Coaching Survival: Taking Control
My last two blog posts have spurred much conversation and as such, I have had a lot of random thoughts about what to write this week - all having to do with managing players and their parents. So, here they are.
One of the things that has struck me recently is how parents seem to think that other adults in their kid’s lives have no clue what they are doing - whether it be their teachers, their coaches, even parents of their children’s friends. There seems to be this immediate distrust of others taking care of our kids - and I am not sure where exactly this comes from. When I was younger, not only did we all respect our elders but so did our parents. Did we agree with them all of the time? Absolutely not. But, we had a respect for them that transcended our relationship and held teams together. (I will also say that I can’t remember any parents EVER being at practices. That time was better spent going to the grocery store after drop off rather than sitting in a cold rink.)
As coaches, we need to keep this trend in mind. I would say that 80% or your parents are going to be “buy in” parents. But, there are going to be 20% who are going to question much of what you do, support their kids rather than you on any issues of discipline, and generally bring negativity to the team community. Coaches need to know that going into any team setting, and coaches must have a plan to make sure that it doesn’t affect the team overall. Often I subscribe to the “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” school of thought. Identifying some potential pressure points and bringing them on board with running the team (assistant coach, manager, parent liaison) can be a great way to neutralize the potential problem. If that is not a good option then being overly communicative with those particular families can be a help.
At this time of year I often have discussions with other coaches about whether you would not take a player on your team because of their parents. Is it OK to cut a player because of the grief and distraction their parents might cause? There is no correct answer and every situation is different but, it is something coaches think about and often act on in the course of choosing a team. Remember, as coaches we have an entire team to think about, not just one player.
One of the things we talk about often in the school I work in is to “presume good intentions”. I am a parent as well and share the same frustration sometimes that other parents experience with my kid’s coaches. Years ago, my son played on a semi-competitive soccer team. I believe the coach was very good at getting everyone playing time but it was clear that there were games where he would lose track of how long players had been on the field and where the game was with no time clock outside of the referees watch. There were games where the score was close and he would have his best players sitting on the sideline for an extended period because he simply lost track of how long his second string players had been on the field. I knew in my heart that the coach had good intentions with respect to playing time and competitiveness, but simply needed someone else on the sideline just monitoring playing time.
As a parent this created a dilemma for me. Should I talk to coach and point his out? Should I just let it go? (It’s just low level kids soccer) This situation prompted me as a coach to find times to connect with parents during the season one on one and ask them if they had any comments about the team and how it was being run. There is always something to learn and often someone is going to point out something that you are going to have that “V-8 moment”, slap your forehead and wonder how you didn’t notice it.
Finally, as coaches we also need to be very vigilant about calling players on inappropriate behaviour in the way they communicate. As adults and coaches, we should not be subjected to verbal abuse, passive aggressive behaviour, or any kind of communication that is disrespectful. It is your responsibility to make sure your players understand that there will be consequences for these kinds of behaviours and no player, no matter how good they are and important to the team’s success, is “above the law” on these matters. If a player talks back to you, send them to the dressing room. If a player rolls their eyes and shakes their head in disgust because they didn’t get in the game when they thought they should, bench them for an extended period. If there is inappropriate social media communication, suspend that player for a week. Coaches need to be leaders and take control of their teams and their team communities.
Coaches are not all perfect. But, we are lucky enough to be given the responsibility to develop young people - both on the playing field and off. We absolutely have to take that responsibility seriously and make sure every one of our athletes is a better athlete as well as a better person at the end of the season.
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