Youth soccer games can be energetic and emotional. Parents, coaches, players, and referees all intently watching the game unfold. Emotions rise and harsh words are spoken, sometimes by accident interrupting the flow of the players.
When I was young, I played on a competitive, travel soccer team. My mom attended every game. She was my biggest supporter. During games, she would yell my name. Every time the ball was near my area, I would hear “Ian! Get the ball.” In hindsight, I’m lucky to have someone who dedicated so much of her time to my soccer career. Little did she know, she was extremely embarrassing and distracting. While her words were in good taste, they made me nervous as a player. Eventually, I told her that it was driving me crazy and she stopped. Sometimes you don’t realize the effect you have on people until they tell you.
Parents are a critical part of the team. They drive their kids to practice and games, they financially support them, and they emotionally support them during their highs and lows. Without parents, youth soccer wouldn’t exist. You need their support, but it’s important to set guidelines and boundaries to best support your efforts.
Here are a list of tips (in no particular order) that may help you dealing with parents and players.
1. Stay Positive
In the heat of a soccer game, emotions are high. Refs can make mistakes, players can miss opportunities, and you can misguide players. It can be a hectic environment. Parents comment from the sidelines about their child and your coaching. Any negative comments could affect players, refs or coaches in an adverse way, only to make the issue worse. As a coach, you have to remain positive in all scenarios.
Youth players need guidance but respond better to positive feedback than negative. Whether a ref calls an incorrect penalty or a parent yells something inappropriate, stay positive throughout the game. Remember you set the example for parents and players. Everyone is silently watching how you respond.
2. Voice Concerns After the Game
Certain parents can be quite rowdy and disruptive during a game. It can be difficult as a coach to manage the sidelines and the players at the same time especially if the parents are on the opposite side of the field. If you have to choose between the two, pick the players first. It is the reason everyone came together. They deserve your top focus.
After the game, shift your focus to the parents. Ask to speak with the parents as a whole or individually. If you feel there is one parent in particular that is causing the issues, keep in mind your environment. People are most likely going be defensive in front of a group of his or her peers. Try not to attack the parent or it could turn into an argument.
The best way to discuss your concerns is to setup a meeting with parents at another convenient time. This works well because emotions have settled. This will allow you to have productive conversation where no one feels humiliated in front of everyone. Lead with positive remarks and make recommendations on changes. Try not to point the blame and instead look for solutions to issues.
3. Focus on Development of the Child
Winning is fun and makes sports worthwhile. Athletes love to compete and win. This is part of their DNA. Coaches and parents are no different. We want to win as often as possible. No one wants to tell their friends that their child’s soccer team didn’t win a game the entire season. Parents love to brag about their children.
But, in youth soccer, winning isn’t everything. I’m not suggesting we give everyone participation trophies. But, the main focus is your players’ development. We all want the kids to become a better player and athlete. Kids play sports to have fun. If they are learning and enjoying the game, this is the primary goal. Winning is a by-product.
Therefore, keep your players’ development top of mind when watching games. Your desire to win might overpower their desire to play. This leads to unmotivated players and frustrated parents. Keep the main goal in mind.
4. Don’t Criticize the Referees
Being a referee is a difficult job. If you do a fantastic job, no one will congratulate you. If you make a mistake, everyone yells at you. It is a thankless job. Also, it depends on the league you coach in. Most leagues struggle to get enough help, therefore, they rely on anyone who can helps. This can lead to less experienced referees who are prone to make more mistakes.
Focus on the game and the things you can control. A good coach will discuss the referee if there were missed calls. Don’t yell or criticize. If parents witness you yelling at the referee, they will follow suit. Monkey see. Monkey do. Set the example of how to behave on the sidelines. Parents similar to children will follow your actions more than your words.
5. Distribute Club Rules
Every club has rules that you should read before the season starts. This way you are on the same as everyone else. It is always good to refresh your memory if you have forgotten. A lot of common questions will be answered to help you navigate the season.
Most parents won’t know all the rules of the club. Give a list of the rules at the beginning of the season. Gently remind parents of the rules as needed. People tend to forget of things over time that they don’t constantly refresh. Sometime parents aren’t aware of the rules that they are breaking.
Once all the parents are on the same page, they can help police other difficult parents for you. When one parent acts out, the other parents can help correct the behavior. It can be more effective to hear from other parents than coming from you.
Here is a short list of common rules:
- Bring your child attends all practices and games. Notify the coach ahead of time of any missed practices.
- Ensure your child brings equipment and uniforms to every practice and game.
- Parents should cheer and not shout instructions from the sidelines
- Parents should stand on the sidelines. Parents should not stand on the sidelines with players or behind goal posts. At no time should a parent step on the field.
- Parents should set the example
- Parents should respect the referees at all times.
6. Have a Parent Liaison
One of my favorite tips is to have one point of parent contact. For me, it is usually easier to deal with one person than with 15 different parents. The reason why is a lot of parents have the same question or concern. They all sit together in the stands, carpool kids to practice, and chat throughout the weeks. Most issues will be similar to each other.
Let the parent decide who would be best the fit for the position. Usually the best liaison is a person who can communicate effectively and is friendly with the rest of the parents. It’s important to have someone that people feel that they can approach with issues and speak freely. As a coach, I don’t think you need to be involved in the selection unless there is an issue.
I advise to have a recurring meeting with the parent liaison. This way all parents know answers can be answered in an efficient manner. This won’t eliminate all contact with the other parents. Some parents will have questions or concerns about their child. In this scenario, a one on one meeting might most effective.
7. Have a Pre-season Meeting to Set Boundaries
Before the season start, have a pre-season meeting for all parents and players. This is a great time to set the expectations and goals for the season. People have their kids play sports for different reasons. In this meeting, you can set the record straight. Let them know what you expect. It is much easier to set expectations on day 1 than introduce new rules half way through the season.
The goal is to reduce surprises and to educate the parents upfront. From here, if someone needs some clarification, you can discuss. There might not be another time that you have all parents in one room at a time. You have to be a leader of the players and a communicator with the parents.
To wrap in a few other tips, the pre-season meeting is a good time to pick a parent liaison, hand out club rules, determine
8. Have Fun
This goes without saying, but the goal of youth soccer is to have fun. This also applies to the coach and parents too. Everyone should be enjoying themselves.
When we take things too serious, we can get upset and lose our patience. Once we start to stress out, other people become affected. Have you ever worked for a boss that was super serious and stressed? I know I have. Usually this energy affects you and makes you stressed. Under a stressed situation, I make worse decisions. The same applies to children. As the leader of the team, parents and child will feed off your energy. Monitor yourself to make sure you are enjoying yourself and keeping it lighthearted.
9. Define How Parents Communicate with You
While most concerns can go through a parent liaison, every parent should have access to you. Determine the best way for parents to contact you. Everyone is different in how they use technology. I prefer text message because I am mostly likely to see it in a timely manner. But, figure out what works best for you. If you have time restrictions, feel free to let them know. For instance, you don’t accept calls after 9pm or before 8am.
There are many reasons why a parent might need you to contact you. For example, if a child can’t make it a soccer game or practice, it is easier for a parent to contact you directly than go through the liaison. Or some parents might have individual questions about their child’s development. These conversations are best suited for one on one interaction, since it doesn’t directly affect anyone else on the team. Give parents the outline to be heard.
10. Don’t Allow Gossip About Other Players
We all have first impressions. And it’s common to share those with the people around you. Parents may have an poor opinion of an opposing player. Coaches may not hear a lot of this chatter since they are on the opposite side of the field. However, your players might.
The best rule for parents is to not comment or engage with the opponents’ team or parents. Parents are best when they focus on their child and team. It keeps the game fun and supportive.
Confront parents that are speaking negatively about the opposing team’s players. If the opposing parents are the culprit, discuss the issue with the opposing coach on solutions. Get ahead of the issue before parents get involved.
12. Stay Calm
What is worse than a screaming parent? A screaming parent and a screaming coach. It is a spectacle for the entire field to see and nothing usually gets accomplished. Coaches get put into difficult situations. Handling angry parents is one of them.
In my time in dealing with difficult people, raising my voice never made the situation better. My best tip is to let them speak their mind. Take the heat of whatever they say, regardless if it is true.
Remain calm. When you speak to them calmly, there is a good chance they will start to calm down as well. Let them finish what they have to say before you state your point of view. A lot of times people just want to be heard. Once they run out of steam, then you can resolve the issue. It has worked wonders in many of my interactions, hopefully it can do the same for you.
13. Everyone Has a Role
There is nothing more confusing for a player than when a coach and a parent are yelling two different things at them. It’s confusing and distracting. Children know the sound of their parents voice and respond to it. Coaches must direct parents on how to support.
Parents should do exactly that support, not direct. Cheering is acceptable. Shouting commands and commentating isn’t acceptable. Most parents don’t understand how the amount of work and preparation you put into the game plane. Remind them. One way to demonstrate to parents is through example.
Imagine a child is in the classroom and the teacher is delivering her notes to class. A friend comes into class and sits across the classroom. This friend interrupts the teacher and class and describing the subject differently. Both the teacher and friend are teaching the same subject, but they are talking over one another. How much information do you think the child will obtain?
The parents can coach their children after the game or practice. This is out of your control, but when they are under your supervision, they listen to your instruction first.
All of these tips have a similar theme: communication. Most relationships can be resolved similarly. Communicate effectively and clearly to get everyone on the same page. No difference here.
If all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask a parent to leave the field or suspend them from watching games for several weeks. Punish the parents, not the players, for their actions. If needed, speak to your organization head for ways to enforce unruly parents that don’t seem to fall in line. Sometimes the only way to fix the problem is to drop the hammer. The parents must know you have that in your toolkit and you aren’t afraid to use it.