Being a softball coach is not always easy...especially
when you run into "difficult softball parents" or DSP's as I
like to call them.
You know the parents I'm referring to: overbearing, overly competitive, and
overly engaged in your decisions as a coach.
I've actually had a fair amount of experience with this... dealing with
complaints about playing time, who gets to play what position, sportsmanship
No matter how knowledgeable, fair, or kind you are to your team, you can
probably expect an irate parent or two to crop up during the season. Here are a
few tips I find helpful when dealing with these situations.
1. Don't discuss the issue at the game
The first thing the coach should avoid is discussing the problem with the parent
on the field, especially if he/she is visibly upset.
2. Schedule a separate time/venue to have the discussion
Rather than discuss the problem then and there, the coach should agree to meet
or telephone the parent at a mutually convenient time to discuss the complaint.
By doing this, you avoid giving the parent an audience, allow the him/her to
'cool off', and give yourself time to prepare an appropriate response to the
3. Be an active listener
When you eventually talk to the parent, one of the most important things you can
do is be an active listener. Doing things like taking notes, maintaining eye
contact and nodding to acknowledge you have heard what the parent is saying are
4. Don't interrupt
Even if parents raise their voices or their stories have are not fact-based, the
coach should avoid interrupting. By interrupting a parent, you risk inflaming
5. Don't get defensive
The coach should avoid defending or justifying their action. Such behavior at
this point will only make the situation worse.
6. Show empathy
Respond to their concerns with statements like "I'm sorry that you feel your
child has been treated unfairly". This will help the parent to understand
his/her problem is being taken seriously. They are likely to be calmer and more
willing to find a solution.
7. Clarify the problem
This can be achieved by asking probing questions. This helps both parties to
focus on the problem (not personalities), stick to the facts, and avoid being
caught up in extraneous issues.
8. Offer a range of solutions
A lot of times, parents just want their feelings to be heard and understood. If
they want more, try to offer a range of solutions. This demonstrates a
willingness to work together to solve the problem. It's important to avoid
making promises that you can't keep. Explain to them what you can and cannot do.
9. Get closure
Ideally, you will given the parent a number of options and agreed on a mutual
course of action. At this point it's appropriate to end the meeting. It should
conclude with three things:
* Leave the parent with a closing action statement (e.g.. 'I'll get on to that
* Thank the parent for their interest (no matter how unpleasant the meeting).
* If follow-up is required, tell them when you will contact them ('I'll ring you
This will leave the parent feeling as though their complaint has been heard, and
the parent-coach relationship will be strengthened.
10. Leave the door open
There will be cases, however after this whole process where you will not be able
to give the parent the response they are looking for. It is important in these
circumstances that the coach leave the door open for the parent, e.g.. 'If there
is ever anything else, please come to me'. By doing this the parent will at
least feel that his/her complaint has been taken seriously, and the coach-parent
relationship, however strained, will remain intact. Not doing this could allow
the problem to fester... and the parent could damage your reputation through
If you found this interesting, there's all sorts of great coaching tips and
ideas on my website... check it out.