15 Tips to Eliminate Parent Complaints Forever

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Ok, it maybe Pollyannaish to think that complaints can be eliminated forever, but follow these 15 tips and they certainly will be reduced!

  1. Before accepting a family on team, make sure that the family is a good philosophical match. If your gym is one that is intent on team members being on an elite training track, having a family who is looking for a more recreational approach to competition (or vice versa) is a disaster waiting to happen. If your program requires kids to be present 12 months a year and the family wants to travel all summer, it’s not a fit. Know as much as you can about both the family’s and the gym’s goals and expectations up front so everyone can make a good decision about fit is a great way to reduce disappointment in the future.
  2. Have a clear, written information packet about team philosophy, policies and procedures. The packet should address expectations of parent and athlete, fee structure, attendance policies, how practice will be managed (including how discipline is handled), how fear and injury are dealt with, how move ups are determined, how to communicate problems as well as policies for separating from the team as these are the likely issues that cause conflict.
  3. Ask parents and athlete to sign a form stating they have read the packet. By including a signature slip that the parent and child have read, discussed and understood the packet increases the likelihood that the packet is read, discussed and understood.
  4. Commit to an atmosphere of collaboration and good faith. Parents are not the enemy. Coaches are not all knowing, evil beings. Each is not out to hurt the other. Reminding all the stakeholders that we are all in this together, for the benefit of the athlete, many of the small bumps that occur in any close relationship will be given the benefit of the doubt.
  5. Have a season beginning meeting with a long Q and A session. Allow parents to ask their questions. Videotape it and send a link to any parents who missed encouraging them to send in any questions they might have or clarification that they need.
  6. Make sure parents know whom they need to go to for what. When it is clear who parents need to ask about fees, competition schedules or move ups and it is easily understood how to get feedback on their athlete, disclose a problem that they are having or even file a complaint, the level of parental anxiety goes down.
  7. Send home progress reports, ideally monthly. It can be as simple as having a skills and conditioning tracking sheet that is updated monthly for the parent to see where progress is being made and where their child is not making gains. A quick sentence or two that encourages an area for the athlete to work on, a suggestion for a private lesson or area that needs special attention or that a further discussion would be helpful so it is a good idea to add this as well.
  8. Let parents watch practice and, at least weekly, have time for questions before or after. This one is not a popular idea. I understand. The few “bleacher creatures” make a bad name for parents who don’t watch every last second of practice but still want to feel like they can stop in and watch when it is convenient for them. Parents in this day and age of video cameras and full involvement in their children’s lives expect this kind of access. Stop fighting it and find a way to make it work for you.
  9. Never yell, use sarcasm or insults with children. Just don’t.   Not only is it terrible for children, but eventually you will get complaints (rightfully so). Speak to the kids in a manner that you hope your boss at work would speak to you. Name calling and public humiliation are not things that adults want in their work environment, don’t do that to the kids.
  10. Document any injuries or physical complaints and follow up with parents immediately. Little irks a parent more to discover that their child was injured in practice and no one from the gym let them know. If a child asks to sit out a rotation because she is not feeling well, the parents should be informed.
  11. Give all kids equal attention. Some might suggest that the best way to inspire the kids not working as hard is to pay attention to the kids that are working hard. I disagree. All of the kids are paying tuition to be in your program. Your job is to teach them irrespective of talent or work ethic. You can discuss a lack of work ethic with the parent and if an athlete is disrespectful or refuses to participate in practice the parents should be contacted immediately. But not giving that child attention or coaching, absolutely not.
  12. Make practices fun for the kids. If the athletes are enjoying practice, they are far less likely to complain to their parents who in turn will not complain to you.
  13. Talk to parents when good things happen too! Too often we only reach out to families when there is a problem or concern—make sure you talk to parents to just check in or to share a compliment about their child!
  14. Be very clear about move up criteria. While I already mentioned this, I cannot stress this enough. Be very, very clear on how move ups will be determined. In an ideal world, when move ups are announced no one should be surprised if the family has been receiving consistent updates on the child’s progress.
  15. At the end of each season, evaluate if the program is still a good fit for everyone. Goals and ambitions change for athletes and even sometimes for programs.   A child who started out in a TOPs group and was extraordinarily happy there might not be the same child a year later. The family who has their child in a less intensive program may decide that their child has elite aspirations. In these cases, a switch in training programs or even gyms might be appropriate. Not every program is going to be right for every child at every stage of its development. So, even what might be a good fit one year, may not be a great fit the next year. It’s not personal. It just is.

Does this entirely fix all parent-coach problems in the gym?

Of course not. People are people and as such they make mistakes, have emotions and even sometimes they behave like jerks. Sometimes that is the parent, sometimes it is the coach, and sometimes both are to blame.

Nevertheless, following these tips dramatically reduce misunderstandings and allows for space for problems to be addressed before they get bigger than they need to be, allows you to fill your team with families who have a similar philosophy to yours and generally reduces friction between parents and coaches so that in the end we can all work together for the benefit of the kids.