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In the speech "Citizenship in a Republic" by President Theodore Roosevelt, he said "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."
Football coaches are in the arena. Parents are the critic.
In high school football stadiums all over America, there are many critics in the stands. They voice their displeasure before, during and after the game. Most of the critics have zero coaching experience, and many have never even played football. But they all have a voice, and an idea of how you and your staff can do a better job.
How do you respond to those voices?
It's easy to ignore the critic during the game, many times their cries are drowned out. But what about the critical parent who is causing disruption in your program? The dad who outwardly questions your call after the game at the pizza place sitting with the rest of the dads. Or the one who sits around the breakfast table the next morning with his kid and a few teammates.
Here are three ways to deal with those types of situations:1. Determine if the criticism needs to be addressed
Is the criticism hurting your program? If the kids are second-guessing your decision-making ability, your play calling, or how you are running your program, then the criticism needs to be addressed.
In some areas, coaches could spin their wheels and have meetings every day of the week addressing parent criticism. Coaches need to choose their battles. They need to evaluate whether or not the criticism is coming from a voice who has influence. If the criticism is coming from a person with a megaphone, you need to address it. If it is coming from someone who is not respected or admired in the community, you need to ignore it.2. Get your athletic director involved
Don't approach this parent by yourself. The macho side of you as a coach might want to take care of your own business, and sometimes you have to. Answering that critical email or returning that critical phone call, for example.
My first confrontation with a parent was after a game, of course about playing time. And it was in the parking lot. He approached me as I was getting in to my car. I wasn't able to get out of talking with the man. But I didn't answer his criticism, I referred him to the head coach.
If you feel that it is time to address a critic in your community who is negatively influencing your program, tell your athletic director that you need his or her support. Have your athletic director contact the parent to set up the meeting.3. Have the meeting
Start the meeting by thanking the parent for allowing their child to play football in your program. Compliment the kid, and their efforts in your program. Find something positive to start the meeting with. It is always a good idea to start a meeting with a critic on a positive note, as it might help to disarm him or her.
Prepare for the meeting by writing down the specific instances when the critic has negatively impacted your program. Be specific. Have a copy for you, the athletic director and the parent. Use that as the agenda. This will help you to keep the emotions out of the meeting, and be more business-like. Go through each point that you have.
I hope that you don't have to address criticism in your program this year. It is never fun to do. But if it gets to the point when you need to address it, hopefully these ideas will help your meeting with the critic.
Chris Fore is a veteran Head Football Coach and Athletic Director from Southern California. He consults coaches and programs nationwide through his business Eight Laces Consulting.