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April 9th, 2018

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How Can College Coaches Deal with Screaming, Disruptive Parents?

by Mike Davenport, Tudor Collegiate Strategies

I still hear the voice of my first screaming parent.

Even though she was bellowing to support the team, it was grating—like fingernails-down-the-chalkboard.

Yelling little tips to me (“Yo, Coach, call a time out!”). They were, well, her way of being helpful.

After the game I thanked her for her enthusiasm, and she blushed, “Well, I do get carried away sometimes.”

I left it at that, knowing her screaming wasn’t meant in a bad way.

However, there are disruptive parents who cross the line and go demeaning.

Negative. Their screams are hurtful. And disruptive.

Human voices elevate for one reason—to get heard.

A loud voice might be raising an alarm (“Ma, there’s a gator in the chicken coop again!”) or to make a point (“I said, ‘Clean up your room!’”).

But sometimes common sense abandons parents and they becoming screaming-crazy-people.

When you are confronted by a screamer-parent (a parent using his voice in a loud-and-negative manner) you need to ask this question, “Why is this person screaming (at me)?” If it is supporting, that’s one thing. However …

However …

Sports can bring out the best, and worst in parents…and a very small percentage of parents (my guess, about .02%) go nuts & negative.


It is a hazard in coaching—these screamer-parents—and if you haven’t dealt with it yet, you will.

So how DO you deal with a disruptive parent? A few suggestions…

A) Ignore ‘em

When a parent lets you know, in no uncertain terms, that you suck, a soap-dish could do better, and you should just leave town now, THE best action to take may be to ignore them.

Bullies pick on people to get a reaction, and if you react, you might be giving a screamer just want they want. Not acknowledging the insults and noise MIGHT help them fade away.

Yet if the screaming gets disruptive—starts affecting your job, or the athletes, or your sanity—ignoring might be the wrong action.

This is a very fine, and tough, line to see. Guidance from others, possibly a mentor, might be helpful. But be careful of doing this …

B) Don’t, I repeat, don’t lower yourself to the screamer’s level.

Responding in the heat of the moment is tempting. I know you’ve heard “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Well, a different version is “two screamers make a viral video.” I saw a coach fall into this trap.

  • Football game.
  • Coach harassed by a screaming parent.
  • Thirty minutes into it, he’d had enough.
  • He spun.
  • Walked to the stand.
  • Pointed at said parent.
  • Let him have it.

Understandable, but nevertheless a bad choice.

First, the phone whipped right out. Second, the entire crowd rose to the screamer’s defense. The football game turned from being about the kids playing football, to “how many bozos could fit on The Screaming Bus.”

Here’s what another coach tried …

C) Upping The Ante

A buddy was in his office, next to mine.

Both our doors were open.

His phone rang, he answered it and within 3 minutes the volume got LOUD. WICKED LOUD.

The last thing I heard before he slammed down the phone was, “I LIVE AT 18 MAIN STREET. COME BY AT 6 PM TONIGHT, AND BRING AN AMBULANCE CAUSE I’M GOING TO BEAT THE #$%@ OUT OF YOU.”

A screaming parent had got under his skin.

I get it.

You pour your heart-and-soul into something, trying to build a winning program. Or maybe just trying to get through a tough season, and then you start catching flack from THIS PERSON. It’s easy to lose your cool. But …

You can’t.

You are the one who stays cool. Calm. Collected.

You don’t get a screamer to backdown or stop by out-screaming him. It just doesn’t work.

But this might …

D) Tell on them

No one likes a tattletale. Yeah, forget that.

If the screaming is abusive, demeaning, destructive, and its during a game, tell an official.

Listen, they catch it worse than we coaches ever do, but every so often a sympathetic official might just do what this ref did. Refreshing.

If no resolution happens during a contest, when you get a chance, tell your boss.

No organizer or athletic director wants his coach/players to be abused. They might have a few cards they can play.

Speaking of cards to play, here’s a hand you may, or may not, want to play …

E) Use their kid as leverage

This one’s tricky, but I have seen it done.

The coach will pull the athlete, who is the son or daughter of the screamer-parent, into the office. And then Coach lays it on the line.

“If your parent doesn’t cool it, then you’re cut!”

Harsh? Yeah.

Does it work? Maybe.

Worth considering? I’d let your conscious decide that one.

And here’s another option a reasonable-and-prudent person wouldn’t consider.

However, we are talking about sports here so …

F) Go Nuclear

I don’t know of any coach who has done this but there is a certain devilish appeal to it.

First, resign your coaching spot—because you are sure to get fired for what you’re about to do.

Next go to screamer’s place of employment.

Then wait until he’s engrossed in his job. When he is, start screaming at him. Give him what he gave you.

A bank teller who spent Saturday afternoon screaming at you won’t get much joy from you coming to his window and returning the favor.

Again, you’ll have some heavy explaining to do, and I don’t recommend it, but …

That’s a wrap

Parents are special critters. And parents of athletes can super special.

Timid librarian-parents turn into face-painted crazies, while Olympic-level-athlete-parents turn into quiet, detached observers. You never know what you’re going to get, but that’s OK, because you’re a coach and you can handle anything.

Coach Mike Davenport is a respected thought leader in collegiate coaching. His career covers decades as a college coach, director of education for national coaching organizations, and now as a National Recruiting Coordinator for Tudor Collegiate Strategies. You can find his library of coaching ideas and advice here, and you can email him at dan@dantudor.com

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