The Rift (Part one of three)

by Tony Earp, Senior Director of Programming SuperKick/TeamZone

If you are around youth soccer long enough, you will certainly hear a coach complain about a parent or a parent complain about a coach. This is not news and everyone has accepted this is a part of youth soccer. It is unrealistic to believe a team can go through a season without a conflict or two between the coach and a parent. There will always be difference in opinions in regards to how coaches coach and how parents feel coaches should coach. There is not one right answer and you will get different opinions from different parents and different coaches about what is “right” and “wrong” when working with kids.

Every parent has different expectations for their kids and how they feel their kid should be coached. Some parents may want their kids to be pushed harder by a coach and expect the coach to be “tough” on their child when mistakes are made. Other parents want coaches to be heavy with the encouragement and never want to hear a negative statement made to their child. Some want a balance of both.

Parents’ opinions will differ on what the coach should be coaching and how the coach should do it. Some want more technical training while other parents want more tactical training. Some parents want their child to be taught how to play a specific position and others want their child to learn many positions. Parents may feel a coach does not do enough conditioning and other parents feel the same coach is doing too much conditioning.

Coaches are no different. Ask different coaches what they feel is important for players of different age groups and you will NOT get the same answer from all of them. All coaches coach a little different and feel some things are more important than others at different age groups. Although there are basic principles coaches tend to follow, you can put the top coaches in the world in the same room and have a very lengthy debate about “best practices” when training players and working with teams.

Between the differences in parent expectations and the vastly different types of coaches who work with youth players, a natural “rift” will form between coaches and parents. This rift can often lead to issues throughout the season, long and uncomfortable meetings, kids switching teams, coaches opting not to coach anymore, and a feeling of “us against them” for the coaches and parents.

As there will always be difference in opinions and issues that come up throughout a season between coaches and parents, I do not think the rift needs to be as big as it seems to be made each season. Coaches and parents need to work together to make each season a positive experience for youth players. Not against each other! Frankly, without a collaborative effort and understanding of one another, a season will quickly become a negative experience for the player, the parents, and the coach.

How do we bridge the rift between coaches and parents? Well, here are some areas where parents and coaches must gain a mutual understanding before the season even begins:

Player vs. The Team

Coaches have to walk a tricky line during a season when trying to do what is best for the entire team and each individual player. At times, it is impossible to do both. Coaches have to make tough decisions about playing time and where kids play on the field in an effort to give the team the best chance to be successful. This can put an individual player in a situation that is not ideal for his/her development or not allow them to enjoy playing the game as much. The coach still needs to make the best effort to ensure each individual player gets the same opportunities, but in team sports that is not always guaranteed. It is the nature of being on a team.

From the parents’ perspective, all want the team to do well and have success, but that is not as important as how their individual child is doing. It is not because they are paying for their child to be part of this team and with that comes certain expectations about playing time and opportunities (although it is part of it). It is simply because all parents want the best chance for their kid. When that chance is taken away by a coaching decision, it is irrationally blind for a coach to be apathetic to the parents’ feelings on the matter.

Coaches need to understand parents are going go care more about how their individual child is doing versus the team, but parents need to also understand the coaches have the responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of the entire team and individual players at the same time. There will be times when a coach may have to decide between the two. This is not easy. Veteran coaches struggle with it, so a new coach will certainly run into issues and make mistakes.

When this occurs, coaches and parents need to discuss this openly. Both need to come with an open mind and willing to understand the other person’s point of view. Even better, this needs to be discussed before the season begins! How will decisions like this be made? What is the process? What is considered by the coach? Etc…

How a coach makes these decisions will differ in relation to the age of the kids, competition level of the team, the organization’s philosophy the coach has to follow, coach’s personal views, and other pertinent variables. If the parents and coach discuss how this Individual Player versus The Team question will be addressed before the season, it is less likely to be an issue throughout the season. (In Part 2: What’s best for the player and communication)

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

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