You spend so much time committed to your craft of coaching. You put hours into planning training sessions, developing your players and preparing for matches. You are an expert in your field.
How frustrating is it to step onto the pitch for a match only to hear your players’ parents trying to coach them from the sidelines?
Sometimes the advice they’re giving is flat-out incorrect. Other times it’s totally the opposite of what you’ve coached your players to do.
As a coach, you want your players to try the ball control skills they’ve practiced, to take on other players one-on-one, to learn good decision making on the field, and even to make mistakes – that’s where the real development comes. So when a parent is yelling to their child to “get rid of the ball downfield,” how do you react?
How can you handle these situations as a coach? Especially with some parents who think they know it all! Maybe you even have “rules” in place to prevent this that are totally ignored. Sound familiar?
We’ve all been there as football coaches… We’ve all had parents who seem to step over the line on match day. I once had a parent who would literally jump up and down right on the sideline, waving his arms and screaming instructions to his son from the opening whistle to the final seconds! It was so loud and persistent that it kept him (and everyone else) from hearing our actual coaching staff’s instructions! Strategies for dealing with difficult parents are important skills to master for all coaches.
Well, my friends, imagine a world where this was no longer an issue. A world where:
- Your players can hear your instructions.
- You’re not being contradicted by another loud voice from the sidelines.
- Your players are not “caught in the middle” deciding whose advice to listen to.
- You can implement the skills, strategies and tactics that you know will help develop your players without any worry of interference.
It’s possible for all of us, you just might need to rethink the way you handle your parents and your players.
A little communication can go a long way, as you’ll see. But in order to have that productive communication, as coaches, we first must define our philosophy and what we’re looking to accomplish. Depending on the age of your players and whether or not you’re in a club setting or a school, your goals for your season and your team might be very different.
Are you coaching an U10 team where your primary goal is to maximise the skill development for each of your players or are you an U18 coach looking to win a regional or national championship? Obviously, two very different objectives for two very different levels of players.
How can we expect our parents to be on board with our goals and philosophy if we haven’t even defined it ourselves?
Take a second right now and grab a sheet of paper and a pen and write down in a sentence or two, or even just a few bullet points if that’s easier for you, what your philosophy and goals are for your players and your team this season. (Ok, you don’t HAVE to do it right now – get our step-by-step Action Checklist here for you to implement later!)
If your goals are more of the player development variety, how do you envision splitting up playing time? Does everyone play equally? The better kids start but everyone plays at least a third of the time? The possibilities are endless, but now is the time to make those philosophical decisions.
If your goals are more geared towards competitive success, what does that look like to you and how will you accomplish it?
Share your philosophy
Make no mistake about it, the number one thing you can do to help eliminate parents “coaching from the sidelines” is clearly communicate this philosophy to everyone involved in your program: parents, players and coaching staff.
So let’s take the couple of sentences you just wrote down and build upon it.
Using that philosophy as your starting point, make a list of expectations for parents and expectations for coaches. What does your perfect world look like?
To get you started, here’s the actual list I use for you to swipe:
Expectations of Parents
- Passionately cheer and support your player and the team.
- Stay off the pitch and away from the team bench area.
- While in the stands be positive. Don’t yell criticisms or do anything to draw attention away from the players and toward you.
- While your son or daughter is playing, don’t make an effort to have the player focus on you rather than the coach. We don’t want a confused player – trying to listen to two different voices almost always results in worse play!
- Refrain from yelling derogatory comments to the officials, fans, or anyone else involved in the event.
- Let the coaches deal with officials. Berating an official has never lead to a positive reaction.
- Let the coaches coach and please don’t interfere with coaches during the match – it makes it impossible to our job well – helping your son or daughter be successful!
- Support the coaches’ decisions and any disciplinary actions by the coaches – these decisions are made to help your child become the best he or she can be.
- Make sure all interactions with coaches or other parents are respectful.
Now obviously, if you’re going to ask these things of your parents, it’s only fair to let them know what they should expect from you. This is an easy way to let them see the relationship as a two-way street and increase their buy-in.
Here’s what I tell them:
Expectations of Coaches
- We’ll give parents and players a clear explanation of our philosophy and goals for the team so you understand where we’re coming from.
- We’ll treat all players fairly and convey our expectations for your child so you know what to expect from us.
- We’ll let you know about team requirements, special equipment and strength and conditioning programs so your child can be totally prepared.
- We’ll let you know our procedure if your child is injured during participation so you’ll have more peace of mind.
- We’ll give you our match/training schedule and updates so you can plan ahead.
- We’ll distribute our team rules, guidelines and consequences for infractions so everyone’s on the same page.
- We’ll explain how our team selection process works so you and your child can be better prepared.
Here’s the important thing though – don’t just swipe these lists! Feel free to use them as you see fit, but add to them, modify them and tweak them to make them your own and clearly express what you expect from parents and what parents should expect from you!
Getting it done
Ok, great – you’ve created a philosophy and goals for your team and backed it up with a list of expectations that you’d like your parents to live up to… now what?
Now, it becomes important to get this message out to your team and parents. It’s never too late – but, generally speaking, the earlier in your season you can make this happen, the better!
So how do we get this done? Well, there are several methods available.
The first and most effective method is to make this part of a Parent-Player Handbook that you can distribute prior to the beginning of each season. Don’t panic if this sounds overwhelming! For now, all you need to do is start to put your philosophy, goals and expectations down in writing. This will eventually become the basis of your handbook.
If you’re feeling motivated, you can certainly create other sections for your handbook as well, such as a team schedule, school or club policy for returning from injuries or information regarding transportation to and from events.
Another great tip is to have an Acknowledgement Page to go with it, meant for both the parent and the player to sign and return to you acknowledging that they’ve read and understand your philosophy and goals. If the kids you coach are younger, this form can ask parents to discuss these expectations with their child. Hey, maybe they won’t all actually read it, but at least this way they can’t claim they’ve never seen it!
Setting out your expectations in writing makes it very easy for you to refer to later and to direct parents to when needed. Obviously creating a handbook in the middle of your season might not be realistic. The best time to do this is before your season starts.
“But what if I’m in the middle of my season?!”
No worries – if there’s no time to develop a handbook right now, the next best option is setting a meeting with your player and parents. The earlier in the season the better, but any time will do. You can use this meeting to hand out a hard copy of your philosophy/policy/expectations and explain them to everyone in your program. Again, I’d suggest having each parent and player sign an acknowledgement that they’re familiar with the policy.
The final weapon in your arsenal is to make use of good, old-fashioned email. This provides another medium for you to distribute this information to your parents and players. If you don’t have all of the parents’ email addresses, ask your players to bring the addresses to you at your next training session.
Even if you were able to create a handbook AND have a parents meeting, it will still help you a ton to send out an email to all of your parents and players going through the same information. If you created a handbook, you could attach it in digital format or at least summarise all the critical points!
The beauty of email is it’s quick, lightweight and effective for reaching many people quickly.
An email at the beginning of the season is great, but you definitely get greater buy-in from your parents if you send out quick, periodic emails throughout the season. I like to send them weekly. It only takes a few minutes and pays big dividends as the season goes on. These emails can:
- Highlight the coming week’s schedule,
- Congratulate the team and players for great performances the prior week,
- Disseminate any announcements,
- …and ALSO gently remind parents of the importance of your policies and expectations.
Manage your pitch
So now you’ve got the info out there to your players and parents and you’ve got a system up and running to give them ongoing reminders. Now let’s think about what we can do to help manage our parents on the pitch and make it easier for them to not “help out” with the coaching!
How much you’re able to do here is really dependent upon your specific facilities for training and matches.
The main idea here is we want the “spectators” to do their job of “spectating” and we want to help them do that by creating a designated area for them so they are not free to roam the sidelines. If your pitch has bleachers (for you non-US readers, bleachers are pitch-side seating for spectators) or designated seating for spectators, make sure there’s some signage or coaches directing them to the appropriate location. Establishing this with parents at the beginning of your season will make it easier to maintain on an ongoing basis.
If there’s no seating area on your pitch, think about using cones or other markers to create a designated spectator area.
In all situations, the team bench areas should be as far removed from the spectator area as possible.
Dealing with issues
Of course, despite your best efforts, there will always be those parents that just don’t seem to “get the message.” As frustrating as it might be, as coaches, we all have to deal with the occasional difficult parent and correct their behaviour.
The first thing to realise is where the behaviour comes from. Most parents simply want what’s best for their child, get caught up in the moment and feel that their “assistance” is exactly what their child needs to be at his or her best. Realise that these things will happen. Unless there’s an immediate safety issue, stepping in to reprimand or correct the parents behaviour as it’s taking place in the middle of the match isn’t the best idea. With any competition emotions can run high and such an environment doesn’t generally lend itself to productive discussion.
While you don’t want to jump right in during the match, you also should deal with the problem sooner rather than later. The following day is generally the best time. If there’s a training session where the parent will be present, a face-to-face discussion before or after will generally be the most effective. If a face-to-face talk isn’t feasible, a phone call or an email are the next best solutions, in that order. Remember, the more personal the contact the more effective it will be.
Giving them the right message
When you do make contact with the parent, a little empathy can make all the difference. Frame all your communication with an understanding of where the parent is coming from: a desire for their child to be successful. Acknowledging and validating their point of view will help them be more receptive to what you have to say and prevent them from becoming defensive.
Some important points to make during the conversation:
- Let them know that your goal is also to help their child be successful and that their coaching from the sidelines is potentially hindering that process.
- Explain how players have difficulty processing information from two different voices simultaneously and how that can negatively impact play.
- Explain how maximum development comes through incremental improvements, positive encouragement and reinforcement and, most importantly, consistent messaging. If a player is receiving outside advice counter to what his coach is telling him, the development process slows down significantly.
- Reassure them that mistakes from your players are ok. They’re a critical part of the learning process!
- Remind them of your philosophy or goals for the season – what you’re trying to accomplish. Is it skill development or winning? If the crux of the problem is that they don’t agree with that philosophy then maybe this isn’t the right team for them.
- Lastly thank them for their enthusiasm and explain to them what the desired behaviour would look like.
Communicating your philosophy and expectations clearly, calmly and consistently is the most important strategy to help curb parents coaching from the sidelines and more importantly keep your players developing at a good pace.
With this step-by-step system, you’ll be laying the groundwork for a smooth season. For many coaches, writing down their expectations and getting the info out there, whether by handbook, meeting, email or – even better – all three, is the “easy” part of this process. It’s when the message doesn’t sink in right away and you need to have corrective conversations with parents that things can get a little tricky.
To make your life easier, check out our FREE word-for-word script you can use to effectively and easily start these conversations with parents in a respectful manner. We’ll also give you a step-by-step Action Checklist to implement the whole system! Click here to get it straight to your inbox!
Pete Jacobson founded WinSmarter, to give coaches the actionable tips, strategies and tactics they need to grow their programs, win more and, most importantly, go home happy! WinSmarter helps you with the biggest frustrations that all coaches sometimes struggle with: things like dealing with difficult parents, motivating your players, recruiting more kids into your program, fundraising, increasing participation in off-season activities and much more. Get started with the free guide to dealing with difficult parents.