Working with Parents
Have you ever had issues with parents coaching the players during matches? They could sending conflicting messages to your instructions, or it might just be a case of too many voices potentially distracting the players from making their own decisions. Or do you have problems with training commitment or punctuality? Are some parents just not on the same page as you when it comes to your objectives for the team (maybe they take it much too seriously for example), or maybe they aren’t actually involved at all, but you’d like them to be.
These are all common concerns for grassroots coaches when it comes to working with parents, sometimes even for those coaches working in older age groups. The starting point needs to be seeing it as ‘working’ with them, because ‘dealing’ with them or ‘managing’ them already sets the wrong tone. They are part of the team, and a coach’s job includes working with players as well as parents. Rather than being a burden, it can actually be an opportunity.
The reality for a lot of grassroots coaches is that you might also be one of the parents yourself, except that you volunteered to coach the team and the others didn’t. So although you certainly deserve recognition and respect for your time and efforts, don’t forgot that you are all on the same side and all want the best for the players. Parents also play an important role because they pay the registration fees, drive the kids to training sessions and matches, they usually cheer on the team on match days, while they are also often the main reason why kids take up the sport in the first place.
Many issues can simply come from different expectations. When it comes to parents, a question to reflect on is: did you communicate with them about what your expectations are, and what theirs are too?
This question can also relate to the players, because sometimes coaches can get frustrated, and the players can too, when they have different expectations about their objectives, and what they want from their participation in football. Sometimes coaches can make the mistake of putting their own personal objectives first, or just assuming that their players have the same motivations and ambitions that they do. Have you asked your players what they want from the season? It might be quite an eye opening moment for you to try this if you haven’t previously.
One of the most valuable pieces of advice that a coach working at any level of the game can take advantage of is to have a team meeting, ideally after your first training session or at least early on in pre-season. Don’t waste precious training time by doing it during training, and also make sure the first training sessions you run are top quality so you can automatically gain some credibility with the players on the pitch before doing any meetings, which will help them buy into you and your process better. Use this meeting to guide the players on establishing some team rules which they choose based on options you outline, so they take some responsibility for them – if they question a rule later on, you can remind that it’s their rule that they choose together, not yours, meaning all you need to do is enforce it.
A meeting like this, with parents involved too, can cover all sorts of different topics, including examples such as:
- outline your background and philosophy as a coach
- explain your attitude towards winning vs. development, and the benefits of the style of play you will be working towards
- detail your policy on game time and position rotation, or maybe make it a group discussion
- make clear what you expect i.e. punctuality, level of commitment, communication type and timing etc (for missing and being late to training and matches)
- suggest ways that parents can help the team e.g. how best to show their support during matches (and to avoid conflicting messages), any roles they can fill such as team manager, assistant coach, stats or video recording (great for those who get frustrated on the sideline), running goalkeeper warm ups, pre-game goal setting tasks with players in the car etc
- guide the players towards selecting the best method of captaincy and leadership group selection (weekly, or for the season)
- guide the players towards the right kind of attitude to have on aspects such as fair play and respect etc
- guide the players towards selecting the most appropriate consequences for breaking any established team rules (don’t let it become too extreme though)
It might also be worth checking if your club has any policies or guidelines on any of these topics to avoid contradicting them. Has the club also engaged with parents too, either though handouts, emails, or even an information session? Consider also asking the club to support your team meeting by hosting it in their club rooms, and perhaps even organising some food for everyone and bringing along someone like the President and/or Technical Director to be involved so they can share their perspective, and support you as well so that it doesn’t feel like ‘you vs. the parents’. If this is not possible though, it certainly isn’t a barrier to making the meeting happen – standing together in a group for 15 minutes or so next to the training pitch is sufficient.
If some parents don’t make the meeting, there are various ways you can update them, as well as to summarise the conversation for those who did attend, using email or handouts for example. And when it comes to the regular season, keeping parents updated can also be beneficial, as well as being appreciated by them.
Another way to do this is having parents listen in to brief team discussions. You probably don’t want them there for pre-game or half time talks however, to avoid distraction and potential conflicting messages again. Brief wrap-ups after training sessions and matches might have some value though, as you can get certain messages across to both them and the players, which might also influence the tone of any discussions parents might have with their children in the car during the drive home (e.g. instead of the first question after a match being “did you win”, it might become something more like “how did you play?”). Some examples of messages you might like to get across during a post-game wrap up could include:
- “it’s a shame we lost today, but we played well and should continue trying our best”
- “it’s great that we won today, but we still have a lot to improve and work on at training if we want win again next week”
This all can start as early as any pre-season friendly matches your team might participate in. Even practice matches can be used to establish the team’s approach to fair play and respect, managing game time and trying out positions, and establishing your style of play. Even if the match is very low key because you couldn’t source an official referee, or a proper pitch, and even if one of the teams doesn’t have enough players and you need to share, all of these things can still be a focus for you and your team. And of course, because the result doesn’t matter, you can focus more on the performance, and take it as a opportunity to just observe and take notes of how the players do in a match situation.
If you already have or manage to recruit an assistant coach, especially one you haven’t worked with before, this is also a great opportunity to do a practice run with them before you play any official matches. At grassroots level having an assistant can often be a luxury – so don’t waste them! It is important to establish their role in regards to all aspects of coaching the team, so that they feel useful and are useful, and then don’t actually overstep their responsibilities and possibly confuse the players (which might happen in a genuine attempt to help if they aren’t given any meaningful tasks). That may include helping with training sessions (e.g. pre-planned one-on-one coaching while the head coach runs the session, or these roles reversed, or both running two activities side by side etc), as well as planned involvement in helping the team prepare on match days, analysis, half time team talks etc. The more both coaches work together the better (two heads are better than one), plus it will be seamless if the assistant ever needs to cover for you. It only takes a little planning to work well, much like working parents.
Have you got some players or parents asking questions about playing up an age group, and you’re not sure how to respond, or how to decide what the best option is? Stay tuned for the next blog!