In my experience working with many different coaches, directors, and youth soccer parents, a lot of people often seem to interact with each other with their cards close to the vest – trying to reveal as little information as possible.
It seems that if a parent has a concern, and wants to speak with a coach or a director, the parent won’t be completely honest and will be a bit guarded when confronting the other person. Likewise, when coaches and directors facilitate programs with their players, it seems as though many coaches or directors won’t share the full truth about the process or methods with the parents.
I believe that most of these coaches, directors, and parents are good people, and that they are trying to do the right thing. But for whatever reasons, they don’t feel that they can be completely open and honest with one another. This leads to more problems rather than solutions.
An experience I had with this recently came at the hands of the Olympic Development Program (ODP) that I am involved in within my state. Our ODP program is open to anyone and everyone who wants to sign up and, therefore, it serves as both a state-team identification process and as a supplemental training program for all players that are interested. Each player has the opportunity to attend seven or eight training sessions throughout the selection process during which the coaching staff is not only teaching them new things, but also trying to identify players to make the team.
Many coaches believe that in order to be able to effectively evaluate 40-60+ kids, it helps to organize them into groups based on abilities, and then throughout the sessions, as players either showcase a higher or lower level of ability than the others in their group, move them to different groups accordingly. This, however, creates a concern for the coaches that by doing this, the parents are going to know which level group their child is in.
My question is always: “So what if they do? What’s wrong with getting honest feedback about the relative abilities of their children?”
Coaches seem to think that parents will react negatively if their child is not in the top group during the sessions, but this is not necessarily true. If coaches are not transparent with the parents, then when it comes time for the team to be picked, if parents had no previous feedback – and therefore no reason to believe that their child was not in the top group – then they are going to be shocked and even more upset at the conclusion of the selection period when their child is not chosen. If they already had an idea that their child was in a lower group before the selection, then the result would be as they expected.
Ultimately, as coaches, it is essential that we are transparent about our processes so that we can effectively manage the expectations of our players and their parents. In fact, the only way that players will get better is if they are constantly aware of where they stand and what is needed from them in order to get to the level that they desire.
WARNING: This only works if you’re trying to do the right thing. If you are not operating with the best interests of players and their development, then this transparency policy will not work.
The Initial Conflict
Many of the problems we have as coaches comes down to us not revealing what we are doing, or why we are doing it, because we think the parents are not going to approve of the process. Although it might be true that some parents may not agree initially with our methods, if what we are doing is something that we believe in, and is in the best interest of the children, then there is no need to hide it. It is also true that many practices which are in the best interest of children or players are counter-intuitive and go against our natural instincts. Thus, it is reasonable that a parent might be upset when they first learn of a coach’s processes, even if it is in the best interest of the players.
In the end, the success and effectiveness of a coach comes down to the ability to do what is right for the players, while also maintaining a positive and healthy coach-parent relationship. This ultimately comes down to how the coach communicates messages with parents.
Communication is Key
It is important that we discuss with the parents and players what we are doing and, most importantly, why. Parents might then ask, how is that process going to help players get better? How do players achieve success within this process?
Going back to the ODP example, if we, as coaches, can communicate that we are grouping kids based on their abilities so that is is easier for us to effectively evaluate everyone, ensure that nobody is missed, and complete a fair and thorough assessment of the players, how could anyone possibly be upset? If it is communicated to the players that part of the program is trying to make the state team, and despite wherever they are grouped, that they will all continue to be evaluated, continue to have an opportunity to showcase their abilities, continue to learn and improve, and continue to have a chance to move to a different group, then how can players be upset? They might be disappointed in their placement, but as long as we truly make it a fair process, and as long as we give feedback to the players to help them know what they need to do to get better and move into their desired group, then at the end of the day, they will appreciate the honesty.
On top of this, if we communicate the value that we are providing to every single player and parent, then they will appreciate it. In this case, if we ensure that no matter what, all the players are going to learn something and improve through the training, and no matter what, all the players are going to receive an evaluation to see how they need to improve, and no matter what, all the players are going to receive the care and full attention of the coaches, then how can anyone complain?
My recommendation to coaches is to take the following steps:
1. Establish the values and purpose of your team or program
2. Make a plan of how to achieve success
3. Communicate the plan and explain why it will result in success
4. Follow through with the plan
5. If an adjustment to the plan is necessary, repeat steps 2-4