Advice for Parents: Communicating with Coaches -- and Children (Part 2)

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

4 comments about "Advice for Parents: Communicating with Coaches -- and Children (Part 2)".
  1. Scott Rosberg, October 29, 2013 at 12:31 p.m.

    I like the article and the testimonials. John O'Sulivan's book "Changing the Game" nails so much of this issue perfectly. I think every parent of an athlete and every coach should read it. I have been recommending it at our school's pre-season parent/athlete meetings.

    I wrote a booklet about 8 years ago called "Playing Time" that addresses these issues in great detail. I wrote it for parents and athletes certainly, but I wrote it for coaches as much or more than anyone else. Why? Because I think coaches need to be proactive to be prepared for the various situations that can come up when it comes to playing time. That way they can be prepared for the parent or athlete who wants to come to discuss the issue with them. And let's face it - 95% of the time when a parent has an issue to discuss, it will be about playing time . . . even when they say it isn't about playing time! While I didn't have a lot of meetings with parents over my 25+ years of coaching and 11 years as an athletic director, of the meetings that I have had there was only ONE that was not about playing time. For info on how to get my booklet, email me at

    Also, Bruce Brown, the director of Proactive Coaching has an outstanding booklet, DVD, and presentation called "The Role of Parents in Athletics." We have given that presentation all across the country to hundreds of thousands of parents, athletes, and coaches, and sold nearly as many of the booklets. The entire presentation/booklet comes from information kids have given him/us through the years. They have told us that the best thing we can do for them is to "release them to the game." This is their experience - let them have it as their own. Another thing kids tell us is that the #1 worst memory they have of playing sports far above all others is the ride home with mom & dad after the game. Save your analysis - give them time and space. The best thing kids hear us say after games is "I love to watch you play." Isn't that what our involvement with our kids sports should be all about?

  2. Kent James, October 30, 2013 at 10:03 a.m.

    The lack of playing time is one of the most difficult issues in sports for two reasons; first, when you're not playing, you're not getting the benefit of why you put the effort in (all practice and no game time makes you question why you're doing it). Although that can be ameliorated by improving because of the practice, and with the thought that you will eventually get playing time. The second issue is that a lack of playing time can lead to a lack of confidence in the player. And a lack of confidence leads to mistakes and poor play, justifying the coach's decision not to grant playing time. This is where parents have to walk the fine line between supporting the player without undermining the coach. At the most competitive levels, even excellent players may not get playing time, and the differences between players who play and those who don't are small, or even just differences in style of play and the needs of the team. It's tough, but I think the best approach is to encourage the player by pointing out their successes when they get on the field, encouraging them to work hard and have a positive attitude, and to make sure they ask the coach what they need to work on to get more playing time.

  3. doug greco, November 6, 2013 at 9:41 p.m.

    no 1 problem that parents have with coaches are playing time. If coaches didn't really care about winning or losing but focused on development, why would playing time be an issue? and position should not be an issue since coaches care about development, kids should be playing different positions. i think it's more of coaches being inadequate or being hypocritical than the parents.

  4. Elvis Presley replied, May 27, 2016 at 1:49 p.m.

    Doug you're spot on. For the most part in the US the focus is on winning and development is secondary. Bad recipe.

    It's not just coaches though:

    Many clubs put pressure on their coaches to have a winning record.. this in turn attracts more players, more $$ etc... this of course is also fed by parents who only want to be on winning teams.

    Parents of talented players need to be more educated and understand that development should always come first and worry about winning as almost a side benefit, at least in the younger years. Look for a great coach folks, not necessarily a winning team. In the early years the two don't go together.

    If you don't know what to look for in a great soccer coach educate yourself. No matter how good your son or daughter is in their younger years, if they're not getting the proper tactical training they will be left way behind come high school and college time.

    Technical training comes with repetition and practice and a serious player should be touching the ball daily on their own outside of practice. Only so much a coach can do with an entire team and an hour and half twice a week to do it in.

    Playing time:

    All players need to get "some" time on the field. Not the same time but "some" time to show improvement and help with self esteem. A great coach would make sure of this and make adjustments as necessary.

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