the parent/coach interface – part 2

Coaching

SIGI!!! (Photo credit: Bernzilla)

In part 1 of this post, I discussed the analogy between soccer and a traditional US school, and how parents typically interact with teachers and coaches very differently.  I talked a bit about why that difference might exist, and pointed out some completely unreasonable parental behaviors that need to be eliminated.  In part II, I will look at this from a different angle, that of coach communication and abilities. Before getting to that, let’s revisit the list of parent/coach and parent/teacher friction points put forth in the last post.

We will eliminate the “bad parent behavior” points discussed last time and leave ourselves with the items that have direct correlation with educational pressures:

Soccer

School

Player: field time or position

Student: discipline or grades

Player: development/challenge

Student: development/challenge

Coach: style/philosophy

Teacher: style/philosophy

Coach: knowledge/ability/prep.

Teacher: knowledge/ability/prep.

Team: wins

School: test scores

When laid out like this, it is easy to see the typical thinking of a parent.  If a player is not playing very much, or is playing an “undesired” position, this is roughly equivalent to being punished or receiving poor grades.  If a parent believes that the player is not developing quickly enough or is not being challenged, this is equivalent to a student whose reading level is not improving fast enough or is placed in a math class that is too easy.  The parent must then guess whether all of this is due to the (coach/teacher) style, philosophy, knowledge, ability, preparation, or some combination of these factors.

Elimination of this parental guesswork is partially why having a coach with excellent communication skills can be so vital.  If a coach can convincingly discuss his/her philosophy, style, and goals with the parents, and is then able to see that plan through to a logical conclusion, things will progress much more smoothly.  Conversely, a coach who is a poor communicator, fails to follow through on a stated plan, or has a poor plan in the first place is going to eventually feel the wrath of the parents.

The reality is that any of the friction points listed above can arise both from coach competence and incompetence.  For example, small amounts of playing time can result from the player not training well that week, a disciplinary decision, a coach’s focus on winning as opposed to player development, or the coach being too wrapped up in the game to remember to put in subs.  A player’s slow development or lack of challenge (these are opposite ends of a spectrum: either the less skilled player is not getting better or the superstar is “too good” for the team) could be down to a coach’s failure to recognize the need for specialized training, inability to provide that training, poor player attitude or effort, or a coaching approach that is laying groundwork for development over a longer timeframe.  Regardless of the reason, if these types of situations are not rectified quickly or communicated soundly, things can go bad very fast.

The worst kinds of problems arise when the coach is simply not capable of managing his players.  Parents are sometimes baffled at how a coach can seem to have such a hard time developing willing and able players.  We need to appreciate, however, that just as teacher who lacks knowledge of algebra will have trouble teaching the subject, a coach without a deep understanding of the game will be at a disadvantage – as discussed last time, the certification, hiring, and oversight of coaches in many clubs is done without well-defined guidelines and procedures.  Even when a club “gets it right” and hires an apparently knowledgeable coach, knowing how to play the game is not good enough; being an accomplished educator is also a critical part of coaching. Even coaches with the best intentions and a deep well of knowledge will not be effective if they lack the ability to teach.  Multiple coaching licenses are not necessarily a good predictor of an effective coach, either.  In my experience, highly licensed coaches are very capable of doing a poor job, while some self-taught coaches can be absolutely brilliant.  I have also observed coaches who are quite adept at teaching tactical aspects, but are less effective at teaching individual skills; the reverse situation can also be found. Many clubs try to rectify this reality by employing trainers to run “foot skills” sessions outside of regular training. This is helpful, but the ideal coach will be one who can focus on such skills in team training, since that should a major focus of player development.

Ok, so given all of this, what (if any) solutions are there to parent/coach conflict?

First, coaches need to respect the parental need for information by clearly, specifically, and succinctly laying out their coaching style/philosophy.  In turn, parents need to respect the fact that the best-laid (coaching) plans need to be flexible.  If a coach claims to prefer a 4-player GK rotation in games for his U10 girls team, and only two get used in a particular weekend, parents need to recognize that there may have been very good personnel reasons for that decision at that time.  If that same coach plans to scrimmage for 20 minutes at every practice, but then spends an entire training session on one particular skill, parents have to respect the possibility that the coach saw a real need for that training at that time.  However, if the same coach goes 4 weeks without a scrimmage or starts playing one kid in goal every minute of every game, the parents probably deserve some explanation of why the philosophy has changed so dramatically.

Second, coaches need to respect the parental need for professionalism.  If a coach claims to be qualified and prepared to teach a specific age and skill level, that should be evident in the coach’s performance.  Parents have every right to question the suitability of a coach who is habitually late, poor in his player interactions, or who demonstrates a low level of knowledge of, or acumen for the game.

Finally, parents and coaches may just end up viewing the HOW of coaching differently.  Parents need to decide whether their child’s coach approaches his profession in a manner that works for them. Note that I have not yet discussed the last row in the table: wins and test scores. Those items come down to coaching/teaching philosophy. That point, where sometimes parents and coaches just need to agree to disagree, will be the topic next time.  Until then, feel free to share your thoughts below.

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