Google+ Blueprint for Football: September 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Trouble With Parents (And How To Fix It)

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For most youth sports clubs, they can be the life-blood that keep them alive.  Parents tend to be the ones who pitch in when money needs to be raised, children need to be ferried about and maintenance has to be carried out.  Their work, always done on a voluntary basis and without the merest hint of expecting anything back in return is invaluable and should always be treasured.

That is how it is with the majority of parents.  You might come across some occasional personality clash but nothing that cannot be managed by a quite word or two.

But then there are the others, the minority who fail to see the distinction between youth football – the kind that is played for fun – and the professional game they watch on television during the weekend.

These parents – and, sadly, every club has at least one – can make life miserable.  Their own child will almost always bear the brunt of their criticism, regardless of how well they do.  That in itself is already a problem but it can, and usually does, get worse.  Other kids might kop a harsh word for not passing whilst the coach’s ability will be questioned were he to dare to play someone who isn’t as good simply for the sake of giving him some game time.  Then there are the snarky comments and underhand manoeuvres aimed at making sure that his (or her) child gets the best possible opportunities.  

It is a situation that blights many clubs and a continuous headache for many coaches.  Fortunately it is also one that can be handled and solved, provided that the club has prepared for such matters, something that in itself requires a number of steps to be taken.

Pre-Season Meeting
One of the ways through which a club can set the tone is by holding a meeting before the season starts.  There the club’s policies can be explained: how game time is decided, the playing philosophy, expected conduct and all the other behavioural standards that are expected both of the players and their parents.  

These can be as strict and as lenient as those running the club feel is necessary – for instance some feel the need to include good grades being obtained by the players for them to play, others don’t -  but, regardless, such a meeting will lay a marker, allowing anyone with any doubt to voice their opinion and ask any questions that they can have.  No one leaving such a meeting should have any doubt of what is and isn’t acceptable

Issue A Rule Book
Whilst the meeting itself is an extremely useful tool, there is the tendency of people eventually forgetting what was discussed.  Something that is written down, however, cannot be easily dismissed especially if it is also displayed on the club’s website.  It is why any club should put together its regulations in a rule book that clearly spells out both the expected behaviour and the potential disciplinary actions that could follow.  
There are those who believe that a contract should be signed between the club and the player.  Not one that binds them to the club but rather one that ensures their commitment to the behavioural code.  This can be seen as something of an overkill but it does have its benefits and should be seriously considered.

Ensure That All Coaches Know Policies
This might seem as rather obvious but, given how often coaches change at youth clubs, it is something that can easily be overlooked.  Every coach must buy into the club’s philosophy and one way of doing that is by knowing the behavioural code with which the players and their parents are bound.  

If a coach turns a blind eye to the actions of his star player, for instance, it will be difficult for the other players and parents to take anything they’ve heard seriously.  Unfortunately, what often happens in such circumstances is that matters don’t come out into the open until it is too late, with one or more parents (and players) holding back over a period of time until their tempers boil over.  

Sadly, such occurrences can ruin a lot of good work and it is often difficult to win back the aggrieved individuals.  Indeed, it can end up challenging to whole structure, influencing others who weren’t directly affected by the situation but who might harbour some slight grievance of their own.

Coaches are the most visible representatives of the club and their behaviour will invariably be interpreted as the behaviour of the club.  If they don’t follow the club’s rules, it is impossible to expect anyone else to do so.

Make It Easy To Complain and Act On Them
Despite best efforts, there will still be people who feel that they and their children are not being treated well.  Rather than letting these people hold on to their grudges, make it easy for them to come forward and complain.  

The best way to do so is to appoint an individual to whom any such complaints can be made.  Ideally, it should be someone who, whilst linked to the club, is not one of the coaches or directly involved in the running of the club; perhaps a former parent or coach.

Once a complaint is made, it is vital that action is taken immediately.  This does not mean that all complaints will be justified.  Indeed, it is important to really filter through them and gauge whether it is something brought about by petty jealousy or whether there is a real issue.  In either case, once a decision is taken – and this decision should not take excessively long to take - the individual should be the first to know of what action is to be taken. 

Whenever a complaint is made, it is extremely important for all those connected to the club to keep calm.  It would be infinitely better to discourage people from making complaints rather than lashing out as soon as one is made.  There can be no ‘how dare they complain given all we do for their kids’ mentality, much less thoughts of retribution or revenge.

No Comment Zone On Touchline
Strictly speaking, this should form part of the code of conduct but it is so important that it deserves to be highlighted separately.  Whilst, obviously, parent are allowed to attend their children’s games they should be forbidden from making any comments.  This might seem a draconian rule but a parent passing on what he thinks to be an encouraging comment or a helpful hint might easily sound like a rebuke to the child.  Therefore, avoid any possible misunderstanding – or worse – by encouraging parents not to pass any comments whilst they’re watching games.

Regularly Schedule Meetings
For most clubs, a pre-season meeting is as far as they’ll go.  Given the extra hassle that these involve, it is understandable why they are neglected.  Such meetings, however, play an important role in building an environment where everyone is comfortable and feels that everything is being done to improve the children.

Indeed, these meetings do not have to be about discipline or directly related to the football club but could be used to invite outside speakers to talk about nutrition, for instance.  The issue of discipline and parents’ behaviour can still be addressed but in a roundabout manner.

Apart from group meetings, a lot of the top youth clubs schedule regular – usually – quarterly meetings with the players where the coach, head-coach and player go over their performances in the previous months.  Whether the parents should be allowed to attend these meetings is debatable, with my personal preference being that of only including the player so that he truly takes responsibility of his performances and what he has to do next.  

The ideal is for there to be a tracking system – how often training was attended, how many minutes they played, notes from games where they played – so that performance can be managed over time.

This kind of meeting – which admittedly works better in older age groups – helps get buy in.  If the player has fallen short of expected performance, he can own up to it and together with his coach he may plan how best to get to previous levels.  Areas for improvement can be highlighted along with ways of achieving this improvement.

A side benefit of all this is that no one can complain that they aren’t being treated fairly if they’re having such regular meetings during which they can talk over things with coaches.

Promote a Family Atmosphere
Sadly most of the pointers here focus on what parent can’t and shouldn’t do.  The ideal, however, is to try and foster a family atmosphere.  Social events help but, more than that, tell them how they can contribute towards the well being of the club.  Indeed, go a step further and encourage them to provide ideas and feedback.  Sometimes, people on the outside can see things that those who are too engrossed in the day-to-day running are unable to.  It pays to let these people help.

Blueprint for Football has just issued Volume II to the Blueprint According To... series, featuring seven new interviews where coaches talk about their ideas, beliefs and blueprint for football.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Kids Just Want To Have Fun

Football, as with many other sports, can seem absurd for those who are on the outside looking in.  More specifically, it can be hard for them to comprehend how fans attach so much importance to the outcomes of a game.  Then again, when you support a team and pour in so much emotional commitment into following it, there quickly comes a point when it stops being a game and becomes something more than that.

Ultimately, however, it is just that; it is only a game.  There are things which are far more important than what happens on a Saturday afternoon and problems which are much more serious than your team’s failure to sign the star striker you feel is necessary to win the league.  Probably every fan (or at least the mildly sane ones) agree with this.

And whilst it might not be healthy, it doesn’t really matter if we take football a bit too seriously.  

Even so, there are limits.  Most people know that they shouldn’t be making bets that they can’t afford to lose.  Most people know that those around them aren’t at fault if their team loses.  Unfortunately there are those for whom those boundaries don’t exist. 

Sadly, among those who overstep the boundaries of decency one can find coaches.  It wouldn’t be too bad if the people they were coaching were adults.  Unfortunately, however, among those who fail to make the connection that this is only a game there are those who are coaching kids’ teams..

Children pick up football because they see it as a fun way to spend some time playing with their friends.  They want to get better and most of them want to win when they’re playing but, ultimately, they simply want to do something that they enjoy.

Often, if that is happening, then they will improve.  Not everyone will do so at the same rate but the more they enjoy it the more they’re eager to play which results in them getting better.  Coaches play a key role in this process as they’re the ones who have to make training sessions enjoyable.  This often involves extra work as they have to think of different and interesting ways to get the children – particularly the younger ones – to learn what they want them to learn.

Many dedicated coaches do this.   Sadly there are also those who don’t, coaches who don’t really pay attention to how many touches of the ball each child is getting, leaving them to stand around waiting for their turn to come.  

There are other ways through which coaches can ruin a kids’ experience.  Placing too much importance on winning is perhaps the most classic example yet favouritism – be it with the coach failing to check some parents’ bullying or for other reasons – can turn people off the game very, very quickly.

Indeed, even the language that the coach uses can play a determining role.  What does he say to correct a mistake?  Does he praise effort or is that praise only reserved only for when something that is to his likely is done?

Sometimes, for all their faults, these coaches are successful in that they manage to build winning teams.  But that is in the short term.  The true value of a coach lies in the long term: it does not lie in the tournaments or games won but in how many children they inspire, nurturing a life-long love for the game and for sport.

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