By Jeff Doubek (optimist/Submarine photo courtesy of our friends at Sailing Anarchy)
Three quick stories, one solid lesson:
Story 1: Dad who rigged his son’s Opti every morning.
I’m the first to admit, setting up an International Optimist Dinghy properly is a major pain. It’s an even bigger challenge for an 8 year old. But, it’s an important lesson that one sailing father felt his son didn’t need to learn.
Well, by now you’ve probably already guessed what happens next: during a major regatta the kid had an on-the-water breakdown he didn’t know how to fix. It was during sequence so coaches couldn’t help him. His dad couldn’t help him. No one could do more than watch as the boy helplessly flailed off the starting area like a wounded duck. He was helpless.
Of course, I felt mixed feelings here: sorrow for the child and “YES! I told you so!” toward his father.
Story 2: Dad who drove his powerboat through my instructor’s drills, coaching his son.
An exasperated coach radioed ashore to inform me an obnoxious father was running his even more obnoxious powerboat through the middle of the lesson zone, shouting instructions at his son. The advice I gave my coach was to keep the kids safe and I’ll handle the Dad in private.
On shore, the father acted all innocent like “what? I’m coaching my son” but as I explained to him the program rules and expectations, and offered the amusing scenario if every parent ran powerboats through the drill zone it’d be nautical Mad Max. He knew I was right, but was just pushing the situation.
Story 3: Mom who screamed at my friend Art while her son was in peril.
My friend Art once ran a fairly successful racing program. One day, after he canceled racing due to too much wind, he was met by an angry sailing mom who didn’t agree with his decision. (Apparently, the race cancelation affected her son’s place in the season standings.)
Art recalls, quite humorously, that in the middle of her berating him he looked over this mom’s finger shaking shoulder and saw the woman’s two sons rapidly floating by in a capsized and swamped dinghy – desperately needing rescue.
Shouldn’t her time have been better spent as a safety boat? Help. Don’t hinder.
The Big Lesson I promised you:
The way to handle parents is by setting EXPECTATIONS.
After all, they have a bunch of things they expect from you, and which you’ve already likely outlined for them in detail. You’ll offer a safe place to learn, the best coaching and skills training, and some fun along the way.
But what you need is a set of expectations, written out, set in stone, of what you expect from them as parents. They must obey the safety rules of your program. They must respect the authority of the coaches they hire. They must not attempt to question your training methods because sometimes the idea isn’t always clear from the outside view.
- No outside coaching is permitted during lesson/racing. Please maintain a 100-foot safety perimeter of the racecourse or lesson zone.
- Please allow your child to rig his/her own boat. It is a primary step in advancing their skill.
- Racing will be canceled when factors of wind speed/water temperature/air temperature are deemed unsafe, and if other conditions dictate. Race official has final say.
“These rules are meant to promote a safe, educational, and enjoyable learning environment for your child’s experience in my program.
Have a nice day!”
Oh, and by the way, I’m sure you’re asking what to do with that parent who won’t follow your expectations because they are some bigshot. You make it clear you can give them their money back if they don’t like your program rules.
There will always be what we call the “2 Percenters,” the 2% of parents who will give you problems. They attack the foundation of your program like angry termites… you don’t need them.
Expectations. Write them down. Hand them out. Hang ‘em on the wall.
These are some of my tried-and-true tips, please share yours in the comments.