This summer I coached my grandson’s U7 recreational team, watched my granddaughter’s U12 competitive practices and games, and attended some local games of various age groups.
It gave me an opportunity to work with as well as observe the parents on the sidelines. I realized that nothing much has changed since I started coaching 25 years ago. In talking to some coaches it turns out that they are experiencing some of the same emotions I did as a young coach. Fortunately, through years of professional and soccer learning, I am hoping to offer some advice on how to deal with soccer parents.
I’ll start with the positive case – the supportive parents. These are the ones who are committed to bring their child to games and practices, communicate about their planned absences, remember the schedule you gave them, stay during practice and games and cheer on the team and their child. They are positive and engaged, they volunteer to help, and they occasionally tell the coach that they’re doing a good job. Utopia? No !! A certain percentage of any team’s parents are like that. And this is the key. No matter what group of people you deal with in life, they cover the spectrum of good and not so good.
Coaches must understand that the reason they have a team to coach is because parents register their children for the sport. Their motivations are many. Some want to enhance their child’s social life, some want their child to be physically active, some want their child to be a soccer pro in the future, some live out their failed soccer dream through their child. Whatever the reason, the parents want their child to be there. And that is a good thing. At very young ages the child may or may not want to be there. Typically by age 10 kids have a say in the decision to sign up for soccer, they’ll voice their opinion of what to do in their free time.
The role of the parent is often described by a club in a document called “conduct” or “fair play rules”, or “code of ethics”. In it you will find the following expectations of parents:
- bring your child to the event on time
- respect the players, other parents, the coaches, club officials, and game officials
- ensure the safety of their child by dressing them properly and providing appropriate nutrition before, during, and after games and practices.
Seems simple enough, but a certain percentage of parents just doesn’t get there.
Parents as special interest groups
To start with, parents mostly care about their own child, they want what they consider best for them. That’s ok. BUT, how do they know what is best for them from a soccer coaching and game perspective? If you have 15 children on your team you are really dealing with 15 special interest groups, with 15 parenting styles, and likely with 15 levels of understanding the game of soccer. Let’s look at some examples.
These I described earlier, they do exist and are a pleasure to have on your team.
The Disengaged Committed
These are the parents that drop their child off at practice or game and then leave. In a way they may consider soccer as a child care service. From my perspective I feel bad for the child, but as a coach these parents are easy to deal with because you likely don’t have to deal with them at all. But you can plan practice drills and game line-ups assuming the player will be there.
The Disengaged Uncommitted
They also leave their child with you, but they are random in their attendance and don’t communicate. So you never know if the child will be there or not. Plan your practice and game assuming the child will not be there. If they do show up be ready to slot them in.
You will have parents who for some reason or another believe they know how to coach better than you do. They’ll approach you during or after practice, during or after a game and give you unsolicited advice. The advice ranges from how you should treat their child different to how you should coach the entire team and season different. Youmight feel criticized and the first reaction might be to react – telling them you’re the coach and they should leave you alone, in whatever diplomatic way you can.
BUT WAIT. Think about that parent first. Perhaps they do know more about coaching than you, especially if you’re a novice coach and know little about soccer. In that case, consider their attitude. If they seem helpful and genuine, and their communication is positive, consider asking them to help out. Find a way to involve them without giving up control of the team and the program. Ask them to run some drills and seek advice for game formations.
If they don’t know more about coaching than you do, or their approach is confrontational, find a polite but firm way to thank them for their interest and explain to them that you know what you’re doing and that you require no help.
We have all seen them, usually during games, not so much at practice. These are the ones who stand at or pace along the sidelines during a game and yell and scream at anybody. Often it is at their child for doing something wrong. Certainly at the referee every time they disagree with a call. They yell at players on their team to shoot, pass, run, or whatever. They yell at the other team for any foul. They will mutter and grumble about you to others because they don’t agree with your strategy. But will they ever come and talk to you directly? Not likely. These are the tough ones to deal with. There is no choice, you need to stop the behaviour as it is destructive to the team and embarrassing to their child. Try and talk to them outside of practice or game time, perhaps at a coffee shop. If they aren’t interested or don’t change behaviour, involve the club’s administration.
Remember that your goal as coach is to develop each player and the team as it relates to the four pillars of soccer coaching:
- Technical ability (skill)
- Physical Fitness
- Mental Aspects
As long as you are prepared in all of these you have a solid basis to deal with any parental situation. Engage in some self reflection and examine how much you really know and how prepared you really are. Our web site and practice books are excellent resources to help with this process.
And remember that you are not every child’s parent or caretaker, you are their coach.
Parents are essential to the sport and coaches need to be prepared to manage them. In order to ensure an enjoyable season I recommend that coaches are proactive, humble, and communicative. The following suggestions will go a long way to engage parents positively and to prevent the “not so good” parents from engaging in bad behaviour:
- Develop a plan for your season. Refer to our previous blog posts on season planning.
- Meet with the parents before the first practice or game, even if it is just at the beginning of practice. Take 15 minutes to go over your plan for the team and your expectations of the parents. Leave them with a hand out which should include your club’s code of conduct. Ask for feedback.
- Be early for practices and games and greet the parents and children as they come in. Have a bit of small talk to get to know them. Establish a relationship. Engage them during practice as appropriate. They can retrieve balls, participate in a scrimmage, or help with a drill. Stick around after practices and games and socialize.
- If appropriate, plan a team party mid-season.
- Send e-mail updates as the season goes, at least monthly. Comment on the positive, the challenges, and explain some decisions if you think necessary.
- Most importantly, give parents feedback on their child. Stress the positives, the improvements. If there is a particular emotional issue with a child, talk to the parent. Let them know you are aware of it and that you have a plan to deal with it. The plan is not about changing or correcting the child, it is about treating them like every other child, integrating them in the team, but with some extra communication and special consideration.
- Thank everyone at the end of the season for having been there.
- Solicit feedback.
- Never take criticism personally
- Enjoy the positives and don’t let frustration get a hold of you