Are Parents Killing Your Team’s Culture? What To Do About It

As a coach, you work hard to create a healthy, winning culture on your team. And this is no easy feat.

LOTS of personalities—including your own, the athletes, and their parents—all converge to shape the experience that impacts the entire team.

When you have a parent that is focused on mostly negative aspects of their own child or other athletes, it can threaten to change the mood for everyone. And according to Dr. Rick Hansen, in his book, Hardwiring Happiness, this can have a far-reaching impact.

He says, “The brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon.”

So what can you do to protect individual athletes and the whole team’s development without having to confront a parent?

When it comes to just about everything, having the right tools can make all the difference.

Here is some simple language to use with parents—in ABC format—to set them up to help, rather than hinder their athlete’s growth and mindset.

A is For Awareness

Most parents mean well and really just want to help their kids succeed. Unfortunately, it's easier to focus on the negative things that they want to “fix.”

In fact, according to Dr. Hansen, our brains have a NEGATIVITY BIAS. His research shows that negative experiences stick like velcro to our brains while positive ones are like nonstick Teflon.

Parents aren’t usually aware of just how powerful their negative comments can be—or that they are even being pessimistic.

Whether you have team/parent meetings or choose to have one-on-one conversations with challenging parents, it’s essential to bring AWARENESS to what happens when their athlete stays fixated on what’s “not right.”

Here are some unfortunate by-products—none of which help an athlete to improve:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
B is For Broaden the View

It’s not uncommon for parents to “miss the forest for the trees,” when it comes to their athlete. They get preoccupied with a child’s day-to-day performance and as a result, miss the overall growth.

This can quickly happen in places like the car ride home.

What might start out as an attempt to have a meaningful conversation, can quickly turn into an unwanted AND unproductive lecture. Inevitably, a tired athlete ends up feeling defeated and attacked.

BROADEN a parent’s view by regularly giving them nuggets of truth to focus on. As the coach, you set the tone for how progress and challenges are viewed. Frequently point your athletes and—when possible—your parents toward the bigger picture.

Instead of staying focused on mistakes, losses, or setbacks lead conversations back to:

  • Progress made on learning skills
  • Good effort put forth
  • Lessons learned that set an athlete or team up for future success
C is For Compliment Often and Authentically

According to a Harvard study, the ideal praise to criticism ratio is 6:1. However, that doesn’t usually flow out naturally.

A person has to be mindful of what they’re saying, and also aware of their delivery while being intentional about giving out praise more generously than critiques.

Constructive feedback DOES have its place but is only helpful when it’s sandwiched between a LOT of encouraging feedback.

Set the tone for parents by modeling a very supportive team environment. When a parent seems to struggle with coming up with ways to complement their athlete lead the conversation like this:

“Wow, Mr. Smith, Johnny really hustled to the ball out there today. He was first to it several times. Did you notice he’s gotten faster?”

Say this with the athlete present and set the parent up to just agree with you on Johnny’s improvement.

Share with your parents—either in team meetings or one-on-ones—that when kids are complimented authentically and regularly they:

  • Begin to take on an optimistic outlook
  • Become more resilient under stress
  • Develop a stronger sense of self-worth
  • Are positive with their teammates and others in general
The Culture Is Yours To Set

At the end of the day, it’s up to parents AND coaches to create the sports experience that matters for their kids.

Empower your parents with the ABC’s

  • Make them AWARE of the negativity bias and its danger to a child’s perspective
  • BROADEN their view by staying focused on the overall picture of growth
  • Model an environment where authentic COMPLIMENTS are given regularly

Was this helpful to you? We would love for you to share a story of how you successfully handled a negative parent. It might be exactly what another coach needs to hear.

Sport Family Coach at

Founder of Growing Champions for Life, David helps sports parents and coaches incorporate positivity and persistence into their communication with the young athletes who count on their encouragement and guidance. An eight-time national water skiing champion, five-time national record holder in water ski jumping, former World Championship U.S. Water Ski Team coach, and proud professional sports parent, he understands first-hand the challenges and rewards of competition. His extensive experience as a corporate leadership coach for Nextel, Sprint, Allstate, Balfour Beatty, The Villages and other companies provides David with unique insight into the skills needed to excel in sports, business and life. He brings an athlete's discipline, a coach's inspiration, and a parent's practical experience to his mission to grow not just champion young athletes, but holistically well-rounded individuals equipped for lifelong excellence.

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