Dealing With Parents

Wow! Where to start...

First thing to say, is that in my experience, the majority of parents are fantastically supportive, grateful for the work you're putting in and keen to see the team (and their own child, obviously) do well and have fun. Having said that, you will absolutely, 100%, find you have the occasional difficulty regarding a  parent to deal with. Sometimes they have a point, other times their point of view is hugely skewed towards that of their own child. This is understandable though, and outside of extreme circumstances, should be relatively easy to smooth out. Some things that might help you in terms of dealing with parents...

Set Expectations

Absolutely imperitive is to set the expectations early on, so parents are aware of what you are / aren't offering as their child's coach and what they and their child can expect in terms of involvement levels, game time etc. Clearly in a squad of 11 players for 7 a side football, not everyone can be on the pitch all the time, so the children and parents need to understand this, how you're intending to approach that issue and not turn up with unrealistic expectations that their child will play every minute of every game.

You should also be very clear about what you expect in terms of punctuality and behaviour and what some of the do's and don't's are for parents on the sidelines during the games (see below). This doesn't mean acting like a dictator, but it does mean setting clear boundaries. Having someone turn up 20 minutes late every week for example, isn't fair on you or the rest of the team.

Communication is Key

This links to the above point, but is an ongoing thing throughout the season. Clear communication with parents is absolutely crucial. A lot of problems I've had were caused by me not being clear enough in advance and parents / kids not understanding what I was expecting of them and what they could expect from me.

Check out this great pre-season message to parents one of our coaches (Matt M) kindly shared with us. It provides a fantastic basis for something you could send out.

The Most Common Problem - Game Time / Favourite Positions

It's happened to all of us. You have a great morning, the team plays brilliantly, everyone seems happy and then you get the "Jimmy didn't feel like he got enough game time" e-mail from Jimmy's dad. Or you get the "Jimmy really wants to play up front but he had to play in defence" e-mail.

First thing I would say on this is to ask yourself whether they have a point. Did Jimmy get the game time he should have done and is he getting chances in different positions? And does the answer to that fit with what you led the parents and kids believe you'd be doing at the start of the season? If you said at the start that you'd rotate positions and give equal game time, but Jimmy comes on for 10 minutes every week at left back, then you probably need to revisit how you're doing things and accept that Jimmy has every right to be a bit put out.

Assuming our fictional friend Jimmy and his dad are simply seeing things from their own point of view, then it comes back to the points above about expectations and communication. Reiterate to them what your approach is, what it will continue to be, whilst being sympathetic to the fact that Jimmy isn't happy. Is there anything you can do to get Jimmy to understand that he is part of a team, has to take his turn to sit out, to play in different positions etc. but that he will absolutely also get game time in his preferred position...? Can you get Jimmy's parents to help with this and be your allies, rather than get into a conflict with them? Having the parents give their child a message consistent with what you've been saying will give you a much better chance of having the child understand the situation.

The Other Most Common Problem - Parents "Coaching" / Being "Overly Enthusiastic" On The Sidelines

As well as the information below, we've included a page on the FA RESPECT campaign, that includes information on codes of conduct etc.

The parent who thinks they're a coach...

One problem you may well run into is the parent who can't help "coaching" from the sidelines. I put the word "coaching" in inverted commas because what they're doing usually amounts to shouting things that are absolutely no help whatsoever and just serve to confuse the players because it's the total opposite message you've been giving them. Even if they know their football really well and are giving good advice, it's still confusing for the players when parents do this.

The main thing I'd say with regard to this, is that 99% of the time, it is well meaning enthusiasm that's just a little bit misdirected.

Ways to solve it could be giving that person a job to do so they feel involved and can direct the energy somewhere useful. Refereeing in mini soccer, running the line in the older age groups, doing the goalkeeper's warm up would all be good things to consider (remember, any coaching or refereeing roles would require a CRB check). Again, setting expectations and explaining why it isn't helpful to have them coaching the players during the game may be enough - a lot just haven't thought it through and their enthusiasm is getting ahead of them in the heat of the game (aside - a linesman or referee should NEVER be coaching the players during the game - they are meant to be neutral).

The parent who shouts at the referee... or the players... or the opposition...

Slightly more serious is the parent who thinks it's okay to berate the referee during the game or be aggressive towards opposition parents, coaches or even players. Again - expectations laid out clearly will help, but if the problem is ongoing, the club should be informed so we can deal with it without you having to on your own. We will always try to reach a solution that helps the person change their approach first and foremost. If you are having major issues on this front, please e-mail Chris A and explain the problem and copy in our safeguarding welfare officer, Millie W. Both their contact details are here. Directing people to the FA's RESPECT website could also be useful.

Other parental sideline issues...

In between the above scenarios are the "on the edge" type comments parents will sometimes make that make you uncomfortable but aren't outright abusive or aggressive. Some things I've had to deal with that you may want to consider when laying out expectations:

  • Parents cheering an opposition own goal or missed penalty - the kid who scored the OG or blazed the penalty over the bar feels miserable enough as it is. Having a bunch of grown ups jumping around like chimpanzees isn't going to help. Absolutely, applaud the good build up play from your team, or a penalty save from your goalkeeper, but having someone commiserate and shout out "bad luck" or "don't worry about it" can make the world of difference to how the other team feel.
  • Parents making comments about the opposition's style of play - everyone likes to think their team plays good football and the children playing want to feel good about themselves, so having parents or coaches shouting things like "they're just a long ball team" isn't okay. The players and coaches are trying their best, so be positive towards them (even if they aren't the most likeable bunch) and applaud good play rather than goading them.
  • Parents encroaching onto the playing area - ideally, there should be a RESPECT line and parents should be behind it. If there's no respect line, set up some cones to make it clear where parents need to stand. People being on the pitch other than the referee or the players is an absolute no. Again - expectations in advance will help enormously.
  • The parent who micro-manages their child's performance - it's not easy for a young player to perform well under pressure and the pressure is hugely ramped up if that player's mum or dad stalks up and down the line, intensely following (and commenting on) everything their child does. This is often the same parent who gets in the car after the game and has an hour long dissection of the entire match on the way home, before sending the coach a 3 page epic on their child's performance. Sometimes a gentle nudge in the right direction is enough to get someone to see their own behaviour is a little overbearing. Watch out for parents of goalkeepers standing by the goal and talking them through the entire game too...
  • Having a very "knowledgeable" football parent on the sidelines - one of the issues you might face as a coach is having a parent on the sideline who either really does know a lot about football tactics / coaching or thinks they do. The problem may simply be in the form of you feeling nervous about your level of knowledge / your decisions seeming inadequate in front of someone who you feel knows more than you and might be judging you negatively. They may actually be perfectly supportive, but it can make coaches nervous to be in this situation. Just remember that you stepped up to do this, whilst nobody else did, so you are entitled to do things your way, as long as you are being supportive and encouraging of the children. You could always ask their advice if they do have some experience that would make them a useful person to ask - you may find them hugely helpful and willing to lend a hand with some of the coaching. If, however, the parent in question is undermining you by challenging your decision making or commenting to other parents on tactics or style of play in a negative way, that's a whole different story and one you'll need your best diplomatic skills to sort out! Again though, remember it was you who stepped up to coach the team, not the person in question and that undermining you from the sidelines isn't helping anyone. Often a gentle reminder in a perfectly friendly way that their behaviour isn't helpful may be enough to get them to back off.

The Parent Who Never Watches

First thing to say here is that sometimes there is a very good reason why a parent can't attend any games and obviously everyone is understanding of that. Additionally, nobody is expecting parents to be at EVERY game - they have other kids, other commitments and family life is busy. But it may well be that you will come across children who are really affected by the fact that their parent(s) NEVER bothered to watch them play, even if they were actually at the game! I remember one lad coming off after a match I saw the end of, having turned up to play afterwards. His mum said to him, as he walked off the pitch, "did you score?" to which he said "if you hadn't been on your phone the whole time you'd know". Ouch!

You can't insist parents watch, but it's worth encouraging them to and being aware of how much a parent who seems not that bothered could affect your player's confidence. Giving them a little bit of extra praise yourself may at least take the edge of things and speaking to the parent in glowing terms about their child's performance might encourage them to watch for themselves next time so they can see what they're missing.

More Serious Issues

Sometimes you will come across a more serious issue, such as bullying, very aggressive or inappropriate behaviour. This could be player to player or involve a parent. If you've you've done the FA's Safeguarding Children course, you will have some knowledge of how to deal with this. Let Chris A and Millie W (Millie is our child welfare officer) know, whilst using common sense to ensure the child in question is taken out of any potentially upsetting or dangerous situation immediately. Parents could be very emotional if their child is being made to be very unhappy and you might find yourself having to deal with comments or accusations that could cause further upset. Having an assistant coach with you under these circumstances to help is very useful and will help everyone see things more clearly afterwards if there were "he said, she said" type conversations going on.

Final Thought... You Can't Keep Everyone Happy

I think we've said the same thing elsewhere in these pages a number of times, but it's so true. You cannot keep every player and their parents happy all the time. In trying to, you will compromise elsewhere and others (including you) may end up pretty miserable. You will have to deal with moaning, some justified and some not and one of the biggest challenges you have will be to juggle everyone's enjoyment and expectations with trying to develop your players, your team and be successful (not to mention enjoying it yourself - that often seems to get forgotten!). In becoming a youth football coach, it often feels like you're also becoming an amateur social worker, therapist, mediator, psychologist and a million other things! Don't let things get you down!