Meet: Lee Butler
Essex County FA Grassroots Coach of the Year 2012
From: Essex, England, UK
Role(s) : U11 Grassroots Football Coach and Coach Mentor for Leigh Ramblers YFC
Can you give us a bit of background information on yourself?
Qualifications: FA Goalkeeping Level 1, FA Level 1 in Coaching Football, FA Futsal Level 1, FA Youth Modules 1 and 2. FA Mentoring Adults. Aiming to do the new FA Level 2 this year.
I started coaching in April 2012 when my son needed a coach for a new team at Leigh Ramblers. As with the majority of teams at grassroots level, the coaches are mums and dads of children on the team and I was incredibly out of my depth. How hard could it be? I had no experience of playing, no experience of coaching and no idea where to start, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made and I didn’t do it alone. I sat down with my son and his siblings and my wife Sharon and we discussed what it would mean for my son and the family, how it would work between my young footballer and I.
Since that day I have not stopped learning. Every day I find something to read, new methods to consider, new ways of teaching the players, new methods of engaging parents, and keep adding to my knowledge of the game. The more I learn, the more I realise there is so much more to learn. It has also helped me deal with my children outside of football as I learned more about how people learn, how they practice, the value of mistakes and when to push and when not to.
How would you define a parent(s) role within the youth sports environment?
Parents have more influence over their children than even they realise and they are the biggest role models in a child’s life. Having a parent, coach and child all on the same page is incredibly powerful and those that are not can cause all manner of issues. Parents first and foremost should encourage their child, whether they are succeeding or not in their eyes. Parents that put their own needs and ambitions ahead of what the child wants cause undue stress which impacts their enjoyment of the sport. Freedom to make mistakes is a big one that children need to be allowed without fear of repercussion.
What are the benefits of embracing parental involvement within youth sports?
The best improvements I have seen in children are when the coach, player and parent work together for the common goal of improving the child. Note I say child and not player because the improvements I have seen over the last few years are not all football related. I have had feedback from parents where the child has become more sociable since starting football, one was having anxiety attacks at school and they have abated, another has actually started engaging with his teachers whereas before this would not happen.
How have you as a coach/club attempted to increase parental involvement?
Since starting my coaching journey I have seen a broad range of negative behaviour from parents and coaches alike, ranging from screaming at a child, swearing at 16 year old referee’s (not that the age should make a difference), parents swearing at their own children and coaches marching on a pitch to rant at players and referees.
In Leigh Ramblers we have a great record of sportsmanship and parent behaviour and where that is not the case those parents have been approached in a calm manner to discuss the impact of their actions on the children. This year our U12 Green team won the Sportsmanship award from the Southend District Junior Sunday Football League, a testament to good behaviour from all members of the team, players, parents and coaches.
Communication from the club and coach to the parents regularly and as early as possible in the child’s football journey is essential. When this new season starts in September we (Leigh Ramblers) plan to get the new parents and their coaches all together to discuss the club, its philosophy, to answer any questions they may and to start to foster those relationships.
I personally found that setting ground rules for parent participation when they come on board is essential. I discuss with them my expectations regarding support for their child, communication of any issues from their side to me, their behaviour and input from the side-lines on match days, etc. and the move has been a positive one. I will now have team talks with the players with the parents around to hear the discussions so they are aware of what we’re saying to their children and after training, give the parents a 30 second overview of what their children have been learning that day.
End of season and start of season are good time for parents meetings to speak to child and parent together to discuss the way forward for them.
What challenges have you faced by attempting to increase the level of parental involvement?
As a coach we quickly learn that children are not all the same. They learn at different rates, play football for different reasons and have a different level of commitment to it and to learning. I’ve learned that parents are similar in their approach to their child’s sports participation. Some are full on all the time with emails, texts, want to discuss things about their children frequently, whereas others are very quiet, will listen to what’s going on with the team, but offer little in your direction regarding information or questions sometimes even when you attempt to engage them. Then there are those that won’t change or take on board other opinions.
Being somewhat of an idealist, I want to educate parents as to the best ways to improve their children and to help them enjoy their sporting experiences, but there are some that do not want to change their own ways. I find this attitude is most prevalent in parents who coached or were coached themselves when they were young and are reluctant to accept that there may be improvements or differences in the way to do things.
Have you seen a difference in youth athletes when parental involvement is embraced not neglected and/or ignored?
One of my previous players was always one where he’d be on top of the planet if things were going well but would retreat into himself when it wasn’t going his way. It would lead to behaviour issues in training and negative performances on the pitch. His parent was always very happy to discuss the issues with me when they arose and we were able to come up with a way forward to help the child through his difficult patch. The increase in confidence was huge.
Conversely one parent would drop his son at training and leave, come back and pick him up with never a word. Over the course of the year the child was getting less and less confident and the final straw was when the child burst into tears at the start of a tournament. When my wife and I asked him where is mum and dad were, he told them they had left. We’d been there an hour and had about 3 hours to go as is common with tournaments. The following week at another tournament they did not turn up because they had been out the night before. I asked the parent to consider his son first and not to sign him up for the following year.
What advice would you give coaches that are unsure and/or afraid about increasing parental involvement within youth sports?
It is always best to build relationships from the initial meeting with parents, give them the guidelines of expectations from and to them and their child. That way there are no surprises along the way and resentment is kept to a minimum. If the parent resents you as a coach already the bridges are far more difficult to rebuild.
Also… like coaching itself, it’s hard. But very worthwhile.
For those parents unaware of their influential role within youth sports, what advice would you give them?
Firstly, to consider their child and what the child wants before themselves. Too often parents do not realise negative impacts that they may be having on their children due to their own preconceptions of what they think their child wants. Ask.
What is next for you as a coach / club / organisation?
For me that would be the final third part of the FA Level 2 in Coaching Football since I already have the YM1 and 2 modules which form the first two parts. For the club, I am working with the FA Mentors to help develop a Philosophy for our club and hoping to get new parents, coaches and players together with the mentors before the season starts for the new U7’s in September.
You can find more about Lee on these social media outlets:
Thank you Lee for taking the time to complete the following interview questions.
The Sporting Influencer