What exactly do parents want? That’s an important question for youth soccer clubs and coaches, and one worthy of extended discussion. So, in a completely unscientific study, I asked 25 youth soccer parents what they want from their child’s coach and club. This is the first of several posts that will look at what they said.
The group of parents I chose was not first-timers. Most of them have had more than one child participate in sports – soccer, swimming, lacrosse, baseball, basketball, football – at the youth club level, as well as high school and middle school. Their experiences range from great to miserable. Their answers covered a wide range of topics, many predictable, and the accompanying comments have a lot of value.
Let’s start with communication, something very important to parents and something most youth clubs don’t do very well.
I once heard a British coach compare soccer parents to the English media. “If you don’t feed them, they will eat you alive,” he said.
“Communicate frequently, using multiple methods,” said one mom.
“Keep us informed,” pleaded a dad.
A lot of coaches do not like to put things in writing for fear of a poorly worded sentence coming back to haunt them. And many shy away from public speaking and avoid addressing a group of parents staring at them.
But if parents don’t know what’s going on – and equally as important, why – they are going to come up with conspiracy theories that are usually half-true or wrong.
“Parents don’t like to guess at what’s happening,” said one mom. “What they imagine in their heads is usually far worse than the reality. We like to understand the reason behind decisions. What we come up with on our own is far worse.”
Coaches who can articulate their reasons for playing a certain system, or why Billy or Mary plays right back instead of striker, make their lives easier. Their reasons might not be what the parents want to hear, but at least they know. And the majority of parents will accept the explanation, unless it starts with “because I’m the coach and I know more than you.”
While keeping the adults informed is important, communicating with the players is crucial to parents.
Several parents who responded recalled the time when one of their kids had a knowledgeable coach who did not understand how to pass his knowledge on to the players or did not try to connect with the kids.
“I want a coach who can relate to my daughter in a way she can understand,” said one mother. “They have to understand how to coach kids at his/her age group and gender.”
Another dad wrote, “The coach has to be knowledgeable about the game and have the ability to relay that knowledge and experience to our daughter in a manner that she can understand and relate to.”
High on the list of what needs to be communicated to the players, parents say, is what is expected of them. If their child fully understands what the coach wants them to do, they are willing to accept the coach’s methods, even if they disagree.
“If my daughter doesn’t know what’s expected of her, don’t scream at her from the sidelines,” said one parent. “If she knows what she is supposed to do and continuously doesn’t do it, that’s another story.”
The parents polled don’t want an unreasonable amount of communication from their coach, and they aren’t asking for daily player-coach meetings. They really just want a few tidbits of information.
So feed them before they eat you alive.