July 30, 2018 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Getting principal, superintendent support against combative sports parents

While most parents appreciate the opportunity that their child has within the athletic program, you may face a few who cause major headaches. This phenomenon has been around for as long as anyone can remember, and some might say it’s worse now than ever.

To combat this problem and provide proactive communication and education for all parents, many athletic administrators host preseason parent meetings. These are invaluable, but don’t stop there. You need to do everything you can to effectively reach the parents of your athletes. Other proactive efforts include:

  • Creating a handbook for parents of athletes covering all details, expectations and procedures in your program. Have copies available at your parent meetings and post a link on your website.
  • Post articles on your website explaining the purpose and value of education-based athletics. This may be the best way to communicate this philosophy and help parents understand why your program operates the way it does.
  • Prioritize social media to connect with parents. By using multiple vehicles, you increase your program’s visibility and reach the families of your players.
  • Schedule speakers and host evening events to discuss college recruiting, concussion recognition and treatment protocols, improving sportsmanship, and other current issues pertinent to your program.

In addition to these efforts, there’s one more ingredient that’s necessary to address the parent problem: Support from the principal or superintendent. Without their backing, it might be difficult or impossible to set your standards and expectations. Here are eight suggestions to help you educate your superiors and gain their support.

1. Explain your philosophy.

Sit down with your supervisor and explain the concept of education-based athletics. Upper-level administrators may not have a background in athletics, so this is an essential first step for them to understand the value and purpose of your program. This conversation also provides the how and why of what you do.

2. Establish the chain of command.

It’s vital that you remind your superiors why the chain of command exists and why it’s necessary for you to succeed. Your best efforts in dealing with a problematic parent can easily be undermined if this chain of command is ignored. If parents discover that they can go over your head to get what they want, they will never deal with you on vested, important topics. At this point, you have no control.

3. Keep superiors informed.

Always provide your supervisor with copies of all documents that you distribute to parents. That includes your parent handbook, articles for newsletters and information from your website. Making your principal or superintendent aware of your educational efforts shows that you take proactive steps to head-off problems. And, if a crisis or predicament does arise, these materials serve as reference proving that information and procedures were shared with parents.

4. Get them involved.

Regularly invite your principal or superintendent to attend preseason parent meetings, booster club meetings and other major events involving parents. While their attendance is a good public relations effort, it also provides them with a snapshot of the steps you take to educate and communicate with parents.

5. Ask to be included in all decisions.

Request that your supervisors consult with you prior to making major or controversial decisions involving parents. It’s important to provide a frame of reference, past experiences and your insight prior to your principal or superintendent passing judgement. Without your input, you may be placed in an indefensible position.

6. Establish weekly briefings.

If possible, set up a short weekly meeting with either the principal or superintendent. This allows you to update them on any immediate issues in your program. Also, provide a quick glimpse of what may develop in the next week or two. Without this briefing, misguided parents might present a faulty premise and gain support from this administrator.

7. Keep them in the loop.

Always inform your superiors of any situation or confrontation with a parent, and this should be done as soon as possible. It’s important to use the quickest and most efficient method available — call, text message, email, office visit. You never want your supervisor to be blindsided, and you always want them to have important background details before hearing from the parent.

It’s also worthwhile to keep your supervisor informed of all communication efforts involving problematic parents. That means copying them on emails, or providing them hard copies of letters or notes. For phone calls, type up a brief summary of the conversation and make a copy for your principal or superintendent. Documentation ensures accuracy and provides for future reference when problems arise.

8. Consult superiors about reprimands.

Always confer with your principal or superintendent before issuing a directive or reprimand to a parent. This include banning a parent from your facilities. Your supervisor needs to sign off and approve your letter or email to the parent to guarantee their support.

While developing healthy working relationships is important for many aspects of your position, it’s crucial that you gain your supervisor’s trust. Without their backing, it may not matter what you do or how you do it, so curb problematic parents by starting at the top and earning the support of your school’s leadership.

David Hoch, CMAA, has 16 years of experience as a high school athletic director and served for 12 years as the executive director of the Maryland State Coaches Association. In 2000, he was named Athletic Director of the Year by the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association. His column, A.D.ministration, focuses on issues in athletic administration and appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine.

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