Coaches Communicating with Parents: 'They're our Customers' (Part 1)

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
7 comments about "Coaches Communicating with Parents: 'They're our Customers' (Part 1)".
  1. Rich Blast, October 23, 2013 at 1:06 p.m.

    Coaches around here prefer to never talk to parents from what I can tell. If you ask to talk with them, they try to brush it off as much as possible and avoid parents at all costs.

  2. Guenther Rieder, October 23, 2013 at 1:54 p.m.

    It's great that a club has these ideals, but when it comes down to reality, coaches don't want to be held accountable. Productivity is always measured by results, so it doesn't matter how you get there or how many kids get mistreated
    along the way. I have yet to find a coach that wanted to give an evaluation even if they did so reluctantly.

  3. Rick Figueiredo, October 23, 2013 at 6:20 p.m.

    Communication with parents is taxing. But it is necessary for 2 basic reasons. It's their kid! It's their kid.

    Now as to what keeps parents off your case: winning and playing time. ARE WE WINNING GAMES AND IS MY KID GETTING GOOD PLAYING TIME. The minute that combination is altered the domino effect goes into motion. A parent who is on a team that is 20-0 does not care that you are the best team around; if their kid is not playing you have a problem. But on the other hand maybe that kid should not be playing more than 5 minutes a game. Or not at all in tough games. So what it comes down to is being very correct about selecting and recruiting the best players for your system. Critical to minimizing parent pressure. I am a parent so as a coach I totally understand both sides. If I have a choice I will err on the side of winning. As John Madden said: "Winning is the best deodorant!"

  4. uffe gustafsson, October 23, 2013 at 8:22 p.m.

    Rick did you read mike previous article of coaches
    That constantly yelling instructions to his or her players, an article all coaches should read.
    That should tie into this article, communication is the key to coaches how they talk to their players as well to parents. How are players to make good decitions if they are bombarded with instructions they never get the confidence to do things if they don't have the freedom to make mistakes.
    And to improve as a player. What u think is a ordinary player might just be a great player is coach gives them freedom to make mistakes and learn from it without getting benched.
    Same with parents they need to know what the coach is working on like back pass to goalie and it might be a disaster the first few times but it is a very valuable tool in the future, and if parents don't know that is what the team is working on parents think the player who does what coach want have lost his her mind if it does not pan out.
    Winning is not everything but learning the different ways of playing is everything.

  5. uffe gustafsson, October 23, 2013 at 8:41 p.m.

    One more thing, our team is told that they have to pass 3/5 passes up the field before they shoot on the goal, they could easely bang balls up from defense to forwards but that is not what they are taught, yes sometime that is a good option but learning how to do one two passes up the field will make em better players. Seen to many teams that don't work hard on those things but banging balls up and win many games ( for now).

  6. David Sotelo Jr, October 24, 2013 at 10:46 a.m.

    Uffe Gustafsson, could you please share the link to the article? Thank you.

  7. andrew yaletsko, November 3, 2013 at 1:25 p.m.

    I would like to say I like reading all of these articles, whether I agree or disagree. Great information. First, in most clubs today the trainer/coaches are paid now. So parents have certain expectations when they purchase something. So if they believe little Johnny isn't playing much or isn't developing like they think he should then thats definitely a conversation between both parent and coach. Technical skill is key to the game today. So if the kids aren't passing like they should and you have a coach that sits and lets the kids learn from their mistakes then there's a problem. Especially when teaching the younger ages. My belief, at younger ages, is if you don't tell them it's wrong then they will never learn. I see this all the time with coaches that have this mentality.
    Second, winning should never be the most important thing to a parent. I have always believed, and it have 5 kids that play at various levels, if my kids are learning I don't really care what the outcome or score of game is. Kids will learn from both winning and losing games, but it's more important for a parent that they see that their kids is developing. The flip side to that is if your kid isn't having any fun then they will not want to learn and eventually want to quit playing.

    Communication is a big part of game not just on the field but with the "customers" that are paying for you to teach there kids. I don't think coaches need to stand and scream constant instruction but they should be pointing out things to kids during the game. If they are sitting and watching, the kids see that as a coach being disinterested in what happening on the field. So in return they become disinterested. It's a vicious cycle.

    I apologize if this comment seems all over the place, but I have found myself in this situation. We are losing, kids are not learning and the paid coach seems very uninterested on how the team performs. The team went from learning and developing, having successful season, to not learning not improving and making bad decision on the field. Now the team is winless this season and the only thing that changed is the trainer/coach.

    This is just my opinion, feel free to comment if you would like. I'm open to all opinions.

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