Guest Blog by Foundation Age Coaching
Credit: Dave Francis
Having been coaching soccer for nearly 15 years, I’ve met with a lot of parents. Some have been incredible, some have just been there and some have challenged me in every possible way! We have all had one thing in common though. We want the best for their child.
As I have had the benefit of working with children as a full-time job, I have studied extensively how to get the best out of them. Whether male, female, able-bodied or disabled, I believe that I have a pretty good handle on the environment that children need in order to succeed. Of course, every child is different and coaches need to work with parents as well. Yet the following 5 attributes have proven to be of massive benefit to the coach and ultimately, the child.
Stay Quiet during Games
“You wouldn’t scream at kids if they were learning to read. Parents need to step away and keep quiet” – Sean Dyche
Everyone in the world makes mistakes. When we first learn to walk, we keep falling over. Yet you never see a parent screaming at a child to get back up and do better! Yet for some reason, there are people that think this is reasonable behaviour in a U8 football game. It isn’t.
There are generally 2 types of parents that talk during games…the parent who feels the need to destroy their child’s self-esteem, or, more often than not, the parent who feels the need to coach. Neither help the child in question. From the coaching perspective, how do you know what is being said falls in line with what the coach has asked? Conflicting statements make things very difficult for the player. On one hand, they have to go home with Mom and Dad. On the other, the coach may drop them the following week. That’s a mental tug of war no child should go through.
I used to coach a U12 girls team and our game plan against a team who hadn’t lost in a year was to defend in our own half. We wanted to eliminate the space that would allow the opposition to use their straight-line speed. It worked – we won 2-0 and missed 2 open goals, limiting them to 1 chance in 60 minutes. Despite this, there was a parent who felt the need to continuously shout at his daughter to close down the ball as high up the field as possible. Naturally, she went to do that, which meant that I then had to raise my voice to get her to stop and hold her position. This went on for most of the second half before I shouted loud enough so he could hear me. I’m not proud of that and I can only imagine how the poor girl felt. If only he’d read my pre-game e-mail…
The players I have coached in the past who have progressed to a higher level (Academy, Pro, Youth International) all have one key thing in common…quiet parents on game day. That’s no coincidence. Let the coach do their job and your child make mistakes on the field. The long-term benefits are worth it.
Leave it 24 Hours
Sport, especially Football, is emotional. Couple that with watching your own child perform and the cocktail of emotions present is enough to turn even the most placid of people into a raving lunatic. Therefore it makes full sense that post-game, anything that is said or written is likely to defy all logic and become very personal.
I coached at a club in North Carolina where the rule was no parent/coach communication until at least 24 hours after a game. The reasoning was that it allowed people to sleep on things, calm down and speak like grown-ups rather than mortal enemies.
You may disagree with the coach or referee’s decision during a game. Post-game is not the place to have your say. Give it 24 hours to say anything. That goes for e-mail, text and social media as well. Electronic communication often leaves people thinking that they need no filter on what they say, which will lead to bigger problems going forward. Your child will appreciate not being embarrassed having just run themselves into the ground.
Face to Face Communication
Words make up 7% of all communication. Body language, voice tone, context and facial expressions make up the other 93%. Unless of course, you communicate by text, then words make up 100% of all communication. How the person reading the text interprets those words is entirely down to how they are feeling at that time.
As a parent, you may have a genuine concern about your child’s playing time. Sending a text reading “Can you tell me why Jonny only played for 20 minutes today?” may mean, in your mind, that you want to know so that Jonny can improve for the next game. However, if the coach has just had an argument with someone, or received some bad news, their interpretation could very well see it as an attack on their decision-making. Without spelling it out for them – and that causes issues too, with people’s attention spans being limited – the coach will not be able to read the context behind the text.
If you have any issues or questions, leave them until the next practice and speak to your coach face to face. That way nothing is lost in translation and you can both work together for the best solution going forward.
Don’t Offer a Goal Bonus
I’ve had a situation in the past where I was coaching a youth football team and players were being offered money by their parents based on how many goals they scored. It’s understandable that parents would do this. Parents want their children to succeed and as a result offering rewards for success is an easy way to motivate them. It is also an incredibly lazy way to motivate them.
External rewards for achievement, while seen as harmless, can have many long-term repercussions. They have been shown to lead to a decrease in both intrinsic motivation and creativity. Listen to people talk about Cristiano Ronaldo as a youngster and his desire to be the best player in the world. It had nothing to do with the money he would make or the trophies he would win. It was an innate desire to be the best and it is why he continues to set record after record and win trophy after trophy as a professional.
Offering your child a goal bonus can also stop them from focusing on what they have been asked to do and instead only seeing £ signs when playing. Chances to pass at the right time are not taken due to wanting to make a fiver. Avoid this at all costs and find an alternate way to offer praise.
Volunteer on Game Days
I’m fortunate enough that coaching has been my FT job for a long time. Therefore, my responsibilities finish with delivering sessions and coaching games. Grassroots coaches, however, do not have that luxury. As well as running a practice and coaching during a game, they must secure sponsorship, put away goals and corner flags, wash the kit, get to practice early and leave late, keep their safeguarding and first aid up to date, go through their coaching CPD, plan sessions, monitor communication and playing time. All voluntarily. On top of this, they need to manage a full-time jobs and family time. It’s a lot to take on. Having someone who is willing to help put away equipment or contact parents with field location details is greatly appreciated.
Taking it one step further, I’ve always been grateful for an assistant coach. Having someone who is willing to talk to the players on the subs bench allows me to keep my focus on what is happening in the game. Clubs are often helpful in funding a Level 1 coaching course.
So step up and ask your coach what you can help with. It will be appreciated and no doubt your child will get a kick out of your involvement.