When you ask a group of coaches what their least favorite part of coaching youth soccer is, one of the most common answers is “parents.”
Why do coaches find parents to be a burden? In reality, it is probably only a handful of parents, and the majority are great. However, it only takes one person to influence an entire group. Almost all parents are well intentioned. But not all parents understand the best way to handle their role in their child’s experience.
In a previous post, “Are You an Enemy to Youth Soccer?” I explain how parents might be inadvertently hurting their child’s experience and encourage them to learn more about how they can help their child.
This is where coaches come in.
It is the coach’s role as the leader of the team to communicate clearly with parents and ensure everyone is on the same page. One of the biggest challenges is parents who do not understand the coach’s point of view. That’s the coach’s fault. As stewards of the game, it is the coaches’ responsibility to educate those who may not have as much experience, especially in regard to the dynamics of youth soccer. It is the coach’s obligation to stand up for the right of the kids to enjoy their experience. As coaches, we have been involved with many situations that are very similar to that of each of our players and their parents. Parents, however, have only experienced their own playing career (maybe) and that of their own child or children. This is why coaches have so much to offer parents.
How can coaches communicate with and educate parents?
1. Weekly E-mails
If you are not already, consider sending two e-mails weekly to all of your parents. One of them is a review of practice; the other is a review of the match.
Practice E-mail: Include what you worked on in practice. Did you learn any moves? Skills? What decision-making concepts did you learn? You should include most of the coaching points you covered, as well as a video of each of the skills, so they can recognize them if they happen in a game.
This does two things:
- It will allow parents to realize what you are doing in practice and that you are actually teaching their kids something. It also gets them excited when they see the kids try these things in games.
- It frames the focus of your parents. If you are constantly talking about what you are teaching, the parents minds will begin to focus on that, rather than other, less-important concepts (like match results).
Match E-mail: Give your take on the game. Did it go well, or not so well? Why? What was the focus and discussion before the game and at half time? Did the kids try to implement it well? Did the kids attempt and/or execute what you worked on in practice? Give some kids who did the right things some recognition in these e-mails. Again, this will help keep the parents’ thoughts in perspective. They may be upset after a loss or overjoyed after a win, but if we can remind them of what is really important by highlighting it in a post-match e-mail, it will continue to teach parents how they should be thinking about the game.
2. Preseason Meeting
Holding a parent/coach meeting before the start of EVERY season – fall, winter, and spring (if the apply) – makes a world of difference. The main reason people get upset is because their expectations do not match reality – they expected one thing, it didn’t happen, so now they are upset/disappointed.
By having a preseason meeting, you can set the expectations right from the start. Make it clear what your plans are, how you will do things and manage situations, and what you expect from the parents. Try to think of all the different situations in which someone might become upset or have questions, as well as the situations in which you may become upset, then tell parents what to expect in these situations before they happen.
3. Tell them your plan
The only thing that makes people more upset than reality being different from expectations is when they believe that the person in charge is not doing anything about it or does not have a plan.
To avoid this, tell the parents upfront what you will be teaching each season. What moves will the kids be learning? What skills will they work on? How will you define success in regard to these concepts? How does this apply to the long-term plan of each child’s development?
If parents know you have a plan, they will respect it. Even if you deviate from it a little as the season progresses, the fact that you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and why you want to accomplish it will send the message that you know what you are doing and that you are the expert.
4. Send them other resources
Unfortunately, people have a tendency to respect the opinions of outside sources more than their own people. Even if you were a former World Cup winning coach and a Nobel Prize winner in child development (if they give one out for that), because you are wearing the same exact badge as your parents, many of them will not view you as an expert as much as someone else outside your organization. That is just human nature.
Therefore, it is important to validate your thoughts and teachings by providing examples of other experts who say the same things. Find articles, videos, etc. that have other people advocating for the same things as you, and share them with your parents. I would suggest sending them something once a week – perhaps include it with your weekly post-match e-mail.
5. Parent Education Sessions
Parents have busy schedules, but it is in their best interest to learn as much as they can to help their kids. Have your club host a parent education night a couple times a year. Invite all your parents to come, then share some useful information with them. It might also help to invite guest speakers (you know, outside experts to validate you) to further encourage parents to attend.
You could also host a more formal workshop with an organization like Positive Coaching Alliance, which can be really effective in helping positively frame parents’ perspectives (it’s also really great for coaches to do this).
Make it as easy and convenient for them as possible. Make it an event. Invite the kids (including siblings) and have your coaches keep them busy while the parents are in the session. Perhaps make it a “street soccer” night for the kids.
6. Individual Meetings
Two things here: A. Have individual meetings with your players. B. Have individual meetings with parents if requested.
A. It is a great idea to cut out 10 minutes for each child before or at the beginning of each season to meet with them individually, along with their parents. In this meeting, you are speaking to the child, and the parent is there to listen.
Ask the child questions. Why do you play soccer? What is the most fun part of soccer for you? What do you want to accomplish this season? How can I help you accomplish that? How can your parents help you accomplish that?
This will allow the parents to recognize that it is not about them, and it is not about the coach. It is about the children. And they will learn about the child’s perspective, which will help them frame their own. I would suggest writing down notes and making a copy for you and the parents to keep. Just in case the coach or parent ever lose sight of what's most important, he or she can refer back to the meeting and remember why everyone is there in the first place.
B. There will be times that parents will want to meet to discuss concerns or questions with you. Always be open to this. This is a great opportunity to learn how that individual thinks and help communicate with him within a frame of mind that pertains directly to his situation. When people realize how your approach and philosophy will directly help their child, they are more likely to be on board.
7. Impromptu Team Meetings
We all have rough seasons. If the team is struggling with results, it often takes a toll on parents, and sometimes the kids. Sometimes, it only takes one or two incidents to negatively affect morale. If you begin to sense that morale is low, it might be a good time to call a parent meeting. In this meeting, discuss the reasons for the situation, and address whether or not it is actually important in the big picture. Does this affect the things you discussed in your preseason meeting? If it does, how can you fix it? If it doesn’t, remind everyone of the most important things and re-frame their perspectives. In any situation, it is important to point out how it is a learning opportunity, especially for the kids.