Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rabid Soccer Parents & Effective Communication

Long soccer weekend. My daughter plays on a U-11 travel team. It's an average team, which isn't surprising given that they have new players who've not played travel before and a contingent of girls who don't attend practice regularly and miss games due to other sports they play. What really differentiates this team is a parent dynamic. There is a group of 2-3 parents who vehemently feel that the coaches are not competent and need to make major changes.

Here's what I've learned from this small group of parents whose knickers are constantly in a terrible twist...
  1. Don't expect to be taken seriously unless you've earned the right. If there are group commitments or agreements you disregard, you will be disregarded. To be an effective change agent, you need to be seen as a person of integrity.  If your daughter doesn't come to practice and can't be counted on for games, and so my daughter plays with no subs or is stuck covering your daughter's position- I'm not going to hear much that you say.
  2. Unless your participation/performance is above reproach- don't criticize everyone else.  Walk the talk. Don't criticize Sally when your daughter has just let ball after ball past or missed a play because she's out of position. Your feedback will be discounted.
  3. Express your opinion constructively and offer a suggestion.  Unless you put a better idea on the table, what's the point of what is commonly referred to as "bitching and moaning"? People stop listening. Even if I did agree with you, what's the point of complaining if you're not offering a better solution?  Until you have proactive, reasonable ideas, you're wasting time.
  4. Know your facts. Opinions and perspectives that are not based on fact put you deep in the negative credibility zone.  Don't criticize the coaches for not training when the issue is really the girls not doing. Don't critique plays you didn't see. Think of the boy who cried "wolf!".
  5. Deal with challenges openly. Deal with the people who are involved. If you're known for stealth attacks, you won't gain the trust or respect you need in order to make changes. How can I take you seriously when you are constantly attacking people versus problems? 
  6. Don't assume everyone sees things your way. (duh) Change efforts in a group or team structure require consensus to be 100% successful.
  7. Make sure the language you use is effective. Even if what you have to say is invaluable- it's useless if no one listens to you. Everyone has a different notion of what is appropriate. Edit yourself if there's a chance you might be offensive. Change your style to work with the company you keep if you want to make an impact. When I saw the phrase "...rather stay home and drill screws in my feet" or heard you tell a coach "You're nothing to me!", the content became entertainment and my reaction tended more towards applause than agreement. If you're overly emotional, your credibility is damaged. Once you lose it, it's hard to recover.
  8. Do a reality check- is your response and behavior appropriate to the situation and the stakes? Are you doing what serves you well? These are 11 year old girls, none of whom is likely to receive a soccer scholarship. It's a volunteer organization. Fuming on the sidelines, exchanging angry emails between games seems a bit dramatic. Will any of this really matter in 3 weeks, 3 months, a year?
  9. At some point, if you're the one with the problem, you're the one that needs to change. If you are passionate about the need for change, but continue to be out of synch with the group, look for a better fit. Honor your commitments, but stop wasting energy. Put your effort where it will be valued.

I'll be honest and categorize this as Blog Indulgence. The points above address what to do if you're trying to change a situation you don't like. If you're on the other side, and have to deal with the negative behavior of a few, keep it in perspective. Heck, write a post about it and then - forget about it!

As always, life is short, struggle is optional.