Google+ Blueprint for Football: The Trouble With Parents (And How To Fix It)

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Trouble With Parents (And How To Fix It)

This post was originally sent to subscribers of Blueprint for Football Extra.  Join here, for free.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment