By David Jacobson
"What is the optimal parent-coach relationship?"
That's what Positive Coaching Alliance trainers address during the Double-Goal Coach and Second-Goal Parent workshops we conduct throughout the country. The answer appears in the very names of the workshops.
A Double-Goal Coach has two goals. The first goal is winning, and the second, more-important goal is teaching life lessons through sports.
A Second-Goal Parent focuses on that more important goal - life lessons - leaving coaches and players to pursue winning. In my community, the backs of the coaches' shirts remind parents and spectators on the sidelines: "I coach, they play, you cheer."
Rita Boule - the soccer coach at Silver Spring John F. Kennedy High School in Maryland, who won a PCA Double-Goal Coach Award at our 2006 National Youth Sports Awards ceremony - told the story of a player she moved from left forward in the first half to right forward in the second half. That way the player could not hear her intimidating, meddling, distracting father. She was free to focus on the game, so she could excel, rather than on her father's demands for whatever he considered excellence.
Ironically, the louder, more insistent and more urgent a parent's "instruction," the less likely it is to produce the desired result. Players become confused by contradictions between parents and coaches and sometimes so embarrassed by their parents' behavior that the soccer field is the last place they want to be. An overbearing parent also distracts the other players and undermines the coach's authority and ability to implement strategy.
Here are a few tips to cultivate optimal parent-coach relationships:
*Preseason meetings. At a meeting among all team members, parents, coaches and players should understand ground rules for the team's culture. By "culture" we simply mean the way we do things here.
For example, the coach might say, "The way we do things here is that if you have issues or ideas on playing time, positions or strategies, please phone or e-mail me. Unless your child is ill or injured, please do not approach me with advice or complaints immediately before, during or after a game." (PCA offers a Parent Pledge downloadable from the Use Our Resources section of www.PositiveCoach.org.)
If coaches do not call preseason meetings, parents should make early, positive contact with the coaches. Parents should offer the coaches whatever help they may need and explain they hope for the best possible experience for their children and the team as a whole. That way, parents who have an issue later in the season, won't be presenting themselves to the coaches for the first time ... just to issue a complaint.
* Identify a culture keeper. At the preseason meeting, the coaches and parents may appoint a "culture keeper," whose job is to remind others - in the heat of the game - to observe the previously established ground rules. Often, this is achieved non-verbally, perhaps through just a hand motion to "keep it down." The ideal culture keeper supports the coach and is generally personable and well-respected among the other parents.
* Live up to your preseason promises. Coaches must remain open and responsive to parents who approach them within the ground rules. They must remain firm in maintaining those ground rules when parents encroach. Likewise, it is incumbent on parents to take coaches up on their offers to hear advice at certain times and to deliver the help they originally offered the coach.
Note that all these tips are not just directed at keeping a peaceful sideline. They all contribute to an environment where players can concentrate on playing and coaches can focus on coaching. All other things being equal, that environment cultivates winning and the possibility of that second, more-important goal.
David Jacobson is the Marketing Communications Manager of the Positive Coaching Alliance. His previous contributions to the Youth Soccer Insider were A Positive Approach to Player Development and Filling a player's 'emotional tank.'