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UK Coaching Team
58
Rapport Building and Communicating

Managing 'Over-Ambitious' Parents

Insight from Kath Fitzpatrick on managing parents, developed in partnership with Spond. An archery coach for over 30 years, Kath runs the Arrowhawks Archery Academy in York, which is part of Archery GB’s National Talent Development Programme

Anyone who’s coached children’s sport will understand the problem of ‘pushy’ parents. If you want to coach young people, learning how to manage them is essential.

“Archery is more about psychology and focus than many other sports,” Kath explains. If you’re shooting for victory, there’s no tuning out an unhelpful parent. 

Some coaches tiptoe around it, but you have to get to know the athletes. I know their life history, their parents, their pets, their schoolwork. I coach the whole person.”

Managing over-ambitious parents

“One of the biggest threats to performance is over-ambitious parents,” Kath explains.
 
“You meet quite a lot of parents living through their children, enjoying the reflected glory of their success. They don’t understand that one wrong comment can destroy their child’s focus.

“I’ve had parents standing behind their child, constantly updating them on the other archers’ scores and telling them how many points they need to pick up. So I’ll step in, take the parent for a walk and explain they’re making it harder by stressing their child.

“I once had a child making a technical mistake. Her dad, trying to help, kept pointing it out, making it worse and worse. I had to calm him down and explain that she didn’t need reminding what she was doing wrong, she needed to be taught how to do it right. 

I showed him and made him part of the solution. He’s now signed up for a coaching course himself and it’s changed his whole attitude.”

Dealing with difficult parents

  • Don’t take it personally. De-escalate the situation and look for the real problem.
  • Get to know your athletes and their parents: understand their characters and pressure points.
  • Make parents a part of the solution: give them a role.
  • Seek support and mentoring from other coaches.
  • Set ground rules and model good behaviour. Lead don’t push.
  • Accept that not everyone will like you but be clear about your boundaries and expectations.
  • If you must challenge parents, do so away from their child, so the parent doesn’t lose face.
  • Try to do it where other adults see and hear what’s happening, for your protection and theirs.
  • Focus not on the parent, but on how their behaviour looks to their child and the other athletes. 

Creating the right culture

“I had a parent lose his temper with me,” Kath relates. “He felt I wasn’t paying enough attention to his son in a tournament and just started yelling at me. I said, ‘I’m really sorry you feel like that, when you’ve calmed down, I’ll explain what I’ve been doing and how I’ve been supporting him.’ We talked but I couldn’t change his mind. 

“Often, it’s nothing to do with you, it’s some other underlying problem. Sometime all it takes is saying calmly, ‘why don’t you tell me what the real problem is?’” 

The support that Kath receives from other coaches is indispensable in situations like that.

“Having the support of other coaches who you can talk to and get an objective view on the situation is crucial,” Kath says. “My red lines are cheating, bullying or a parent trying to turn a child against me. If the parent won’t tackle that, I can’t coach them effectively.”

Coaching mentors are a great source of support, and they can offer an objective perspective to the barriers you’re facing. Find out more about this in Lean on Me: How Mentors Can Provide Support and Aid Progress.

Creating the right culture can also help.

“I tell them that once they join the academy, we’re like a dysfunctional family,” Kath says. “We won’t always agree, but we might not all love each other, but we work towards the same goal and even though we compete, we support each other.”

Modelling good behaviour

“You’ve got to model good behaviour yourself,” Kath asserts. “It’s not what you do, it’s what you’re seen to do,” she says. “I teach my athletes to recognise quality in their opponent, compete hard but be gracious in victory or defeat.”

Kath is motivated by her determination to ensure that the athletes she coaches have their chance to shine.

“I want to give all the athletes with talent a chance to excel, regardless of their background, and give them access to great coaching. It is hard, especially as I’m a volunteer coach.

I want the sport to realise and recognise the worth and skill of ‘career coaches’ who have never been elite athletes. I want coaches who know they are valued and coach because of their passion for the sport and the joy of seeing others progress.

“The best compliment I ever had was someone saw my athletes at a tournament and said they were like a ball of mercury. Whenever they were separated – even in a competition – they flowed right back together.” 

With the Spond Team App:

  • Share training plans.
  • Keep parents informed through 1:1 direct messaging or between group members.
  • Request feedback.
  • Keep in touch with parents. In-app polling finds mutually convenient times for coach-parent meetings.

Free Spond Team App

The Free Spond Team App makes organising easy. Using Spond to help organise your sessions will leave you with more energy for the activities you really enjoy - like coaching!

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Related Resources

  • Communicating with Parents

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  • Building Positive Relationships with Parents

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  • Revealed: The Secrets to Keeping Parents Happy

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UK Coaching Team