5 Tips for Swim Parents to Handle Conflicts with Coaches

by SwimSwam 34

February 07th, 2017 Club, International, Lifestyle, Opinion

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

Have you ever questioned your kids’ coach or had a conflict? I’m talking about a variety of issues — maybe you’re concerned there isn’t enough stroke technique, your kid isn’t getting enough attention, or isn’t making the progress another swimmer is. How we handle situations may determine if our child benefits or is harmed from our involvement. The following tips have come from my own experience as a parent and board member — from each end of the relationship. These tips can be used in the classroom, too.

If it’s not a safety issue and your child isn’t in danger, there are several courses of action you can take if you have a conflict with the coach:

Number One:

Don’t tell your bff swim parent, your second-best swim parent friend, or a random parent standing on deck all about it. I’ve found that talk does not make problems go away. The opposite usually happens. You get lots of conflicting advice, you’re pressured to take action, and you’ve made other parents disgruntled with their team or coach, who were previously happy as pie.

Number Two:

Ask for a meeting. Don’t sit around gossiping—or post it on FB. Go directly to the horse’s mouth and schedule an appointment. Not during practice. It’s best to schedule a meeting when your child isn’t present. There’s nothing positive about your swimmer’s group staring and listening as you and a coach are deep in discussion.

Number Three:

If you don’t want to talk to the coach, call a board member. The board members are there to listen and to help. Often, it’s best to talk to a board member before you approach the coach. They can determine if it’s an issue that needs to be escalated. They may offer an explanation or produce a resolution.

Number Four:

Don’t discuss your dissatisfaction in front of your child—if you want your swimmer to continue to trust their coach. Your swimmer’s first loyalty is with you. If you’re criticizing the coach, your child may not be able to distinguish that their coach has many great traits. Younger kids tend to view the world as black and white, and they won’t necessarily understand subtleties.

Number Five:

Think before you act. Take a deep breath. Weigh the situation in your mind. “If I let this incident alone, will I care a week from now? A month from now? In the big scheme of things — my child loving swimming and having fun — am I helping or hurting?”

Sometimes holding your tongue and doing nothing is the best course of action — unless your child is in some sort of danger. Taking a week to get distance and a fresh outlook can help before you send off that email or schedule a meeting.

Elizabeth WickhamElizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug.

You can read more parenting tips on her blog: http://bleuwater.me/.

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6 years ago

Good points. I always end up pondering the first 4 and landing on #5. Unfortunately my kids coach isn’t open to conversation with parents, only labeling them as problem parents.

6 years ago

Sadly we had a similar situation with our swimmer. The coach was passive aggressive and verbally abusive with the swimmers. He would pick on kids and ridicule some in front of the other swimmers. Luckily we were prepared the drive ( far I might add close to an hour one way) so we left the club.
I must say we followed all the above suggested ways to deal with this conflict.
The Board was useless and also browbeaten by this particular coach.
Thankfully he left on his own accord but too many kids who might have continued the sport, left because of this coach.
Years later I still hear horror stories about this coach and the… Read more »

Reply to  drivermom
5 years ago

This wouldn’t be in Arizona would it?

6 years ago

If you truly feel you cannot dialogue with your coach about concerns why is your child still swimming in that program?

Parents need to realise that coaches can and should be responsive but expecting a coach to change their coaching style of program to fit one swimmers needs is unrealistic. At times the solution is to find s program that better fits your child’s needs. No coach can be everything to everyone.

Reply to  SailfishCoach
6 years ago

If changing clubs was an option it would have been done a few years ago, so back to #5. What it’s really all about is the kids having fun and gaining life experience. Being stuck with a coach that offers nothing but attitude and negative comments-not to be confused with constructive criticism- leads to kids leaving the sport. I pray to the swim gods everyday that this is our last season with this coach.

Reply to  SailfishCoach
6 years ago

There are many towns where there is only one team. Changing teams would mean driving 45 minutes or more, which, while some people can afford to take that route, isn’t an option for everyone.

Reply to  SailfishCoach
6 years ago

Coaches sometimes throw this back at any parent with an issue “Well, if you don’t like it, then change programs”. (Sometimes said by a young coach who is not a parent). This is not easy to do and is sometimes impossible due to the other programs being too far away, sibling needs, work schedules of parents, and the child having friendships ont he current team.

6 years ago

Schedule an appointment, that’s the biggest one there. I was a grown up at the young age of 24 but any time I had doubts, questions, or concerns I always asked coach to go to lunch. and she would always have meetings with parents about on goings with their children. She would even tell parents they need a meeting because their kid isn’t coming to practice, or goofing off too much, or even their kid was excelling and ready for the next level. Meetings, meetings, meetings, face to face is the best way to get stuff done.

Reply to  mcmflyguy
1 year ago

What do you do if coach refuses to have meetings? I was shocked at the coach’s response when I requested for a meeting. I am really debating – with a coach so close minded is the swimming program helping my kid in the long run or will it hurt her?

6 years ago

Point 3 is flat out terrible advice. Going directly to a board member prior to discussing the problem with asst or head coach undermines the coaches authority and empowers board members to become involved in petty issues irrelevant to their function as BOd members.

Boards should only become involved in parental concerns (and be approached) if the issue is of the most serious matter (ie legal issues involving coach,etc). If this is the case, the entire board should be involved, not just one member.

The board should not try to play intermediary or take sides as this type of behavior has led to countless coaches being wrongly accused/fired. Often times board members have long standing relationships with parents… Read more »

Reply to  JohnZ
6 years ago

I prefer a “lowest possible level” approach. If you have an issue with a coach, talk to him or her. If you can’t solve things, take it one step up the ladder: the head coach. Then, if it still doesn’t get solved, or if the problem is with the head coach, go to a board member.

I had an experience once where a parent went to the board president with an issue before I even knew there was a problem. This parent went behind my back and straight to the top, which made what should have been a minor situation incredibly drawn out and messy. So while there may be times where it may be necessary to go straight to… Read more »

Reply to  JohnZ
6 years ago

ya, I couldn’t figure out how to phrase it when I was typing my comment, but yes I have felt the same way. I have been a part of one team and seen another close by all basicly crumble because the board was controlling everything, parents didn’t like one thing and went to the board and didn’t ask the coach. it was turrible as Charles barkley would say.

Reply to  JohnZ
6 years ago

Our club doesn’t have a board, but I see going to a board member as not much differet than going to your bff swim parent or another swim parent on the team. going directly to the coach, for a private meeting is better advice.

Old Hilltopper
Reply to  JohnZ
6 years ago

#3 is why I’m so glad I work for a Coach driven program. If you have a problem with a coach, talk with the coach. Taking problems to a board member only makes a simple problem a bigger one.

6 years ago

Overall I really like my daughter’s swim team but I feel as though the “in” parents are left out in the dust. There’s one meeting in the beginning of the fall swim season and this year there wasn’t any meeting. New parents are left to find out how to sign up their kids, etc. by themselves if they aren’t lucky enough to find a veteran swim parent who can show them the ropes. I feel as though the communication from coaches to parents is minimal at best. I want to say something but I feel as though I would be a pest. My daughter’s one swim coach told me last May that she was probably going to move her up… Read more »

Reply to  chrischem
6 years ago

I meant the “not in” parents.

Micellaneous Swim Coach
Reply to  chrischem
6 years ago

There are 3 possibilities for your daughter’s situation that I come to my mind:

As a coach, sometimes we move kids up into another group to challenge them and choose to leave others to give them an opportunity to be a leader. Determining which kids to put where is probably the most difficult thing to do at the beginning of every season. Often I will put kids who have demonstrated in meets that they are hesitant or get very nervous in a lower group to give them the advantage of being the leader and one of the strongest in the group. Often that helps their confidence grow and their skills refine more. Whereas other there are other kids who grow… Read more »

6 years ago

I think its equally important that parents be cognizant of their timing and that they work to better understand the coach’s season plan and priorities for each athlete. If you’re approaching your coach on deck during a practice (regardless of how politely or apologetically) to have a “quick chat” about progress, technique, meet event selection, etc, your coach is likely to come off as unapproachable and you aren’t likely to get well-considered answers. Imagine walking into your attorney’s conference room in the middle of another client’s consultation to have a “quick chat” about the handling of your case or into your child’s classroom mid-lesson to discuss his progress… Yeah. See? Send an email, ask to schedule a phone call or… Read more »

Barbara White
6 years ago

I agree 100%.

Swim Mama
6 years ago

sounds familiar to me!
but thank you for another great article! I agree 100%!!!
#1!!! i will stay happy and stay away from negativity of other people.