How much information and access should parents expect from their children’s coaches? In Part 1 of our series on coach-parent-player communication, the Youth Soccer Insider sought perspective from the clubs’ side.
By Mike Woitalla
Veteran youth coaches might like to joke about wanting to lead a team of orphans so they don't have to deal with parents. But in fact most agree that a good system of communication prevents problems before they happen and is a key to the success of a club.
“Although I think we do more than most clubs, whenever there’s issue, I would say 90 percent comes down to communication,” says De Anza Force Director of Coaching Jeff Baicher. “Whether it’s directors to coaches, or coaches to parents, or parents to their kids. There are so many levels where things can be misinterpreted or not worked out.
“You see that in youth soccer all the time. A player may not get selected to start a game or something’s going on and the parents just make up their own mind of what’s going on, although it may be the complete opposite of what’s really going on.”
What Baicher has found effective is creating a year plan for each team, then breaking it down to quarterly, monthly and weekly plans -- and conveying it to the parents on a regular basis.
“If a parent comes out on a Monday night,” Baicher says, “and sees a coach focusing mostly on the forwards, she might think, ‘Why isn’t the coach working with my daughter [who’s a defender]? This is unbelievable! We pay all this money and the coach isn’t working with her.’
“But if she read the e-mail, she’d know the focus of that week may be Phase 4, which is the attacking final piece of the game.”
Brian Doyle, the Michigan Wolves-Hawks SC U13-U18 Boys Director, points out the importance of keeping a pulse on the parents.
“A key person is the manager,” Doyle says. “He or she is vital -- the conduit between the coach and the parents. I tell our coaches you should touch base with your manager every three days. When I coach, I do it every other day. There’s always some housekeeping.”
It’s a consensus among DOCs that coaches should clearly outline their expectations and policies in the preseason.
So Cal Blues director Tad Bobak has four decades of coaching experience and goes to great lengths to inform his club's parents of what to expect.
“The moment the referee blows the whistle, emotion kicks out big time and you have to have an arena out there that hopefully remains healthy through the year,” he says. “So communicating with the parents is very important. … We become extremely redundant when we communicate.”
Bobak’s club has meetings with the parents and the club’s president, general manager and board members “to send the message of how important it is to stay within the policies of the club.” Coaches follow up with coach-parent meetings.
“And we have written guideline orientations that the parents have to read and sign so we as a club abide by these guidelines and the parents abide by these guidelines,” he says. “It’s a two-way street.”
Coaches have evaluations with the player and parents during the year.
“So we document all these club-parent, team-parent meetings, coaches’ evaluations,” Bobak says. “And it’s very draining but when the moments occur where there are huge explosions, at least we have something to fall back on so we cover our bases as best as possible. We don’t want a parent coming and saying, ‘Had you told us that … Had you informed us … We didn’t know about this.’
DOCs agree that their coaches’ door should be open to parents.
“I tell my coaches you have to be willing to have that discussion even though it’s a tough discussion sometimes,” says Tim Carter, the Director at Shattuck-Saint Mary’s and former U.S. Soccer Director of Youth Development. “I expect our coaches to have communication with the parents.
“Listen to what they’re saying. Listen to their questions. You don’t have to respond right away: ‘I think it’s fair question. I’ll get back to you. I need to think it through.’ …
“If the discussion gets to a point where it’s not civil you can stop the conversation. Then you can bump it on to me.”
Baicher says it’s important for coaches to let parents know how they like to be communicated with.
“Every coach is different,” he says. “There are full-time coaches who give complete access. There are other coaches who have day jobs and there are only certain times when they’re available. Some coaches want to be e-mailed. Some coaches want to be phone-called. The coaches must be clear on how they want to handle the communication. …
“We always talk about giving parents plenty of time. Because, at the end of the day, they’re our customers and you need to give them answers. Whether that’s e-mail, phone calls, or setting up appointments after training … ‘Thursday after practice can we talk about your daughter, no problem.’”
Baicher, whose club does two player evaluations per year, also instructs his coaches to address the parents after games at least twice a month:
“Basically talk about the game and how that fit into the current part of the plan they’re in. If they’re working on Phase 1, playing out of the back, ‘How’d we do in the aspect?’
“We invite parents in for pregame talks when it’s appropriate. At the higher level it might not be appropriate, but through age 13 we’ll have the parents sit in on a pregame or halftime talk, for sure postgame talk -- full access. So that they can be on the same page with what’s going on with their daughters or sons.”
Further Reading: Winning's not everything: How to convince parents
(In Part 2 of this series we’ll provide suggestions for parents on communicating with coaches, addressing such questions as whether it’s appropriate to approach coaches after a game).
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)