When you are coaching kids or youth soccer you become a manager of 8 – 20 families. You’re not just coaching the team or individual players, you are dealing with the families behind the children. We know, or should know, the technical coaching aspect well. But how often do we think about the bigger picture?
A simple example is practice and game attendance – is the player there or late? Often coaches have rules that penalize a player that are late or no shows, but is that fair? Typically players rely on parents or older siblings to bring them to the event, and their schedule or time pressures are out of the child’s control. So punishing them isn’t fair at all. Being upset or frustrated with the person responsible could also be unfair. I know of a case where the coach expressed their displeasure at the child always being late. Until the single father said that due to work schedule and fighting rush hour it was quite a feat to make it at all. So understanding the circumstances is important.
Another major factor is that the families you’re dealing with are mostly concerned with their lives, their well-being, and their child’s success. They are not necessarily concerned with the team or the coach. On the surface that doesn’t seem fair. A coach makes a commitment and has to be there and ready every time. Coaches are service providers, usually volunteers. Families on the other hand are the customers, they pay money for their child to participate. Without one or several players missing or late, the practice and game goes on. Without the coach, there is a problem.
Some, if not all, families are their own unique special interest group. They care about the playing time of their child, the position the child plays, how the coach treats the child. From their perspective, the coach must meet their interests only. They don’t see the bigger picture of the other families or the coach.
I hope these illustrations show that coaching a soccer team is much more than running practices and games. It is about building relationships with many families. And a successful season means building many successful relationships. How do you do this? I have found that communication and engaging the families right from the beginning pays huge dividends. Have a meeting with the parents at the first event and explain your approach to the season. Offer a hand out and follow up with an e-mail. Try to give the parents opportunities to get involved. They can organize bringing snacks to games (not the coach assigning dates), they can monitor playing time, help with drills at practice, etc. One effective and fun way I have used is to have a game of team vs. parents/siblings at the end of practice. I encourage coaches to be at practice and games early and leave late. There will always be some parents around and it’s a great opportunity to chat and get to know them. Invite parents to tell you any circumstance that might impact their availability and see if you can help. For example some people don’t know that they don’t have to stay fro the practice or game – they can look after other children or tasks. If you don’t tell them they may not bring their child. Provide frequent feedback throughout the season, on the team, on your observations, on a particular point about their child. It will be appreciated. If at all possible, see if a team social can be organized half way through the season.
The more you communicate, the more the families will be engaged and the more you learn about them and they about you. The more you learn the easier it will be to mitigate issues that arise. It’s a little more effort for the coach but the payback is tremendous. Happy families make fun seasons.