In the Fall of 2009, I was co-hosting a series of USA Hockey Coaching Clinics in the Southeast. The events were well attended with coaches eager to both offer and absorb knowledge. On day two, we were discussing the "Role Of The Coach" to a room full of passionate volunteers primarily coaching at the Mite-Pee Wee levels.
We began by sharing experiences and opening the floor for questions to figure out what the group hoped to get out of the all day event. Hands raised one after the next.
A 3rd year Pee Wee coach led off, "How do you deal with a kid that just won't listen?"
A first time parent and coach working with an initiation program made up primarily of 4-6 year olds followed, "How do you herd cats?"
And finally, a squirt coach spoke up and asked the question everyone wanted to know and coaches at all youth levels have dealt with for years....
"How do you deal with problem parents?"
Youth hockey coaches love working with kids and feed off the passion, energy, and smiles of their young players, but there are always going to be other factors outside of those rink walls that can make a season challenging one and unfortunately, less enjoyable for you and your team.
Fortunately, we had a tremendous cast of speakers throughout the weekend and Bob McCaig, a man who had given more then half a century to Hockey Canada and USA Hockey and a man I have been lucky to call a mentor and friend was there as our guest speaker for this portion of the series on that afternoon.
Bob always presented both highly educational and highly entertaining material. He would often break the ice by telling the audience about and showing a video of some of the coaches he looked up to and considered to be role models, like Jules Winfield (I won't link to the "Jules Winfield" video featuring Chris Chelios and Samuel L. Jackson here, because it does contain some content not suitable for children, but if you are interested it is an amusing 3 minute look in to what not to do as a youth hockey coach then be sure to check it out on youtube). But at the end of the day, Bob was there to teach and help the next generation of coaches maximize their potential and give as much back to the next generation of players as possible.
We dove right in to the "problem parents." Coach McCaig would always encourage coaches to do two things, host a pre season parents meeting outlining guidelines and expectations, and when you come across and overwhelming "problem parent," give them a job!
The pre season meeting can show parents that you are well prepared and they can trust you to develop their child as a player and a person in the year ahead. It was an opportunity to explain the difference between "fair and equal" with regards to playing time. Every kid at the start of the season deserves and equal shot at showcasing their abilities and how they can help the team, but promising equality throughout a year sets you up for failure from the start, whether you are talking about coaching or government. That's why it is important that parents understand the difference between the two and that you will promise that their child may not get an equal amount of ice time as all of the other kids on the team, but they will be treated fairly and given the opportunity to compete and prove they deserve more ice time throughout the season.
These meetings can set the tone for an entire season, and as Bob explained, eliminate the presence of the "Stopwatch Parent." Bob said, "You know, the over the top dad in the corner of the rink that can always be seen with a watch and a note pad, compiling evidence to bring to you as a coach the moment you step off the bench after a win or loss in an 8 and under game where the score, let alone "Time On Ice," probably never should have been kept. Bob always said, give these parents a job. Give them other responsibilities that would help you and the team, and perhaps more importantly keep the stopwatch out of their hand and them off your back, and your season will run much smoother. Have them fill water bottles, book hotels, order pizzas for a post game social in the locker room with their parents, brothers and sisters.
The message appeared to have resonated with the majority of the coaches in the room but there was one first year coach who was clearly confused. I looked over to him and encouraged him not to be bashful, speak up with any questions. He looked up, still somewhat confused and then said something dead serious that i will never forget...."Parents aren't using stopwatches to measure their child’s ice time anymore.....There is an “app” for that."
And, unfortunately, he was right. The "Stopwatch Dad" was no longer as conspicuous as he once was. For as many incredible things as modern technology has brought us, it has also concealed the identity of many "problem parents."
This only increases the need for enhanced communication and relaying of expectations prior to the season. Coach, this summer, enjoy your time with your family away from the rink, but as the following season approaches, make sure you come in well prepared and outline your coaching philosophy, goals and objectives, and expectations before the season starts. It will save you a lot of time down the road and provide a better experience for your players and parents throughout the year.