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Keep parents in the loop
by Alex Kos, January 27th, 2010 1:30PM



By Alex Kos

When my wife and I ask our kids how they are doing in school, the answer is always "great." Fortunately, many of their teachers email us weekly progress reports that give us a clearer, more accurate picture of how they are really doing. However, nothing beats a parent/teacher conference, especially when our child is included.

One year, based on a parent's suggestion, I decided to offer player/parent/coach meetings for the competitive U-11 youth soccer team I was coaching. My only regret was that I did not do it earlier. It turned out to be very valuable for players and parents alike. To this day, I still get compliments from the parents who were part of that team.

First, I wrote individual evaluations for each player. This was followed up with a face-to-face meeting with each player and his parents. Below, I describe the process in more detail.

My recommendation is to do at least two evaluations each season, three if you are coaching a competitive team.

* The first evaluation should take place two to four weeks after the first practice. By that time, coaches should have a fairly good idea of their players' strengths and areas that need improving.

* The second evaluation is optional for a house team but is very worthwhile for a competitive team. Mid-season is a great time to have this evaluation. The season is well under way and a coaches should have a good idea of where their team stacks up against the competition and probably has a game plan in mind for the rest of the year. This is a great opportunity for parents to ask questions or bring up concerns that can still be addressed.

* The final evaluation should take place just before the end of the season. A coach has seen how the players improved throughout the season and what needs to be worked on in the offseason. This is a great time for a coach to share his or her plans for the following year and to get a feel for what the players and parents have in mind as well.

Evaluation Format
The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) is a non-profit organization founded at Stanford University that was created to transform the culture of youth sports to give all young athletes the opportunity for a positive, character-building experience. My home league requires that all coaches attend PCA's "Double-Goal" session before the start of the season. This gives new and seasoned coaches tools to become more effective teachers and coaches.

One particular method that I really like and have incorporated into my evaluations and meetings is called the "Criticism Sandwich." PCA recommends sandwiching criticism (or corrections) with a compliment on both sides. The criticism is the meat, while the compliments are the bread.

My evaluations were an open-faced criticism sandwich. I first listed all the good qualities and traits a player possessed followed by a list of areas that needed improving. I always listed at least three good qualities and at least three areas needing improvement. I always had at least one assistant review my feedback not just to get his feedback but to make sure that nothing inappropriate was being said. Always make sure that the areas for improvement are attainable by that player.

Player/Parent/Coach Meeting
I prepared and conducted the meetings in the following manner:

* I emailed my evaluation to each family before the meeting to give them time to review my feedback and come prepared with any questions.

* I tried to have the meetings between tournament games. When that was not an option, I set aside a practice and had my assistant run a 'fun' practice while I was busy with the meetings. Each meeting was no longer than 10 minutes.

I used the more traditional "criticism sandwich" during these meeting. I went over the player's strengths. That was followed by a discussion covering the areas that needed improving. This part was indeed a discussion (not a monologue) because I wanted the player and parents to agree, disagree, or ask questions. I always ended the meeting with lots of positive reinforcements and encouragement and I let the player know that I believed that he had what it took to become a better player.

If it was the second or third meeting, I always reviewed the previous improvement list to see how much progress he had made.

I always talked directly to the player and included the parents when I wanted to emphasize a particular point.

Yes, it will probably consume many, many hours of your time, especially writing the evaluations. If time is an issue, having only one round of meetings is better than none. This exercise turned out to be very worthwhile and rewarding for myself as well. I feel I became a much more positive coach as I started to use the criticism sandwich technique much more in practice and during games.

If you are not already doing player evaluations and having meetings with your players and parents, I hope you give it a try. I guarantee you that the parents will appreciate the effort.

(Alex Kos' experiences as a player, coach, referee, parent and fan are shared in his blog,  Improving Soccer in the United States, where this article first appeared.)

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