A game for your players’ parents!

If you want success as a coach you have to make sure all the parts go together. One of the most important parts is your parents. They have the ability to make or break your season. You not only need them on your side, you need them to support and help your players at the side of the pitch.

One of the ways I do this is to get them on the pitch and get your players on the side and play a game with your players shouting at their parents. It’s a good bonding exercise and a good way to show parents how they must be positive not negative towards the players.

Call a meeting of your players’ parents and tell them to bring their trainers. Start by laying down the laws for behaviour at matches – this is one of the most important things you will do. Parents like discipline and guidance.

End the meeting by making the parents play a short match.

Tell the parents to sort themselves into two teams and get your players to stand on the sideline and scream and shout at them like parents do at matches. The children will love doing this.

Get them to play a short game – 5 minutes each way – with the children shouting from the sidelines.

Add some confusion yourself by shouting “CLEAR IT” or “SHOOT!”

After the game ask them what they could hear from the sidelines. Most will say “it was too difficult to listen when I was trying to concentrate”. Then ask them what they think their own children hear. They should see that reacting to situations is hard enough without being shouted at.

For the parents who did hear what was said – often what you the coach shouted – ask them if this instruction or direction helped them.

The only thing that yelling directions or instructions to a player accomplishes is to distract them from their focus.

By showing the grown ups how it feels to be a player they should realise that shouting at them is not a positive thing. Some parents will still yell their heads off, but they have been taught a lesson in using positive language and the majority will do so.

Parents and motivation in youth soccer

by Dr. Alan Goldberg, sports psychologist and consultant

Two weeks ago I was in the middle of a tennis match when I was distracted by a rather loud, incredibly annoying voice coming from 10 courts away. When I looked over, I saw a father giving his 12-year old son what looked to be a tennis lesson. The boy was up for a tennis camp for the entire week and it seems that Dad decided to also make the trip so he could spend some quality time with his son and give him a little extra “instruction.” I guess the 7 plus hours a day the boy was already getting at the camp wasn’t quite enough. Perhaps the boy wasn’t motivated enough.

As I listened and watched this father angrily gesture at his son, I wondered if he had any inkling of the damage that he was doing. His tone was impatient and abusive, as if he couldn’t understand why his son was unable to do exactly what he was asking. I wonder if somehow he thought his frustration would somehow motivate his boy to do better. A minor point here. As a teaching pro with 22 years experience what Dad was saying did not exactly constitute high quality instruction.  To put it quite bluntly, Dad did not know what he was talking about. But even if he did, it wouldn’t have mattered. The way that he was interacting with his boy was more of the issue. He was pushing, prodding, demeaning and bottom line, emotionally abusing his son. Is this motivation? The irony of all this is that dear old Dad probably had no awareness at all of the harm that he was doing. Here he had taken a whole week off from work to have a special bonding experience with little Johnny. He was being a good Dad. And I bet his heart was in the right place too. I’m sure he really wanted his young son to grow up happy, with a passionate love for the sport and some talent as a tennis player. Unfortunately he was going about this completely wrong! I’ve seen this scenario played out too many times before to not see the handwriting on the wall. Little Johnny is going to get so fed up with Dad’s “help” that he’s going to begin to hate both tennis and Dad. Soon he’ll quit tennis and have nothing to do with Dad.

Do you really want to motivate your child to reach his/her potential as an athlete? Do you really want them to go “all the way” or at least as far as possible? If your answer to these questions is a resounding “yes” and you’re truly serious about giving your child as big a motivational boost as possible, then read the following very carefully.

Pushing your child towards certain athletic goals that they may or may not have will backfire in your face! It is not your job to motivate your child-athlete. It is not your job to push or pressure them. Doing this will only kill their love for the sport and cause them to ultimately lose respect for you.

Your children’s motivation to participate and excel in a sport is something that should come from within them, not you. They should compete because they want to. They should practice because they want to. They should have their own reasons and own goals. They should pursue their own dreams. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but when it comes to your child’s sport, your dreams don’t count.

Make your child a winner!

by Gary Williamson, NTSSA State Coach, reproduced by permission of the North Texas Soccer Organisation

I often hear the comment “Oh well it’s just a game!”

I wonder?

Playing on a soccer team can be an important experience in your child’s life. Participation can help your child physically and personally. However, placing your child on a soccer team does not guarantee a beneficial experience.

As a parent you can help your child have a positive experience in playing soccer.

The type of support you give your child can make soccer fun and rewarding or the cause of anxiety and stress. You can motivate your child and help to develop a healthy, positive self-image.

Here are some suggestions:

Children play soccer to have fun.

They also play to learn and improve their skills, to enjoy exciting times, to be with friends, and to stay in shape. In order to maintain or improve your child’s motivation for playing soccer, find out why they like to participate and support their reasons for playing.

Success in Soccer is more than just winning.

Young children equate winning with success and losing with failure. If children win a game, they feel good or worthy. If they lose they feel incompetent or unworthy. This attitude toward winning can be discouraging to children, unless they are always winning. One of your most important roles, therefore, is to help your child keep winning in proper perspective. Try to redefine success in terms of the actual performance or how well your child and the team played. Focussing on the performance rather than the outcome helps keep the game in perspective.

Your child may also need guidance in how to deal with success. I n winning, two things can happen. Long run success may come to easily that the competitive game loses its challenge. Your child may become complacent and/or arrogant. Conversely the pressure to win may result in a lack of motivation if your child dreads playing in fear of failure. Your child may not be able to perform well and may want to quit. Give encouragement and positive support if this is the case. It is important that you assist your child in understanding their contribution to the team’s overall performance

Winning is fun

Your child needs to know that striving to win is important. Being successful in soccer also means making improvements and striving to do one’s best. You can help develop this winning attitude in your child by encouraging maximum effort during practices and games, rewarding their improvements in mastering skills, and supporting your child to try their best. The will to win is important but the will to prepare to win is of greater value.

Losing is inevitable if your child plays soccer.

Your child must learn to accept themselves after a loss, this is an important part of participation in the game. Instead of finding excuses it is important for your child to understand the reasons why the team lost. Such reasons may include superior competition, too many mistakes, poor preparation to compete at this level, or maybe the players have a poor attitude. Whatever the reasons your child needs to regroup. Focus on better preparation physically and mentally for training and the next game so he/she can do better next time. This is a valuable lesson.

Realistic goals will help your child.

Compare current performances with past performances to determine whether your child has been successful. Your child must experience success at a level that demands his/her best effort. When your child’s skill level improves they realize that effort equals success, and will feel a sense of accomplishment.

Encourage skill improvements, good plays, and good behaviour.

Remember to praise effort—not just good performance—this will motivate your child to try hard. The best way to encourage is by praising or with physical response: a pat on the back, thumbs up, or smile. Try to avoid giving money or other material rewards, which may turn play into work and have a negative effect.

Mistakes are part of learning the game of soccer

Your child will make plenty of them. When your child makes a mistake, they know. They do not need reminding by you. That’s when they need your encouragement: “Great try!” “Good run!” “You’ll get it next time!” “Super game!”. You cannot play the game for your child. Let them make decisions and learn through trial and error. Be patient and assist. If your child displays continual frustration, you can help by giving ideas, or practicing with your child on his/her skills to correct mistakes.

Avoid criticizing and punishing your child for mistakes

If you do your child may fear failure. In turn this could lead to stress and worry about not performing well and to dread the possible disapproval of parents, coaches, and teammates. Never be negative to someone else’s child. It hurts the child and parents. It also creates unwanted tension. Negative criticism hinders rather than improves performance for the individual and the team.

Fulfil your responsibility

As the number and variety of soccer teams flourish, it becomes increasingly necessary for you to investigate the suitability of the different programs for your child. You have the right and responsibility to ask questions before allowing your child to participate on a soccer team. Seek to find a compatible match between the philosophy of the program and the reason why your child wants to participate in soccer.

Words of caution

  • Identifying with your child is perfectly natural

You want your child to be successful. Be careful not to live out your own dreams through your child. Seeing a child’s performance in sports as a reflection of one’s self-worth and success can result in parents setting unrealistically high goals for their child. This can place pressure to perform beyond their capability, a major cause for stress in soccer for children.

  • Be a good role model

Be mindful of your behaviour at games. You expect your son or daughter to show good sportsmanship and self-control. As the parent you need to exhibit appropriate behaviour yourself, no matter how frustrating it may be to see a poor call or bad play.

  • Let the coach….COACH

During games and practices, leave the coaching to the coach. It confuses players when they receive instructions from more than one source. Your child has the ball, their mind is racing, here comes a defender or two, a split second decision is necessary. Then suddenly from the sidelines: “Shoot!”, “Pass!”, “Cross!”, “Kick it!”

“Hustle!”. Confused your child hesitates and is stripped of the ball. Then we hear from the sidelines: “Why didn’t you shoot?”. Children go out on the field to do their best, and they expect their parents to do the same.

Many of the adult leaders are unpaid volunteers. As a parent, you should be realistic in your expectations. However, the adult leaders that your child is associated with should possess some basic characteristics, which are favourable to the development of young people. Adults you would like to see your child imitate.


Avoid punishing your child when their team loses. If you do, losses are viewed as personal failures, a blow to their self worth. Teach your child how to cope with failure. Help your child to understand that no one does everything well. Show your child that failure presents a challenge and provides an opportunity to learn. Allow your child “space” to do things alone. This may require more patience on your part, but it will pay off in the long run. Respect your child’s feelings and thoughts.

Realistic expectations

You must be sensitive to your growing child as they develop physically, mentally and socially. You must realize that your child is not a miniature adult, and they have a right to play in an environment that is developmentally appropriate to their age and ability.

It’s Just A Game!

There is no guarantee that soccer can instil self-discipline or build character. There are plenty of good lessons mixed with soccer instruction and participation. Experiencing “the game” is of greater value than cheap trophies. Success comes from self-discipline, perseverance, paying the price, and playing within the rules. Adversity builds resilience. Teamwork brings rewards. Unique individual talents and achievements are also highly valued. As a parent I hope you are teaching your child more than just the ability to run faster or kick the ball harder or winning the game at all costs.

Playing the game of soccer is fun, but there are times when we must ask, at what cost? Do you want to win so badly that your family turns out to be the losers? If recreational soccer adds to the stress it should relieve because you focus on the score, the game has become more important than the children who play it.

For example, when the youth coach defeated their arch rivals at the local league game, it cost them one red card and five yellows. Moreover, one player was “taken-out” (injured for the season), and three players will miss the next game through injury. All this in addition to the referee’s report of unsporting behaviour and verbal abuse by players and adults who constantly berated the opposition and officials during the game.

After the game one of the parents congratulated the coach on his victory, and the coach replied, “Another such victory, and we are ruined.”

How to deal with an unruly parent

As a youth soccer coach you are responsible for maintaining peace on the sidelines. If you are to succeed in this you need to be aware that your behaviour – good or bad – is contagious.

A wild coach incites wild behavior by both players and fans. Usually a well-behaved coach is supported by well-behaved fans, but occasionally there may be an individual on the sidelines who continuously berates and abuses the referees and opposing players. This is perhaps the most difficult problem the coach must face.

Inappropriate behavior by parents at youth sporting events undermines the effort of the most well-intentioned coach in teaching sportsmanship and fair play. It sends a powerful message to young players that such behavior is acceptable. But how should the coach handle a disruptive parent or fan?

A proactive approach can be the key to avoiding problems with unruly parents. Before the season starts, the coach should meet with all the parents and discuss the objectives and philosophies of the program and his own personal coaching philosophy. Issues such as the role of winning and losing, playing time and discipline are important topics at this meeting. Just as important is an explanation of what parents can expect from the coaching staff and what the coaching staff expects from the parents.

I take this opportunity to explain to parents that the coaches are dedicated to providing a safe and positive sports experience for the children, that we have pledged to observe a coaches code of ethics and that we expect to be held responsible for our actions. I then ask for their pledge, as parents, to support the team in a positive manner and discuss specific unacceptable behavior patterns as they might relate to the players, the game officials and our opponents. Thus, bad behavior on the part of adults is established up front as unacceptable and the groundwork has been laid should future conversations with unruly parents become necessary.

Unacceptable behavior by adults at youth sporting events should never be ignored. However, confronting an angry and disruptive parent during the heat of a game may add fuel to a potential fire. Rather than confronting the offensive individual, the coach should appeal to the immediate group of fans for encouraging and positive support. This indirect plea by the coach often settles the disruptive fan. After the game, the coach can approach the individual discretely, directly and diplomatically remind him or her of their pre-season pledge and explain that such actions embarrass the players, undermine the youngsters’ sports experience and do not help the team. Encourage the parent to be positive in the future and to remember that the game is for the children not the adults.

If, after this reminder, inappropriate behavior continues, take the matter to league officials. Posting an official such as the program commissioner conspicuously in the stands to observe the trouble maker may keep the disruptive individual quiet, at least temporarily. The league should follow up this action with a letter notifying the offender that continuing irresponsible behavior could result in banishment from games.

Hey parents! Leave them kids alone!

This article was submitted by coach Chris.

I suggest that you hand it out as part of your welcome pack to new parents, at pre-season meetings or whenever you have a problem with parents shouting ‘advice’ from the touchlines or asking why their little star isn’t getting more of a game.

When I was a kid one of the lads we played football with often brought his dad along to play in goal as none of the other kids liked going between the sticks (or cones in our case).

Which was great we all thought because Tommy (the kids’ father) was a brilliant goalkeeper and would really make us work hard to get a goal where as us lot (the kids) were all rubbish ‘keepers in comparison.

However, the downside to Tommy’s presence was his irritating insistence on bellowing out instructions to his son and us kids at every turn, never failing to point out to us where we were going wrong – in his eyes – as well as thinking he was refereeing a World Cup Final, when in actual fact he was playing in a makeshift goal during a game of singles and doubles or headers and volleys on a lop sided pitch somewhere in inner Newcastle between 10-15 kids ranging from the ages of 8 to 13.

Tommy meant well of course, but all us kids wanted to do was play football – our football – where we were the referees, the game was the teacher and adults were not welcome.

It got to the stage where poor Tommy’s son would often apologise for his father’s, shall we say ‘enthusiasm’, and others taking up the post as ‘keeper against their will just to escape Tommy the referee as he had become known to us kids.

Today Tommy hasn’t changed at all, he is still there shouting from the touchline and acting as an unofficial referee waving imaginary yellow cards about and blowing on his imaginary whistle while blasting out instructions like a Premiership manager berating his troops for letting a lead slip.

If your name is Tommy, I have one thing to say to you – leave those kids alone! You are benefiting no-one: not your son or daughter; the coach or the other kids. I’m sure you mean well but all you’re doing is making a fool of yourself. That’s right.

You are not a Premiership manager and these kids are not professional footballers. They are kids and they don’t need someone on the touchline jumping up and down like a lunatic as if their very life depended on the outcome of the match or the performance of their child.

  • One of the biggest reasons for kids falling out of love with the beautiful game is pressure
  • One of the biggest headaches for coaches is pushy parents
  • One of the biggest dreams of any parent is for their child to become a professional footballer
  • The reason kids play football is because it is fun

Take the fun factor out of the game for kids and the depressing statistics prove that they soon get bored with it and give it up and that would be criminal because football really is the beautiful game in the eyes of those who play it. It hasn’t become the world’s most popular sport by accident!

As a parent or guardian it is very hard to stand there and watch as your kid falls flat on his/her face or lose out to an opponent.

Your instinct is to drive them on and encourage them, but there is a fine line between encouragement and being pushy or exerting unnecessary pressure on your kid. Sadly the latter is quite common.
Those parents who are pushy can force their child into their shell and make them afraid of making a mistake – afraid to let YOU the parent or guardian down!

That is wrong, no kid needs that and no parent or guardian should EVER make a child feel ashamed or embarrassed of their performance, ability or the result of a match they participate in, much less be critical.

Kids are very tough and resilient but by the same token they are also very fragile and need the confidence and belief of their parents or guardians and that can only come from YOU.

In your role as the parent or guardian you can HELP your child or a child by showing:

  • Encouragement
  • Patience
  • Understanding
  • Confidence

You can also HELP your child or a child by:

  • Praise
  • Clapping
  • Listening
  • Showing interest

All these things can help a child not only develop but get more out of the game. With you on their side your child will feel on top of the world and unbeatable. They will draw so much confidence from you any fears or self doubt will disappear.

The pushy parent or guardian on the other hand can destroy a kids’ confidence, fill them full of fear and take the fun and pleasure out of playing football that comes naturally to all those participating in the sport, and once that happens it is very hard to reverse or address.

Your role doesn’t just stop once a game has finished either, pre and post-match is vitally important too.


You should never place demands on your kid prior to a match like “score me a goal” or “get stuck in”. Instead send them off with “have fun” or “enjoy yourself”. That way they go into the match in a relaxed state of mind and with zero expectations placed on their young shoulders – which is very important.


When a match has finished tell your child how well they played and that you are very proud of them. Never be critical or offer analysis. Sometimes kids will know exactly how well they did or how well they didn’t do and don’t need you to remind them of a poor performance or equally to indulge them if they had a great game.

Kids have naturally high expectations of themselves and can be their own worst critics. If your child comes off the pitch critical of their performance and upset you must LISTEN first and foremost.

Kids know when they are being lied to so it would be wrong of you to tell them they played great when they know themselves that they didn’t.

Instead, again tell them how proud you are and try explain to them that everyone has good days and bad days, that they can’t always be the best player on the pitch every week and that you have every confidence in them.

When this happens it is vital to NOT  allow your child or the child to dwell on such matters.

If your child or the child has had a great game, it is just as  important that you don’t indulge them. Simple praise and acknowledgment will suffice.

Many parents or guardians often go over the top with praise and can indeed get caught up themselves and the last thing any kid needs regardless of their ability is to be told that they are going to be a star – or worse – a professional footballer!

Back to the game

During the match every kid looks out to see a familiar face if their parent, guardian or someone they know is in attendance and therefore a little smile, a nod, a wink or a thumbs up is all that is needed instead of shouts of “well done” which can distract a kid and make them very self conscious of themselves and that you are somewhere in the crowd watching their every move.

That can, believe it or not, have a negative impact on their game and attitude during the game.

Via subtle encouragement and recognition your child will eventually stop looking for you in the crowd safe in the knowledge that you are there and they don’t need to impress you or look for your approval.

This will allow them to concentrate on the game and play an unpressurised match, free to express  and to enjoy themselves, to have fun.

And for kids, fun is the name of the game, always remember that!


Much of this article centres on the parents of those kids who play football matches for teams but many of the principles discussed above still apply to those of you who have a kick-about on parks or in the back garden with your kids or kids under your supervision. Indeed these principles apply to any type of sport or kids’ activities. And sadly there are also many coaches out there who need reminding of these principles too, so this article is also aimed at them.

Lastly, if you are another Tommy, you are not a bad parent or guardian because you want success  for your kid. By being as involved as you are that to me suggests you are a very good parent or guardian and that you have your kid’s best interests at heart.

However, you have to find the right balance between encouragement and being pushy and never forget that for kids, they see football as a fun activity not to be taken so serious, an activity where they can be kids free from adult rule. Please don’t take that away from them.

Soccer coaching philosophy and a code of conduct for parents

Our coaching philosophy

The coaching staff and officials of [your club name] understand that children participate in football (or soccer) to have fun. If children don’t have fun playing football, they’ll soon pack it in.

We never forget that the game of football is just that – a game. It’s not about how many wins and losses are accumulated. And, it is surely not about how many trophies are collected. It’s not about how many goals we score or concede. It’s all about enjoying the game and, at the same time, learning and developing football and life skills.

Proper football development requires that children play age appropriate activities so they are able to experience, comprehend, and execute the game as it relates to where they are at their own stage of physical and mental development.

It is about playing in different positions so the player learns all the skills necessary to develop in the game.

It’s about receiving equal playing time, so the players are all given equal opportunity to learn.

It’s about learning the techniques of the game through a variety of fun games where players have as much contact with a ball as possible and learn at their own rates.

Code of conduct for parents/carers

  • Be your child’s best fan and support her unconditionally.
  • When you take your child home after a match or training session, please be supportive and always focus on the positive aspects of her game.
  • Develop a responsibility in your child to pack her own kit, clean her boots and take a drinks bottle (full of water or squash only) to practice and games.
  • Respect the facilities at our opponents’ grounds.
  • Do not criticise your child’s coach to your child or other parents. If you are not happy with the coach you should raise the issue with the coach.
  • Encourage your child to speak with the coach. If your child is having difficulties in training or games, or can’t attend training etc. encourage her to speak directly to the coaches. This “responsibility taking” is a big part of becoming a mature person. By handling off the field tasks, your child is claiming ownership of all aspects of the game.
  • Help your child to focus on the performance and not the result. Remember – winning is not as important as the performance.
  • Support all the players in your child’s squad. Do not criticise anyone. Remember – children don’t mean to make mistakes.
  • Do not criticise the opponents, their parents or their officials.
  • Never audibly dispute a referee’s decision. They will make mistakes occasionally. We all do. If you abuse or shout at the referee you are breaking the rules of the game and risk generating a fine for the club. In extreme circumstances we could even be expelled from the League, be forced to play all our games away or play without any spectators present.
  • Parents/carers must not coach from the touchline during matches or training. Leave this to the manager/coach or you may cause confusion and erode your child’s confidence.
  • Parents/carers must not enter the field of play.
  • Please remember – the game is for the children. It is not for the glory of the coach, manager or parents.

Six things parents should say

A lot of soccer parents with good intentions give a 30 minute lecture, covering all the players supposed deficiencies and giving playing advice, in the car on the way to each match. The kids arrive far off their optimal mental state, and dreading the critique they are likely to hear, whether they want it or not, on the way home. Kids who are massaged in this way tend not to play badly, they just tend to not play, possibly to avoid making mistakes.

The easiest way to detect this problem is just to ask the player if it is a problem. Kids are more than willing to share this grief. The easiest way to correct this problem is to speak to the parents, as a group, about your expectations, and to cover this as a routine problem. Many of the parents will recognize themselves if you can present this problem with humour and illustrate the importance of the kids having fun and arriving in a good state of mind.

For best results, parents should memorize and use the following:

Before the match

  • I love you
  • Good luck
  • Have fun

After the match

  • I love you
  • It was great to see you play
  • What would you like to eat?

How to manage your players’ parents

Parents are, obviously, necessary. Sometimes they can even be useful! You can, for example, get them to transport children, fetch balls during practice sessions and provide financial support.

There will, however, be occasions when you have difficulty with one or more parents. Some may want their child to play more while others may question your judgment as a coach. You can minimise the number of times you have to deal with an angry or upset parent by following these guidelines:

1. Have a pre-season meeting before the first practice to discuss your plans and expectations for the season. Encourage questions from the parents and let them know that you have given a lot of thought to how you’re going to coach their children.

2. Express appreciation for their interest and concern. This will make them more open and at ease with you.

3. Always listen to their ideas and feelings. Remember, they are interested and concerned because it is their children that are involved. Encourage parental involvement.

4. Know what your objectives are and do what you believe to be of value to the team, not to the parents. No coach can please everyone!

5. Know the club and game rules. Be prepared to abide by them and to explain them to parents.

6. Handle any confrontation one-on-one and not in a crowd situation. Try not to be defensive. Let the parent talk while you listen. Often a parent will vent their frustrations just by talking. Listen to their viewpoint, then thank them for it.

7. Resist unfair pressure. It is your responsibility as coach to make the final decision. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still listen to parents.

8. Don’t discuss individual players with other parents. The grapevine will hang you every time. Show the same respect for each player on the team that you want the parents to show toward you.

9. Ask parents not to criticize their children in front of anyone else. Don’t let your players be humiliated, even by their own parents.

10. Don’t blame the players for their parents’ actions.

11. Be consistent! If you change a rule or philosophy during the season, you may be in for trouble. At the very least, inform players and parents of any change as soon as possible.

12. Most importantly, be fair! If you treat all your players fairly and equally you will gain their respect and that of their parents as well.

Remember that your children (and their parents) are not all the same. They will have a wide variety of backgrounds, beliefs and ideals. This diversity is to be valued.

The challenge for you as a coach is to address these differences in a positive manner so that the season will be enjoyable for everyone involved.

Dealing with “overly-helpful” parents

If parents have been acting as your assistants at practices, it is not uncommon for them to want to continue to participate during games. This is something which you need to watch closely, for several reasons. First, if other parents see a “non-coach” giving instructions to players on the field, they are going to be tempted to start doing this themselves. This will drive the kids crazy, because “too many cooks” really do spoil things. Secondly, most parents are going to be watching their own child – and giving most of their instructions to their own child. This can be very distracting to the child (even if the instructions are good) because it takes his attention away from the game and keeps him from using his own brain to figure things out for himself. Furthermore, many children simply want praise, praise and more praise from their parents – so any corrections will be viewed as a public statement of “Boy, you are so stupid, I hate having you as my kid.” Finally, and often most importantly, the instructions being given by these “helpers” often tend to be completely wrong – and exactly opposite from what you have been working on at practice.

What to do? The key is tact – and a Preseason meeting. Explain to the parents that the kids need to be able to use the games as learning experiences – and too much criticism is going to feel to them that the parents view them as failures. Tell the parents that, on game day, the ONLY thing that you want to hear is some general praise “Nice job; good shot; unlucky; good idea; etc.”). Tell your assistants that you really appreciate their help, but you need them to sit in the stands on game day, because you are afraid that other parents will be tempted to start “helping” by shouting instructions – and this will drive the kids nuts!

Then, if you have some parent who starts to give instructions, nip this in the bud early. Each time that the parent does this, smile and say “Remember the Rule, please.” Be good humoured about it. Make a sign which proclaims the stands as a NO COACHING ZONE. Bring a gag. But, don’t permit this parent to violate your rules.

The same goes for parents who want to yell at opposing players or referees – except that you MUST leap in hard to prevent this. A very firm “George, we don’t yell at the Refs” – followed by “Sorry, Ref – It won’t happen again” – makes it clear to everyone that you don’t like this conduct. Ditto for yelling at opposing players, but be even more forceful. It is very scary for smaller players to deal with irate adults – and you need to stop this immediately. If the parent doesn’t listen, tell him to go sit in his car. Even if this means abandoning the game, or going to get a Club official to help, it is your obligation to protect these other children – just as you would want the other coach to protect your little ones. Besides, if you do not move in quickly, the next thing that you know, you will have some irate Dad from the other side coming to see your parent – and all hell could break loose. So, do what you need to do – but don’t tolerate this type of behaviour.

Dealing with parental complaints

Almost every parent occasionally disagrees with your decisions as a coach (whether or not you hear about it). Usually, the parent is simply putting the interests of the child first – and seeing things from the child’s point of view. Most parents don’t complain, and are more likely to leave the team if they are unhappy with how things are handled. So, it is good to have parents who will bother to give you feedback (even if it can be painful to hear). Most of the time, this feedback is well-intentioned – and the parent simply wants an explanation for what has happened or wants to offer some suggestions about alternate ways to do things. Most of the time, this advice is well-intentioned (and the parent had no desire whatsoever to take over the team – or to try to order you around).

Most parents have 2 objectives when they sign the child up: for the child to succeed and for the child to be happy. If you praise the child in front of the parent, you can rest assured that the child will give you a big grin – and you earn points in both columns. Do this as often as you can – and you will keep gripes to a minimum. Any time that you start resenting the time that it takes to give this positive feedback, tell yourself that you could easily be spending double this time – and a lot less happily – talking to just one upset parent! In short, a good coach makes the parents believe that they have wonderful, successful and happy offspring – which causes the parents to believe that the coach must be an absolutely brilliant judge of children.

But, of course, you cannot please all of the people all of the time – and you may end up with a complainer or advice-giver despite your best efforts. If this happens, listen briefly to find out what the problem is, then schedule a time to talk about it. NEVER discuss any serious problem right before a practice (or right before a game). You have work to do, and don’t need the distractions (and certainly don’t need to be upset yourself if any harsh things are said). Furthermore, if the parent is really upset, you don’t want any confrontation to occur in front of your players or other parents. So, set the discussion for the end of practice – or schedule a time to call the parent later (if this is something where the child does not need to hear the conversation).

NEVER discuss any problems or complaints right after a game. If a parent comes to you with a complaint right after a game, make up any excuse that you can and get out of there. Usually, these complaints come after a hard game and a hard loss, when everyone is upset. Give everyone time to cool off – so that things are not said which are regretted later.

When you do talk to the parent, listen carefully to the parent’s problem. Be calm. Try to get them to see things from your point of view. If at all possible, lavish some praise on the child during the meeting (remember parental objectives). Try to verify their reports that the child is unhappy (for instance, some parents want their child to be the goal-scoring star, while the child truly is happiest as a keeper or sweeper). Volunteer to have a meeting with them and the child to talk about the situation. If the child truly is upset (for instance, he wants to be a forward, while you have rotated him to the back because he sorely needs to develop some defensive skills), talk about why you think that this is best. Usually you will be able to resolve complaints by open communication, and a calm approach to the problem.

However, some parents simply will not be satisfied, no matter what you do. This happens quite commonly with parents who were athletes, and ended up with non-athletic children, where it is easier to cast blame than to face reality about the child’s lack of talent. If it is clear that you are not getting anywhere, suggest that you set up a joint meeting with Club officials to talk about the problem. In the meantime, call the Club to give them a “heads-up” that they might hear from this parent, if it appears that the parent is truly irate.

If worse comes to worse, take heart that “parents-from-hell” tend to stick around for only a short time. Usually, you will find that they have been very unhappy with every coach whom their child has ever had – so they go back in the pool every season. In fact, don’t be surprised if, when you call the Club, you hear a large sigh come out of the phone – along with a comment of “Oh, no. Not them again.”