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Parents - Why must this always be a dirty word? | Coaching Children (Ages 5-12) | ConnectedCoaches

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Parents - Why must this always be a dirty word?

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Whenever the word is used in youth football, be it in conversation, a tweet or post, it always seems to accompany a negative thought. So many times, ‘Parents’ are said to not understand or not respect the coach. We all see reports of side-line behaviour by ‘Parents’. The Long Term Development Plan and Every Child Counts philosophies are never understood by the ‘Parents’.

So, I ask the question, is this a fair generalisation or do the very few blot the reputation of the overwhelming majority? How important are parents to the building of a team philosophy and crucially, how does our approach as coaches affect the differing attitudes between our supporters?

As you may have read before in my blogs, I’m lucky enough to coach for a team with an amazing set of supporters, offering encouragement, understanding and patience as we try to grow as a team of footballers and people. Some families have joined us having heard of our attitude and philosophy, whilst others have left us because of our attitude and philosophy. We can’t please everybody but there is one thing that I’ve always found consistent, which is something, as coaches, we should always consider.


Whether it’s a father of a promising 8 year old, a grandad of a child that needs some group activity or the mother of a kid that she just wants to spend some time out of the house, everybody is looking out for their own and this has to be understood by the coach. Parents, like children, have their own goals and their own dreams, their own ideas and their own perceived outcomes. So how do coaches, well educated in ‘Managing the Difference’ in ability of their players, take an eclectic mix of adults and try and form a cohesive and supportive group? How do we stay true to ourselves and our outlook? Are we sometimes to blame when things are less than perfect? Should we take a long look at our own actions before whining about being undermined.  Often I see instances where a coach is under pressure and reminds everybody they are just ‘unpaid volunteers’ and giving countless hours of their free time to the cause. Whilst the points are legitimate and commendable, we rarely hear the ‘before’ part of any incident. What part do we play in the weeks before as the tension builds? Whose fault was it that communication and trust broke down? Like everything, self-evaluation can often make any situation better.

 So, here I am, seven years into working with a team which is now at U14 level. A mid-table GR side with currently the best set of supporters that I have worked with or played against. The question is, am I lucky and it’s a generational thing or has the work we’ve done over years helped to build our football family? I can’t give a definitive answer to the question other than opt out and suggest it’s a mix of the two. All I can offer is some examples of what we do and what I’ve learned and let you decide if they helped.

 Has it been all good? No! Have good relationships broken down? Yes. Could I have prevented it? Possibly.

As can happen in mixed ability GR clubs, players move on. Some move house, others move schools and understandably go and play with their schoolmates and unfortunately others, probably driven by parental influence, find a ‘better’ club. I’ve played players ‘out of position’ as playing out wide can help a Central Midfielder understand where space might be and how a pass to the wing can create opportunities. I’ve played players that have a liking for Central Defence as strikers so we can talk later about how we deal with our positioning when the striker is mobile. I’ve had a good player who is comfortable at full-back, miss out for a half and stand with me while we look at how a back four can cover one another. All reasonable coaching techniques but for some Dads (and it’s usually Dads?) that sacrifice wasn’t worth the development and they wanted what they thought was best for their kid so convinced them to move (one cried after his last game). So, do I shrug my shoulders, say it’s their loss and claim I’m just a volunteer doing my best? That would be very easy but as I said, we have to look at ourselves in these situations before condemning the parents. I had the conversation about different positions with the player but crucially didn’t involve the parent(s). If I’d shared the plan at the beginning would the outcome have been any different? Was it fair on the kid that he was between two philosophies? To be honest, I have my doubts that a conversation would have helped but where I am disappointed in myself is that I didn’t at least try, especially as it’s happened twice. I should have explained, written the plan and sent it over. That way, I could now write that I’d done my best.

 So, how do we learn the lessons and try and avoid these instances by building this utopian idea of a happy football family.

Firstly and most importantly, I’ve learned to understand that the team belongs to the players, the parents, their extended family and the club. Whilst every coach has the responsibility of where and when, along with who plays, that’s just a role we agreed to take on. A coach’s part in the process is unique but that doesn’t necessarily make him or her a figurehead. It isn’t ‘My’ team, it’s ‘Our’ team. Everybody has a voice and our team photos reflect this. I’m not a fan of player line-ups with the coach standing proudly behind or by their side, tall and happy with his work. Our team photos either have just the players in them or the whole football family. Parents, brothers, sisters, dogs and maybe a coach in there somewhere. A sense of Ownership is important in our training sessions but it’s also vital within our clubs.

 Meeting with the parents is paramount, whether it be an organised team thing or a chat by the side of the pitch. This is where we can learn about the kids, their week, their troubles and their thoughts. Some of the parents’ ideas are interesting and as the coach, they must be taken on board and discussed. We’ve recently played a team that often hands us a heavy defeat. A set of parents and their kids came up with an idea on formation and positioning that they thought would help. It hadn’t crossed my mind but I decided to go with it in a positive way and we ended up with a fantastic result and also a number of options as to how to develop the new system which I’m now working on. I’m glad I listened. A coach that knows everything is no coach at all and if we don’t value what the parent has to offer, than why on earth should we expect their total support?

Another thing learned is that feeding back to parents is essential. Again, we do it with players in sessions, explaining why we’re doing things and checking learning so why do some of us not do the same with the football family? A few years ago I heard I was being criticised for coaching U9s by letting them pretend they were Pirates with Crocodiles trying to catch them. Many guys out there (especially those who have tried the Youth Modules) will understand the movement patterns we were creating but this still was a problem for a Dad who couldn’t link it to football. Now, it’s easy to dismiss the Dad as a negative ‘Parent’ (see first paragraph!) but picture the scenario when he asked his boy (later an academy trialist) what he’d been doing and his lad told him ‘playing pirates’. The player enjoyed the session but had no idea that he was learning important FUNdamentals while he was doing it so how was Dad to know? Unfortunately, the conversations took place behind my back but rather than have the tension, I decided at that point that I would email training reports each week to the parents, explaining the topic and the method of bringing it out and this evolved into being able to explain how our matches were and extension of the current topic and why we were looking for certain outcome and improvement rather than a result. We may not have won the games but I was able to point out the body shapes of U9 when they were receiving or the fact that players were actually checking their shoulders and the parents began to know what we were looking out for each week and crucially, support their child with the challenge. This didn’t work for everybody as some still needed the win and later moved on, but there was a definite change in some relationships and I started receiving ideas and feedback in comments boxes. It’s worth pointing out that although the negative parents get the column inches (due to their complete football knowledge and love of punditry) there are many parents out there all too aware that they have little understanding of the game and find some information useful. I’ve worked in a team with a parent with no football history as she was devoted to rugby. She commented that she found the session plan really helpful in understanding what to look out for. This regular emailing was my first real venture into involving everybody in the process and I still maintain it’s the single most positive move I’ve made to date.

There’s many more examples I could use but they all have the same theme. Involving the parents in discussions, decisions and your ultimate goals will almost certainly make your coaching easier. Football is a team game, both on and off the pitch and we’ll all do well to remember it. There are some people out there that just don’t get it and never will but Coaches need to be aware that they themselves are a team member. A leader but not the Boss. Hopefully with communication, sharing and understanding, ‘Parents’ will no longer be in danger of becoming a dirty word?

Thanks for reading


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Comments (2)


“So, I ask the question, is this a fair generalisation or do the very few blot the reputation of the overwhelming majority?”

One bad apple can spoil it for the whole bunch and so there are reasons why it could be a fair generalisation becasue,
“We don’t see reality as it is, we see reality as we are.” Prof D. Hoffman
With a mental mechanism called “conformational bias” we reject what doesn’t fit into our beliefs and believe what does, even with over-whelming evidence to the contrary. We don’t like contradictory evidence of our beliefs and prejudices.
“Good science is to not fool yourself, and the easiest person to fool is yourself.” Albert Einstein
Everyone DOES have their own perceived dreams, outcomes and goals, and this can be wholly different to what it takes to be the best, one can be. There is nothing more inconsistent, than a human being; there is nothing more complex than the human brain. The great Sugar Ray Lenard understood this when he said; “The biggest fight I had, was the one with myself getting in the way of my success. When I won that, that’s when I became world champion.”
The data speaks for itself; the chance of finding a parent that really understands what is needed to achieve elite success, must be the same as the chance of finding an athlete with the same understanding; and finding both together, even rarer, and even if they do, they have to find a coach that also gets it. “There are some people out there that just don’t get it and never will.” Elite sports psychologists call it the golden triage. Probably why so few really get the results they are capable of; chance. And Chance is the right word, finding an Olympic potential is the same as winning the lottery, someone wins every week, just as someone is struck by lightning, it’s about the same odds. A lot of coaches and most parents, sell dreams and not reality.

In terms of psychology, the coach is highly motivated, it’s their job.
In terms of psychology, the athlete is highly motivated, it’s their dream.
In terms of psychology, the parent’s motivation, comes from what?
It can only come from one area, and that is ‘vicarious’, living through something else other than yourself. Reflected glory, if my kid is perfect, I must be perfect. Parents do not ONLY want what is best for their kids but when you find them, they are as rare as the athlete that is truly committed to the process. We don’t really get to understand anything until we stress test it, any decant coach knows this.
Everyone IS looking out for their own, but often it’s their own self they are looking out for (Ayn Rand was one of the leading academic authorities of this, Richard Dawkins the latest).
One can’t please everybody, BECAUSE not every parent wants what is best for their kid. There is nothing more inconsistent, than a human being. “There are some people out there that just don’t get it and never will.”

There’s a reason why the subject of parents is so contentious and at the fore front, it’s because, not all parents have the best interests of their child and not because of lack of effort from the coaches.

It’s a Utopian dream idea where everybody knows everything, we’ve had our best philosophers and psychologist over the past 3000 years and still nobody has come up with the perfect way of living, if it was out there, we’d be doing it by now. But Rich Bland is right, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, Coaches’ live in hope.
Every human has debatably “Free-Will” and it’s the parents’ choice, not the coaches, to be a dirty word.

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Researchers Zilibotti and Doepke assert that parents are driven by a combination of altruism -- a desire for their children to succeed -- and paternalism that leads them to try to influence their children's choices, either by molding their children's preferences or restricting them. These motivations manifest in three parenting styles: A permissive style that affords children the freedom to follow their inclinations and learn from their own experiences; an authoritative style in which parents try to mold their children's preferences to induce choices consistent with the parents' notions of achieving success; and an authoritarian style in which parents impose their will on their children and control their choices.
"There is an element of common interest between parents and children -- a drive for success -- but there is tension where parents care more about their children's wellbeing as adults," Zilibotti said. "We postulate that socioeconomic conditions drive how much control or monitoring parents exercise on their children's choices."

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