I recently did a coaching call of my own. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, for the last five years, Next Gen has provided business coaching and mentorship to hundreds of gym owners around the world. Our coaches work alongside owners to build their freedom and grow their programs. We also help people make hard decisions (an outside perspective is extremely valuable at times). That’s what I needed a few weeks ago.

You see, we did the enrollment booster at my gym about two weeks after Riana hosted it in the Gym Owners group. We sent out the infamous, “Hey” email that garnered so many of you all those responses from people interested in classes. However, every so often I also find systems in my gym that need to be written or revised. When we had just 1,000 contacts on our email list, we would visually “scrub” the list to ensure certain names weren’t going to get our emails. I can’t control them opting in to get our packets, but I can control if we email them our marketing materials (at least I can as long as I know their email address.) Anyway, now that we have over 6,000 email contacts, it’s not easy to scrub those lists anymore. All that to say, we sent the “Hey” email and got a reply from a parent whose enrollment was discontinued about two years ago. 

Back then she had a lot going on in life…but she tended to take it out on the staff at the gym. Over the years, she went from being supportive and positive to being jaded and negative. Eventually, the coaches on the team dreaded practices, and the other parents had given up on trying to make friends with her. Still – every so often, you’d see a glimpse of who she once was – the supportive parent who was in this because her kids loved it, and as long as they loved it, so did she. For that reason, we had a hard time releasing her. While she started drama, she tended to do it in a semi-private setting. You see, she didn’t have dramatic, public outbursts. She just started drama by turning the wheel of the rumor mill. We knew she was at the root of it, but it was hard to have facts of what rules specifically she was violating. “Don’t start drama” is a big vague because what is one person’s legit concern is drama to another. We also work hard to make sure we’re not acting on impulse or reacting too quickly to something. I don’t let it fester, and I rarely let it “play out”, but I also try hard not to have a knee-jerk reaction. My blood boils pretty fast, and I have to make sure I am calm before I make decisions or they aren’t good ones.

Thankfully, the season was over when we hit our final straw. The new season was about to begin and we had assumed the problem would rectify itself. Surely if she was that unhappy, she’d drive 10 minutes to the other end of town to the other gym. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. My general manager came to me one day and said, “She just signed up for next season. Do I charge her for the month’s tuition?” I called the parent in and we let her know she wouldn’t be returning another season nor would she be charged anything for her submission.

Everything was fair. We were choosing to not renew her contract. She owed us nothing, and we owed her nothing. While that was the case, emotionally, she must have felt otherwise. She immediately went to our competitor as I had expected. Her bestie followed her. Because she left, we retained about a dozen other parents. 

Over the next two years, she was hot and cold every time we saw her. She was very involved with the high school cheer teams and was their booster club president. We’re in a small town, so we saw her nearly every month. Sometimes she was polite and other times she ignored us completely. I didn’t think much of it until that “hey” email went out and she replied.

The other gym had closed a few months prior and she was interested in returning. I immediately knew we had made a mistake and while we haven’t released a ton of people in the last 11 years, I feared what other replies we might get by missing that email. My knee-jerk reaction was, “no way.” I talked to Angie (my business partner) who was willing to consider it. I also talked to Justin, who like most other men, replied that he assumed enough time had passed and she’d be fine now. (We’ve had two great experiences with parents returning in the past, and he’s an optimist now!)

Needless to say, we were torn, but open to a conversation. So, we emailed back that we were willing to set up a meeting if she wanted to do so. She requested Starbucks, which struck me odd, but I thought it might be a neutral space, so I went with it. 

We arrived that day, and as she walked in, she didn’t say hi. She barely made eye contact until we sat down at the table. We thanked her for meeting us and then I popped the question. “Tell me about you. What has changed for you since you were at Twisters?” 

She started to talk about a job change and an older child who had graduated. Angie redirected the question. “You weren’t happy when you were previously at our gym. Can you tell us what has changed that would make you want to return?” 

“My daughter wants this, and I’m willing to put differences aside so she can cheer,” was her answer. It was at that point I knew it wasn’t going to work. For me, there was no point in continuing the conversation, but I didn’t want to be rude (Lord knows she’d tell 10 people I was if I had been…) so we talked about 10 more minutes and said we’d be in touch. 

The circumstances of a returning parent usually appear similarly each time. You get an email or a message, and someone who was released wants to return. The last time I did this, I also met the parent at Starbucks. This was a few years ago. The parent was humble, kind and grateful we were considering the request. I made the decision on the spot and she returned the following week. Her attitude was completely different than when she left our gym. 

With this most recent one though, there had been no attitude change. The issues she had experienced two years ago were still prevalent and she still wasn’t willing to be transparent about them. She wasn’t interested in fixing them, but instead, she wanted to ignore them and assume that by doing that, her daughter could return.

So…if your question is, “When do you let a parent back?”, then my answer is, “When they can clearly express the reasons they became the way they were, and they recognize the behavior wasn’t acceptable. I’m not looking for huge apologies here. I’m looking for someone who is humble enough to admit when they’re wrong. I am look for someone who wants to be on the same team as my coaches and staff – the team where we cheer on the kids and build them up. When parents talk badly about coaches (especially when your child looks up to these coaches), we’re breaking down the child’s confidence. We’re making kids believe they can’t trust their own judgment. I need a parent who will communicate adult issues with adults and not in front of kids.

If the right person comes back to you with the right attitude, consider where they are today. We all go through bad moments in life. Usually there is something bigger behind those moments – something going on at home or work that’s causing enormous stress. People are not good at handling stress, so they hold it in and when small things happen, they literally make mountains out of molehills. (Justin says I do this too, so it must be true.) But if someone recognizes that behavior and has worked to change it from the inside out for something bigger than cheer – well, then maybe they’re ready for cheer again. That said, if you get someone who wants to just “set aside differences” but can’t clearly define those differences, it’s not likely it’s going to go well. 

In that case, take it slowly. Start with allowing them back to open gym or classes. See how that goes for a few months and if it goes well, then consider team. The parent I met with a few weeks ago has a very talented daughter. She spoke in our conversation about how her daughter would be an asset to our team. She is a good athlete with a pretty good attitude. She absolutely would have been, but I’ve got plenty of athletes with great skills. I need parents with great attitudes as much as I need committed kids who love cheerleading.