“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates
Ever have a really difficult situation as part of a youth sports program? Perhaps you were the coach and there was that one set of parents that rode you all season long about everything. Or a player who seemed constantly down, mad, confused or otherwise un-coachable. Maybe you’ve been a parent and the coach was always riding your kid hard at practice, or not playing them much or inconsistent.
The knee-jerk reaction is to, well……. react! We may speak out, write an angry email, go above the person’s head, talk about it with other staff or parents, or even just choose to ignore that person and move on. But what happens now? Because communication break-down has become so ingrained in our youth programs that many are carrying around a chip on their shoulder rather than learning from one another…
How do we bridge the gap that’s getting wider every season. We’re all talking about it, what are we doing about it? It starts with us (yup that means ME and that means YOU), because it takes TWO to tango… and also to argue.
A few ways to check yourself, before you wreck yourself…(no matter what your role is)
- Separate the emotion from the complaint and look at it from every angle. Is there some truth there that needs to be addressed, even if it’s blown out of proportion at the current time? Can any part of this make you a better person if you can learn something from it?
- If the perception is wrong, has the communication been clear or is there a reason your viewpoints are revealing different scenarios? Is what they see from the sideline a true picture of what’s happening? I move my hands around a lot and the girls and I have a ton of fun on the sideline, but one year a parent who couldn’t hear what we were saying thought I was yelling at them. Perception is everything.
- Own up – could you have phrased it better, done it differently, or made a different choice? It’s ok to own it, and in fact, being human makes you less of a target. I had a player that asked me why she didn’t get played more in the last game and I just looked at her and realized I had been so caught up in moving pieces around and adjusting that I just hadn’t noticed she hadn’t gotten in enough. She needed to know it was my error, not hers.
- Pick your battles. I would love my players to swear off all other in season clubs and activities because having 2 or 3 missing from practice every day for band trips, yearbook meetings, student council meetings, or AP test help sessions makes planning practice a huge mess. But it’s a battle I can’t win. My players and coaches are much happier when we make a system for how to make up lost time and proper advanced notice requirements.
- What else is bothering you? Some players, parents, coaches just hit a nerve with certain people. When you are handling an important issue, are you already in a bad mood – maybe this isn’t a good time to discuss it. Is it reminding you of a struggle you had in the past and bringing more emotion into the issue than there needs to be? Try to separate out fact from emotion, and always allow time between the complaint and the resolution for emotions to settle.
- Listen with the intent of understanding rather than forming your response. Communication breaks down the most because we have become horrible listeners. Find something in what they are saying that is a fair viewpoint and acknowledge it and then address anything you could clarify.
- Discuss what you observe, feel, believe in rather than stating things as fact. That allows for growth between the two parties because there is room to find a middle ground or even room to agree to disagree without having to “win.”
- Recognize when someone is just there to pick a fight and don’t engage. If the person cannot be diffused it’s time to leave the conversation, tell them to request a meeting and involve a third party.
- Regularly ask for feedback, this can head off issues long before they become out of control.
- Remember your purpose – as a coach remember what your goal is with leading kids, as a player what is your goal in participating in sports, as a parent what do you hope your kids will learn from participating? Keep your purpose somewhere in writing and if you find yourself getting upset – pull out your purpose and see if whatever is bothering you affects the big picture and put it in perspective before you address it to help keep emotions in check.