Attendance problems

The best time to deal with attendance issues is at the pre-season meeting.

Remember, soccer is a team sport. As a result, it creates huge problems for the coach and the team if the players don’t show up for games – as the absence of sufficient players spoils the game for everyone (and may even cause a game to be forfeited). Likewise, because many skills in soccer build on skills which were learned earlier, it can create a nightmare for the coach if a player consistently misses steps in the instruction – because the coach either has to make special effort to try to help the player to catch up; simply have the player sit out until he can find time to help him; or let the player flounder (which then disrupts the learning of his partner). Similarly, if the player is chronically late to practice, this leaves the coach with the same 3 bad choices (let the child sit; let him flounder; or try to juggle things so that he hold an extra parallel practice for the latecomer).

So, use this meeting to make clear what your expectations are on attendance. Talk about the importance of making a commitment – and keeping a commitment. Explain that you do not want to be the only adult who keeps their commitments and that, just as you won’t skip practices or skip games, you don’t expect the parents to allow their players to skip practices or games. Ask if everyone is willing to make a firm commitment to come to all of the practices and all of the games, unless there is some true emergency or illness. Hand out player agreements in which the player promises in writing to come to practices and games, and to work hard. Make a production out of this – and explain why you are doing so. Why is it important to address attendance problems early? The answer is easy. If you don’t push hard for good attendance, the kids who will end up leaving your team are the reliable ones (because they will be sick of playing on a team where nobody shows up – and where the practices are no fun, because coach is always distracted by trying to bring others up to speed or the team-mates cannot do the drills because they have missed so much work).

Furthermore, if the other parents/players see that Johnny is never coming to practices and not showing up for games (and coach doesn’t act like this is a problem), some others will be tempted to start doing the same thing. So, if you allow parents and players to believe that you don’t care if they show up and will accept any old excuse, your team is likely to be filled with players who show up when they feel like it – and whose skills (and win/loss record) reflect their lackadaisical approach. If one or two parents do not want to make this commitment, offer to try to move them to another team. And, if half or more of the parents do not want to make the same commitment to the team which you are, you need to consider whether it is worthwhile to bother with this group (because the chances are good that even the committed players won’t bother coming by the end of the season, as it is not much fun to play or practice with people who show up so seldom that they may not even know your name). You can flatter yourself that you can make the practices so much fun that the kids will want to be there. However, the kids don’t drive. Thus, if the parents view you as a glorified unpaid babysitter to use whenever it is convenient, or as a way-stop in a whirlwind tour of every extra-curricular activity in the universe, the pleas to return to practice will fall on deaf ears anyway.

Despite having this discussion at the outset, you may run into some problems with attendance by some players. Here are some things to do which may help you to nip these problems in the bud.

Always take attendance at practice. If anyone is tardy, note this as well.

Make a big deal out of any absence or tardiness. Tell the player that he was missed. Keep him late to go over anything that he missed (or ask for him to come early). Call the parents at home to ask why. Remind them that you need him at practice.

When a player is tardy, don’t allow him to join the group immediately. Put him to work on doing warmups or fast-footwork drills. Then, hold him out of the scrimmage at the end of practice to do special work. Make sure that he understands that the reason that he is not scrimmaging is because he showed up late.

If the player is late more a few times, talk to the parent and find out why. Suggest other transportation options. Suggest a carpool. But, make sure that the parent understands what happens to YOUR schedule when the player is late – as it is very unfair to expect you to run parallel practices or to disrupt others.

Take attendance at each game, and give a star (or small treat) to anyone who made all of the practices for the week on time and who showed up for the game on time (give a reduced award to the ones who were tardy). Allocate any extra time to those with perfect attendance. If your best efforts at persuasion do not work, then your primary objectives are: trying to get the other parents/players not to follow in the path of the irresponsible parent; and, if you cannot cut the child at the end of the season, trying to convince his parents to take him to another team.

Some coaches try to achieve these objectives by benching the absent player. However, this option often is not available to Rec coaches (because Club rules may require the coach to play a player for one-half game if he shows up, even if the child never comes to practice). Besides, if the team has to play short if the player is benched, it is difficult to do this without upsetting the other parents.

Even where benching is possible, it may be very hard to punish the child (who doesn’t drive) for the irresponsible behaviour of the parents. The child often looks so miserable that other parents and players will feel sorry for him (which can cause a backlash). Likewise, angry confrontations with the parents whenever they show up do little good (as this scares all of the other kids; tend to upsets the other parents (who won’t really understand what has gone on before or why you are so upset with this group of parents); and tend to affect how the coach comes across in the practices and games (because an irritated coach usually lacks a sense of humour and doesn’t seem to be having a good time)).

So, what can you do? First, talk to the Club and make sure that they know that you could use an extra player. Often, where a team is having to play short, the Club will bend the rules on signups and allow the other players to find a classmate to come to the team late. If you can get a replacement, it may be easier to diplomatically offer to let the other child drop off so that his parents won’t be bothered by having to bring him when it obviously is so much of a burden.

In most cases, you also will want to hold a team meeting to talk about how to handle the attendance problems (in order to place the spotlight on the problem and bring any complaints or problems out into the open). Some coaches are afraid to hold meetings to discuss attendance problems – because they fear that the irresponsible parents will claim that it is the coach’s fault that the child doesn’t come to practice. However, if someone is going to make these claims, there is a good chance that they already are doing it behind the back of the coach anyway – so it makes sense to get these complaints out in the open where the coach has some chance of giving a rebuttal to the back-biting.

Remember that, if the majority are not happy with your coaching, this is something that you need to know (as either you are wasting your time or you haven’t done a good sales job on your philosophy on player development). Quite often, parents with little involvement in team activities will blame the coach when what they really mean is “we don’t like the win/loss record” or “my child should be playing more”. This is why it is a good idea to address your definition of “winning” and your philosophies on playing time at the Preseason meeting – and to continue to give regular updates to the parents on the progress of the children, so that they will realize that the players actually are learning new skills in practice, which will help to improve their win/loss record over time.

Also understand that, to some parents, the only thing that matters is that their child is on a “winning” team (even as a bench-sitter). There also are parents who truly believe that they are entitled to drop in and out of any activity without penalty, and it is your job to be an unpaid babysitter for times when it is convenient for them to drop the child off. If most of the parents do not agree with your coaching philosophies, then you are the wrong leader for this particular group – even though you are a good person and may be a terrific coach. If you are the wrong person for the job which is being offered, then you need to know this – or you will be beating your head against the wall in frustration.

In most cases, the vast majority of parents have no interest in coaching; are very grateful that you are doing the job; and will be supportive once they understand the problems which you face when players are tardy or absent. Often, they can help to bring pressure to bear on the Club to provide another player to your team and/or help to locate an extra player. If this isn’t possible, they may be able to help you to talk the Club into disbanding your team and placing the responsible kids on other teams. So, the chances are good that you will manage to work things out in a manner which suits the majority. However, if you are offered a job by the majority which you just don’t want, don’t be afraid to turn it down