A few years ago, I was walking around the soccer fields at the North Carolina State Cup. Parents were settling into to their chosen spots on the sideline, setting up their chairs and chatting nervously.
Down the sideline, somewhat removed from the rest of the parents, sat Carla Overbeck, a two-time World Cup-winning defender with the United States. Her daughter was playing. On a nearby field, sat Steve Smith, a 15-year NFL veteran wide receiver, getting ready to watch his daughter. Later in the day, Chuckie Brown, who spent 13 years in the NBA, would be there to watch his daughter, and Ricky Proehl, a 17-year NFL vet, would be watching his niece.
If any one of those former professional athletes approached you as a coach, you would pay attention to what they had to say, right?
In truth, getting any kind of opinion out of a former athlete who has played at a high level is difficult. They understand the dynamics involved and have accepted their role as just another person on the sideline, not the coach.
As Mia Hamm, now a mother of three, once said, “My kids are going to have a lot of coaches in their lives, but they are only going to have one mom.”
For a lot of youth soccer coaches, however, the only parent they will listen to is one with that type of pedigree. And that’s a missed opportunity. Any piece of information a coach can get about a player can be helpful, and parents are the best source of information about their child.
In the process, the coach might have to listen to a parent’s opinion of how their child is being used, the position, what’s wrong with the team, and all that. But coming away with something, anything that might help motivate or challenge the player can be valuable.
Back when the WUSA women’s professional soccer league was in full swing, Marcia McDermott was the coach of the Carolina Courage. After any Courage home game, McDermott would stick around on the field, while the players signed autographs. First, she’d chat with the club president. Then Anson Dorrance would come by and talk with her about the game. Then Dorrance’s long-time assistant coach Bill Palladino would offer his thoughts. Next, any one of the many knowledgeable fans would come by to provide some insight into the team’s performance.
After one particularly demoralizing loss, she was asked how she managed to handle all the well-meaning advice immediately following a game. She said, “You never know what you might learn. Besides, I think I have a really good filter.”
Many youth soccer coaches, especially young coaches, replace the filter with avoidance or arrogance or intimidation.
Some have taken avoidance to the point of creating a rule that parents are not allowed to talk to the coach. “I will talk to your child, but not you,” is the line they use. The perception is that arrogance, or perceived arrogance, is a tool used to avoid parents, while in truth, the coach is oftentimes intimidated by the parents. They find it easier to just not deal with them.
But coaches’ avoidance of parents is, sadly, not without good reason. Parents, of course, have proven to be unreasonable about their child’s ability and impatient with their development.
But they also know their child better than anyone. They know what kind of learner they are, what best motivates them, and what is going on in their lives at any given time.
So instead of ignoring and avoiding parents, listen to them and use your filter.