Commentary

What does a youth team coach want from the players' parents?

On Sunday morning my boys' U-16 team had a tough away game against a club much higher up the league standings. We had a roster of 14, and for once the strongest boys were all available. Until the text messages started coming in two hours before kickoff. Player one: "I have to go to church this morning to my sister's pre-confirmation presentation." Player two: "I worked out at the gym yesterday and injured my shoulder." And a third player who just wrote, "I'm injured" and then disappeared off the radar. We were suddenly down to a bare starting XI, with half of the back line missing.

Later in the day, once I'd exchanged some strained messages with the players' parents and digested the inevitable heavy defeat (5-0, though they played well enough under the circumstances), I drew up a list of what I think youth team coaches want or expect from the parents of their players. Obviously that varies depending upon the age group of your team, and each coach may view the involvement of parents on another scale altogether. Some hardline coaches I know do not even allow parents to come and watch their kids' games.

So this list is not a set of demands, but a basis for discussion:

Clear communication on player availability. I send out regular emails with the season's schedule, updating any changes immediately, with repeated requests for parents to let me know well in advance on which weekends they'll be out of town or celebrating Grandmother's Day. Yet I'm still subjected to surprise announcements on the eve or the day of the game (see above). "Our cat Mittens has her fourth birthday today and we're taking her out to World of Mouse! Sorry, but she'd be so disappointed if Bobby wasn't there. Good luck!" (I think the 'Good luck!' at the end of the message riles me even more than any reason given for the player's absence.)

Keep an eye on your child's pre-game activities. You could suggest to your kid that going to the gym for a full workout the day before you have an 11 a.m. game is not the brightest way to prepare. Computer games until 3 a.m. were confessed to yesterday by one player (and it showed). I appreciate that teenage boys, say, very much have lives and minds of their own, but coaches rely on parents to offer some guidance and authority in the RHE (Raging Hormonal Era). We also rely on them to keep us informed of any problems their child is encountering beyond the soccer field so we can handle them with corresponding sensitivity.

Provide proper pre-game nutrition. I bumped into three of my players on the way to an away game one morning earlier this season. They looked red-eyed and lethargic. "Did you lads get a proper breakfast?" I asked. Two of them had eaten nothing, the other just a bowl of cornflakes. After 20 minutes they were all exhausted, on a warm morning against a stronger, older team. Result: that old familiar 5-0.

How can we help? Not all coaches welcome offers of assistance -- I think that's a mistake, because pro-active parents to me are a godsend. This works well on my U-8 team, where parents pick up the dirty jerseys without being asked, organize transportion to away games among themselves, and are ready to jump in and help supervise practice if one of the assistant coaches is absent. If someone's keen, let them coordinate the team's social activities, organize laundry duty, or draw up a five-year economic plan. Encourage all initiatives to make everyone feel involved -- if the initiatives weren't meant to be, they'll fade and be forgotten.

How can we not help? Don't ask me questions in the middle of practice. Don't offer 'coaching' or advice to your child during practice or during games, or make any kind of negative noise. Ever. Don't offer me your opinion on tactics, formation or the best position for such and such a player unless you are also planning to take a course and come on board as part of the coaching team, and even then you should wait until you're done. It is, however, fine to discreetly inform me that your son or daughter is unhappy in their present position and would like you to consider trying them somewhere else.

What should a coach do to maintain good relations with the parents/guardians? Communicate clearly and punctually at all times. We have the technology. Don't rely on children of any age to pass on messages, including printouts. Hold regular parent evenings so you can make clear your rules, coaching philosophy, and plans for the team's development, and so parents can ask those questions you don't want to hear in the middle of practice. Treat all players equally, regardless of ability. Take all parental concerns seriously, and react promptly. Be measured but firm, sincere and timely in your responses to any problems. That is, deal with the choleric father the first time he yells at the referee, not the twentieth time (the other parents will be most grateful). And when a player doesn't show up for practice, ask the parents why. It often turns out they thought their kid was kicking a ball when in fact they were hanging at the mall (or worse).

Everything I've written so far seems self-evident, and has possibly been stated several times before. Given certainties seem to be on shaky ground nowadays, however, so it's worth re-capping the fundamentals. Feel free to add your thoughts.

11 comments about "What does a youth team coach want from the players' parents?".
  1. R2 Dad, May 14, 2019 at 1:05 a.m.

    Would be good if the parents could advise the coach which one of them would make the best team manager. Seems so many of these issues, which the coach doesn't really have much time for, could be shunted to the manager. So often we see politics or club relations influence who the team manager should be. Who knows the most parents? Who is most organized? Who can meet a deadline? The team manager is an important role, and filling it with the wrong person can lead to teams blowing up. 

  2. Ron Frechette, May 14, 2019 at 8:52 a.m.

    Changing world question. Part of it is how many of the parents of your team want to be parents vs friends with their children. You as a coach are only getting their child for 6 to 8 hours each week (Practice and games) for how many weeks? The amount of time changes when the player is missing from a practice every week due to any excuse under the sun.
    Even in the competive world of travel/premier/academy soccer many of the parents don't value the money being spent to ensure that their child gets the most out of the program.
    Where was Mommy and Daddy when Junior was up till 3 am playing video games? Why did the parents not feed their child prior to your morning game? - Can't rely on a 15 year player to think about the consequences of their poor choices without someone guiding them - i.e. Parents.
    You as a coach know which of the players are committed to wanting to play and improve - but you need the numbers on your team and thus allow the semi-wanting-to-play players fill roster slots. Either you are coaching a Recreation type of team or not. If at 15/16 the player does not committ to wanting to play and improve should they be on the roster at all? I deal with this as a High School coach as well as a coaching older youth teams, so this has been a discussion point with multiple coaches and social workers for years. Figure out why you are coaching and commit to that team philosophy.

    Parents are the problem - and many of them need to understand this first to help their child become a good citizen of the world. Hope they fall in love with the beautful game!

  3. George Miller, May 14, 2019 at 1:24 p.m.

     Unless it’s one of the premier teams, very competitive team with LOTS of try out numbers this will always be a challenge once they get to U15 and above .  Yes communication helps but the group I describe is more interested in just playing then training for the next level. Girlfriends, boyfriends, part-time jobs, school work plus the excuses you mention affect their focus. The under 8, 19,12... you describe, THEY AND their parents still think  they may just be the special one . By under 15 they have that answer  and the coach often becomes a supervisor so the kids can just play.  I don’t like it but 30 years of doing this,it’s a pattern 

  4. Kent James replied, May 14, 2019 at 7:57 p.m.

    You nailed it.  One problem is that if you make it too demanding (not allowing players to miss practice for any reason), then they simply won't play, and your team may not have enough players to continue.  Most kids are playing because it's fun, not because they're going to go pro (or get a college scholarship), and that's the way it should be.  

  5. James Madison, May 14, 2019 at 2:16 p.m.

    I have found that hving a reliable team manager parent is a GREAT HELP.

  6. Kent James, May 14, 2019 at 7:58 p.m.

    It is important for parents to be on time to pick their kids up when practice is over...

  7. Ken Garner, May 14, 2019 at 8:30 p.m.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking read. I coach younger kids (U6) but I’m always looking for ways to get better. I want to grow my rec baby-sitting service into a program that helps kids improve their skills and live the game.

  8. Bob Ashpole, May 15, 2019 at 9:56 p.m.

    Ian I am disappointed. Your points are exclusively focused on match day performance. Nothing about athlete development.

  9. Ian Plenderleith replied, May 16, 2019 at 12:26 a.m.

    ???? The piece is about game-day practicalities and communication between coaches and parents.

  10. Philip Carragher, May 16, 2019 at 12:53 p.m.

    Clubs would serve parents and players well by preparing younger teams on how to approach game day. Game day nutrition can be tricky and it's helpful for parents to know how to time the pre-game food specifically for their kid. A noon game may be preceded by a one hour car trip and a 45 minute warm up. I suppose for most kids a healthy meal ending just before leaving should suffice but that wasn't the case for my kids. They'd have a big breakfast before leaving and then snack (maybe just gatorade) with about 15 minutes before arrival at the field. This is tricky but needs close attention. We always pack a cooler with gatorade, water, and sandwhiches and try to be prepared for weather delays. My 17 year old plays competitive bball and sometimes will workout with his trainer the day before a contest but the trainer will know  that and plan accordingly. Before our first practice I hold a mandatory parent meeting and handout a "philosophy/curriculum/rules" sheet and firmly instruct the parents to limit any game comments to positive comments. They know from day one that my main intention is to help players develop as soccer players/good teammates and the best way forward is for them to respond well to my positive coaching/skills/tactical instructions which, at times and somewhat unfortunately, I need to do from the sidelines during games. Parents yelling instructions are a Bozo no-no. I also let them know that I encourage mistakes that result from maximum effort and that this a critical feature of boosting a player to the next level. And parents, never, and I mean never, laugh at a mistake. That is an express pathway to a player quitting and I've had that happen. A team parent helps enormously and can be a good liason. One rule I haven't had to institute in a long time is that complaints first go through the team parent and, if necessary, then I communicate with that parent. Oh, and any complaint needs to follow the 24 hour rule: no complaints about the game for 24 hours. I've instigated this as the communication for practices/games: if the player can't make it let me know asap and I don't need to know why. Just tell me the player will miss and I'll deal with it but I certainly don't want to be worried that a player isn't there or have to follow up with that parent. And parents should make an extreme effort to arrive and pickup on time. These thoughts come from about 30 years of coaching at all levels (except pro).

  11. R2 Dad, May 16, 2019 at 10:33 p.m.

    Here is the headline I've been waiting years for SA to ask: "What do parents want from youth team coaches?" I'd like to see coaches....all coaches, really...adopt industry best practices. I know this is so hard for all the independent-minded future genius coaches to grasp, but when I see Real Madrid, Barca, BM, PSG and all the others train using Rondos, I don't think it's too much to ask that youth coaches use them to. But no! US coaches are much smarter than all the top clubs in Europe--they would just rather scrimmage endlessly, year after year, hoping development just happens. Well, after 15 years of pay-to-play, and not a single coach using Rondos to improve touch/awareness/response, I'm calling out all these US youth coaches to challenge them to explain why Rondos are so bad, so impossible for our kids to train with. Let me guess--USSF licensing doesn't endorse them, so they must be optional. Couva has lead to no change at USSF or the USMNT. Our youth systems are unchanged. USSF has ousourced all the development to MLS, which had no record of youth player development before the advent of the Development Academy. It's not enough, and it's not good enough. USSF has proven it can't change. Maybe what we need is Revolution, if USSF is unable to implement Evolution.

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