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Advice for Parents: Communicating with Coaches -- and Children (Part 2)
by Mike Woitalla, October 28th, 2013 7:31PM

In Part 2 of our series on coach-parent-player communication, the Youth Soccer Insider sought advice for parents.

By Mike Woitalla

There are numerous scenarios that make parents want to question their children’s coach:

“Why doesn’t Johnny get to play forward? … Why aren’t we winning? … Why doesn’t Sally get more playing time … Why do you do this or that in practice? …”

Each question deserves an answer and it shouldn’t be too difficult for a coach to explain his or her point of view. Preemptive communication from the coach can decrease the need for parents’ to seek out one-on-ones with the coach.

“It’s like school,” says longtime youth coach John O’Sullivan, the author of “Changing the Game.” “If the teachers never had parent-teacher conferences and didn’t send progress reports home, as a parent you’d be calling all the time asking, ‘What’s going on?’”

But regardless of how efficient coaches may be at communicating, parents will always have questions and some will get upset for one reason or another.

“No. 1, I think it’s very important that parents always remember their focus is on one player out of 16 whereas the coach’s focus is on 16 players,” O’Sullivan says. “So your kid is getting a 16th of the attention while you’re focused on one.

“Always remember the coach is trying to balance the need of 16 players. I think a lot of parents forget that, and you get the call, ‘You promised that Johnny would play 30 minutes a game and he only played 27 and a half.’

“No. 2, don’t come at it from a point of confrontation. Come from the point of ‘How can I help this situation? … I just want to help my son or my daughter improve and I want to help you help them, so what do you see with my son and my daughter that will help them get more playing time?'"

KEEP EMOTIONS IN CHECK. Tim Carter, the Director at Shattuck-Saint Mary’s, says there have to be rules about when it’s appropriate for parents to approach the coaches because sports brings out such strong emotions. Carter is one who feels postgame is not the time:

“It’s not the moment to go to the coach after the game. You may be too upset about something that happened or didn’t happen.”

O’Sullivan agrees, “Let your emotions cool. Let the coach’s emotions cool. I think 24 hours is very fair as a general rule.”

Michigan Wolves-Hawks SC Boys Director Brian Doyle also advocates the 24-hour rule:

“We don’t want parents to call anybody for 24 hours. Let a day go by and if you still fell strongly, call.”

But So Cal Blues director Tad Bobak, one of the nation’s most experienced and successful youth coaches, is flexible when it comes to postgame.

“If they come to me right after a game and in my heart I feel it’s an inappropriate time, I’ll say, ‘Mrs. Smith, I’ll meet with you later in the week,’” says Bobak. “If I feel the appropriate time is right then and there, I’ll do it right then and there.

“Some coaches have a 24-hour rule, but if I sense it’s sort of a minor question that they want to have answered, and it’s not very controversial or long, I’ll do it. If I feel it’s going to be heavier, I’ll say let’s meet later in the week. I try not to put myself in a box. I use the key words, ‘appropriate time,’ but I’m always open to communication.”

De Anza Force Director of Coaching Jeff Baicher also believes that a postgame chat can be OK at times.

“There’s nothing wrong with parents talking to a coach after a game,” he says. “The two issues are, one, that it can be too emotional right after a game. There’s something to be said for a cooling-off period. You might want to sit on that one. … The other is that the coach may have to run off to another game.”

ENCOURAGE PLAYER RESPONSIBILITY. Carter believes that it’s important for coaches to encourage players to do the asking:

“I think we have to make kids more responsible, and to go to the coach and ask, ‘Can I talk to you?’ I also understand that kids may go back to the parent and that I may need to have a follow-up discussion.”

PARENT-TO-PARENT. One reason Carter stresses that coaches should be open to fielding questions from parents is that frustrated parents are likely to air their displeasure to each other.

“Parent-to-parent communicate gets so ratcheted up,” he says. “And it can escalate problems. If you have an issue, go talk to that coach or the director. Don’t go ratcheting it up between parents. Boiling-over emotion is not helping the situation.”

THE RIDE HOME. I have asked many of coaches -- besides those interviewed for this article -- about what they wish from parents. I’d say that if coaches had a magic wand, they would use it to rein in how frustrated parents communicate with their children -- especially on the ride home from a game.

They’d eliminate bad-mouthing the coach in front of the kids. Among the ways in which this disrupts the coach-player dynamic is it enables players to blame their lack of playing time on the coach.

If your child is bummed that he didn’t play much in the game, don’t console him by disparaging the coach. U.S. U-20 national team coach Tab Ramos has run the NJSA 04 youth club for a decade. He recommends a response like this: “You tried as hard as you can. Maybe if you keep trying hard, the next time you’re going to play more and impress the coach.”

Baicher believes ride-home discussions can cause all sorts of problems, even affecting the mood and attitude the player has at the next practice: “She’s an emotional wreck and we’re wondering, ‘What’s going on?’"

Says Baicher, “The parents end up being the first ones the kids talk to when they get into the car. And the parents’ perception of what happened is huge for the kid in the backseat.

“We’ve been trying to educate parents on, ‘You know what? You need to be 100 percent supportive of your child when they get into the car. Don’t try to give them an analysis. Just let them talk if they feel like it and hear them.’”

Further Reading:
Part 1: Coaches Communicating with Parents: 'They're our Customers'
The Ride Home: Not a Teachable Moment

(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.)