hasty decision in the heat of the moment. But if, after taking some time to think and discuss the situation with your child, you feel that your last resort—quitting the team—is the only option left, have a private meeting with the coach to explain why.
Have you had “the talk” with a coach or teacher? What were the results?
Todd Patkin is the author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.