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Management & Discipline

There are a number of problems which may occur over the course of a season due to the behavior of parents or players. These include attendance problems; disruptions/misconduct during practice or games; "overly-helpful" parents; and parents who are chronic gripers. Difficulties in handling these four problems are why most coaches to decide to give up coaching, so it is very important to learn how to deal with them.

  1. Dealing with discipline problems
  2. The first trick in learning to handle players is to establish your authority early. If players do not get the idea that you are the "boss", and that you will insist that they follow your rules, it will be very difficult to control them. Here are some time-honored ways to get this message across early. Tips on Asserting Your Authority

    Using "the Voice" and "the Look"

    It's important for players to be able to recognize by your tone of voice and your manner when you intend a no-nonsense directive, or are drawing a boundary which they try to cross at their peril. Yelling does not work. Use a firm voice and a firm look, and DEMAND attention. Make it clear that this is non-negotiable - and your chances that they will listen increase substantially. Watch for their reaction, however. It is easy to scare little ones with a tone of voice which might induce teenagers to slowly think about complying - so adjust to your audience.

    The Art of Refocusing Attention

    Sometimes a quick, firm word in passing is enough to get things back on track without stopping an ongoing activity. If this doesn't work, don't try to yell or frantically run around to get the attention of the players. STOP the group, DEMAND that they all stop talking and look at you, and WAIT until everyone does so before even trying to start with the substance of your remarks. Using "the Voice", say something like: "Eyes on me. Now."

    If someone starts clowning or chatting in the background after you start trying to talk substance, STOP! Firmly re-demand silence before continuing. Keep doing this until they shut up, even if you spend 20 minutes on a 30 second announcement. Eventually, the other players will start to tell this player to be quiet, because they will get bored standing around. When the disruptive one starts to get negative attention from his peers, the behavior tends to cease quickly.

    Choose Your Battles Wisely

    Remember that all young kids misbehave at times. If the child is not normally disruptive or if the disruption is not serious - and is quickly abandoned with a quiet word from you, there is no reason to make a big deal over it.

    If you are too stern, and use the proverbial cannon to deal with a small gnat of an offense, this causes two problems. First, the compliant players will start to fear you - and will become so upset by any correction from you that they will tend to freeze up and become afraid to make mistakes for fear of displeasing you (so they won't learn very well). Secondly, the more spirited or defiant players will figure out that you have already used up all of your ammunition on a trivial offense - so they won't see any reason why they shouldn't commit HUGE offenses if the punishment is going to be the same anyway. As a result, it is not uncommon to find utter chaos when the coach is not using good judgement on when/how/why/where to punish offenses.

    How to discipline effectively

    When misbehavior seriously disrupts the activities of the other players (either because it is persistent minor stuff or because of one egregious act), the coach needs to use "the Voice" and "the Look" to stop the behavior instantly.

    It is a good idea to talk in terms of Rules - because players tend to remember Rules better. So, tell them that "Hitting a teammate is against our Rules".

    Then, get the offender to tell you WHY this is against the rules. Forcing the offender to verbalize why other players might not like to be hit serves two purposes. It shows the other players that this kid knew better AND it causes the offender to suffer some humiliation in front of everyone by admitting that he knew better.

    Once the player admits that he knew better, make him apologize. Sure, the apology is likely to be grudging - and delivered under his breath in the general direction of his belly button. But, by forcing him to apologize (and making him go sit out until he does apologize, if he initially refuses) helps to breed good sportsmanship down the line - and helps him to recognize that other players have rights too.

    Sometimes, of course, a player may not understand why something is against the Rules. For instance, the little brother of a HS-level player may have seen lots of slide tackles in games, and truly may not understand why you got upset when he took out the ankles of a teammate with a reckless tackle. In those cases, it is important to explain why you are upset, and to explain what you want in the future.

    What if one teammate started it, and the other finished it? Easy. Make them both apologize, then make the retaliator explain to you how he plans to handle things next time (e.g., come to you; use his words instead of his fists; etc.). However, the instigator should not get off scott-free. Consider giving him an extra "punishment" for starting things. Often, especially with arch-rivals, making the instigator say 5 good things about his adversary is quite effective in healing the wounds all around.

    Some Tips on Using "Punishments"

    Be careful in using physical activity as punishment. Especially with younger players, learning to associate running or exercise with punishment can cause them to resent that activity when you need them to do this work. Nonetheless, there are times when a quick set of jumping jacks or pushups may help to refocus the player. As long as these are not onerous (no more than 5-10), the players usually accept the penalty with good humor and no lasting effects. However, if the player is looking for attention and wanting to clown around (or wanting to challenge the coach in some fashion), he will use the penance as an opportunity to have fun at the expense of the coach. As a result, if the coach already knows that he is dealing with a defiant player, the best bet may be to tell the player to go sit out until he can behave.

    ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE sanctions is forcing the misbehaving player to sit out during an activity. Giving a time-out can often be very effective. Most players want to be with everyone else - even if they are being disruptive.

    Usually, the coach will give the player the option of returning when the player decides to behave. However, if the player is refusing to participate in an activity which he doesn't like, then the better course is to sit the player out for the remainder of the practice. Otherwise, the coach will send the message to the team that, if you don't want to do an exercise, just go sit down - and you won't suffer any penalty. Once the players discover that you don't get to pick and choose what you do, and you don't get to scrimmage if you don't work, the incentives will be reduced to seek a time-out simply to avoid doing work.

    Okay, so where should the player be sent to sit out? The ideal spot for a player to sit out is where you (or some responsible adult) can keep them in view, but where they are far enough removed they cannot easily create further distraction for the rest of the group. Where and how far will depend on the player, the setting, and the available supervision. (Don't let a buddy join them for company; if two players must be sent out, send them to opposite ends of the field).

    Sometimes carrots work better!

    It's important to not forget to use carrots as well as sticks. Just as in making corrections, good behavior should be praised and rewarded to reinforce behaviors you want at practices and games. One of the most effective ways to shape up a whole team that's half-hearted and distracted about whatever subject is the focus of the day's activities is to make most players' favorite part of the practice, THE SCRIMMAGE, contingent on the extent they get with the program. "The sooner we learn to do this, the longer we can scrimmage".

    "Full Moon" Days

    Sometimes, your players' energy and mood simply isn't a good match for the well- intended practice plan you designed. They're hopelessly restless, with unbounded energy. If the normally cooperative players are exceptionally wild, and none of the adjustments which you make seem to work, consider simply abandoning the plan for the day - and playing nothing but games (the winners of the last game get to pick the next one). As long as the games are soccer-related, the practice session is probably doing more good than you realize. The kids are getting lots of touches on the ball; team morale is soaring because coach is a good guy (and we got a free day); and coach is able to relax and enjoy watching the players act like a bunch of puppies. Consider it a vacation to recharge the batteries, and just have fun.

    What To Do When Regular Discipline Won't Work

    In addition to normal disruptions which can arise from high spirits or simply being a child, there will be times when unruly behavior is a symptom of further problems. So, if the tips given above don't work, it is time to try to figure out the root cause of the problem.

    Disciplinary problems arise for a lot of different reasons, such as: the work is too easy or too hard; the work is boring (too much repetition or too much standing around); the partners are not helping with the work (perhaps because they are too unskilled or disruptive themselves); the player wants attention from teammates or the coach; the player is vying with the coach for control/leadership of the group; the player doesn't like a partner or wants a different partner, and is using disruption to try to force a change; or the player wants to get kicked out of practice for some reason (perhaps a parent likes soccer, but he doesn't, or the player wants to punish the parent by getting himself tossed out). Sometimes, the only thing wrong is that there is a full moon - and everyone is a bit rowdy.

    So, the first thing that you need to do is to look around and see if you can figure out what is causing the problems. If everybody is acting up, the odds are good that there is something wrong with the drill (it is too easy or too boring in some way). If this is the problem, then adjust the drill or make it into a contest, and your problems are likely to be solved.

    If just one group is having problems, look to see why. Often, you may have partners who don't match well in terms of skill level, or who have some innate rivalry, or who are such good buddies that they want to play when together. Be sure to watch for a minute to see if you can figure out what the problem is, then make needed adjustments. Often, this will mean that you need to switch partners.

    If you switch partners, and the same problems arise between one player and his new partner (while the old partner is doing just fine), you have identified a likely problem child. However, you still may not know why the problem is arising - and may need to observe further or talk to the player to see what is going on.

    Often, your best bet will be to call this player over to one side, while asking your assistant to take over. If you are alone, put the new partner in another group while you talk to the problem child. A simple inquiry about "what seems to be the problem" often will prompt an answer which gives you some clues. A happy grin, and a response of "just playing", may need nothing more than a reminder to settle down (with a reminder that he will need to sit until he is ready to work if he keeps this up). A sullen response of "this is boring" needs closer analysis (as this term may mean that the work is too hard and the player is too proud to admit it, or it can mean that the player really is bored silly). Cures for these types of problems can be found in the "How to Teach" section. A baffled look (or inability to keep looking at the coach while talking), especially when coupled with constant fidgeting, may indicate problems with ADHD - or a player who needs more explanation than normal for some other reason (such as a learning disability). Usually, this requires some discussion with the parents to find out the source of the problem. Some information on dealing with the special needs of ADHD children is included below.

    On occasion, the coach will be met with a defiant stare - which almost always means real trouble ahead. Often, the player is challenging you for control of the team - and is using the disruptions to provoke you. Sometimes, these players try to hide their true agenda with passive-aggression (by slowly and maliciously complying with the strict letter of any request while obviously refusing to get with the program).

    These types of defiant players will require some special handling, as they often are among the better players on the team and are eager to show their superiority. Sometimes, these kids truly believe that they are God's gift to the world, and entitled to special treatment. Often, however, these kids have perfectionistic parents who are never satisfied with the child's performance, and the child is venting his frustration at the coach or teammates.

    Special Issues In Handling Defiant Players

    As noted previously, some players want to try to see if they can take over the team from the coach - and will push every button in an effort to get the coach to do what they want - instead of allowing the coach to do what he wants. These little characters can be devious, and the worst are the ones who use passive-aggressive behavior to show you that you cannot boss them around (moving at the speed of molasses, and making faces behind your back).

    What many coaches do not realize is that, to this brand of player, it is a "win" any time that the coach has to interrupt the presentation; any time that any other player looks at them; any time that the coach gets mad or upset; or any other time that they can behave in a defiant way and get away with it. Thus, the trick is to refuse to let them "win" - and to do it in a way that they get no feeling whatsoever that you are bothered by their behavior.

    For example, if a player is deliberately "dogging it", the easiest way to deal with this behavior is to tell him that you are sure that he must be sick because he is moving so slowly - then force him to go sit down for the rest of practice. Don't give in and allow him to come back.

    If the player refuses to do the drill correctly (e.g., when the ball comes to him, it seems to always go flying off at top speed - requiring a slow amble to go get it), calmly send the partner off to work with another group - on the grounds that it is clear that Johnny needs major work on his footskills before he will be able to do what everyone else is doing. Then, put Johnny off by himself to do juggling, or to pass against a wall, or whatever. Once again, don't allow him to come back to the group - at least unless he comes to you to offer a surrender (as in "I really do know how, I was just screwing off, can I come back"). And, make sure that he understands that it must be a full surrender - or he will be sent off again to do individual work (maybe for 2-3 practices).

    If the player is openly defiant, calmly explain that it is YOUR team and, if he wants to be on YOUR team, he needs to plan on doing things YOUR way. Then, send him off to think about his decision. Whatever you do - especially if he is a star - do NOT tolerate this behavior. If he gets the belief that he is so wonderful that you will do anything to keep him, you will have no control over him - and little control over the others (as they will start to mimic his behavior).

    If you stay calm, and get creative in tailoring your "punishment" to fit the "crime", you often can win these players over. They frequently can be natural leaders, and can become very valuable if their talents are properly channeled. So, as soon as they start to surrender, it can be a good idea to try to figure out some way that you can allow them to get favorable attention/praise from you (in other words, set them up to really please you). One way is to recruit them to help a particular player to learn to do something which they are especially good at. This allows them to feel important, while helping the coach and the other player, so everyone wins. Often, this is the first step in harnessing their leadership talents.

    But, don't be afraid to call the parents if you are unable to get the player to behave. Sometimes there is something going on at home (such as a divorce) which is causing the child to act out. Sometimes the child may have emotional problems which need attention, or will have a learning disability (like ADHD). And, sometimes, it will be obvious from talking with the parents that their little darling can do no wrong in their eyes - in which case, the coach may face similar problems to those in the section dealing with attendance (and likely will need to take a similar approach).

    Special Issues On Dealing With ADHD Players

    Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD) is a type of disability which apparently involves some mis-wiring of the brain or the hormonal systems in the body. As a result of the disorder, children tend to be markedly inattentive and often are hyperactive (sometimes to the point of being almost frantic in their movements). The disorder usually is treated by administration of stimulants (such as amphetamines) - which have the unusual effect of slowing these children down (while the rest of the population would be highly-stimulated by these same drugs). This disorder is NOT the fault of the parents. It does NOT mean that the child lacks discipline (either by the coach or by his parents). What it DOES mean is that, just like a child with diabetes or the player with asthma, this player needs to take certain drugs to be able to function normally. While these players can create some headaches and frustrations until the coach learns the proper way to handle their particular problems (and gives the parents enough feedback to adjust dosages, if necessary, to handle disruptions at practice), most of these children can do just fine in soccer. In fact, because of their high energy levels, these players often make terrific little players once their energy can be harnessed. To be able to harness their energies, the coach needs some more information about the disorder. Characteristics of ADHD/ADD arise in early childhood, often before seven years of age, for most individuals. Boys are about three times more likely than girls to have symptoms of ADHD/ADD. Individuals with ADHD/ADD may know what to do but do not consistently do what they know because of their inability to efficiently stop and think prior to responding, regardless of the setting or task (in other words, they tend to be very impulsive - and to act without thinking). This can result in serious social problems, impairment of relationships, and/or lack of success. Doing things without thinking about the consequences can put them in dangerous situations (as they might run into traffic without looking, or climb the tree while the coach's back is turned). Thus, coaches of children with ADHD must be vigilant in keeping an eye on these charges, especially when they are fairly young.

    The official definition of ADHD can be found at the CHADD website (an organization for children and adults with attention deficit disorder). Children may have attention deficits (i.e., be impulsive and unable to focus) without being hyperactive - or they also can display the additional frenetic hyperactivity which is commonly associated with the disorder.

    ADHD should be diagnosed by a physician or qualified mental health professional. It is not uncommon that children are suspected of having the disorder, when they simply are "full of life". Therefore, most coaches will not be able to diagnose the disorder. Nonetheless, if the player appears to be demonstrating many characteristics of an ADHD child, the coach may wish to quietly and confidentially approach the parents to report his observations - and ask for assistance and advice on the best way to deal with the child.

    Many children with ADHD/ADD have above-average intelligence, so they may actually understand your explanations better than others. However, you do have to make sure they are paying attention. It is pointless to yell at them if they are inattentive or distracted. If they clearly are having a bad day, or didn't understand, the best approach is often to take them aside with their back to the group to have this discussion, in order to reduce outside distractions. It can be useful to get face to face with them, at their level, to force them to make eye contact and focus on you. Once you have their attention, you should explain things clearly and keep it very simple. Ask them to repeat what you said so you can be sure that they understood, then send them back to the group.

    Indeed, if you already know that you have an ADHD player in your group, you can do this in the guise of a normal demo, simply by saying "OK, Johnny, now show me what we are going to do so I can be sure that everyone understood me". This avoids pulling the player out, and seems to reduce the emotional overlay which can lead to additional disruptions (as no player likes to be seen as different, or stupid).

    If an ADHD/ADD child becomes disruptive, the best way to manage the situation is be firm, and to remove them from the group for a few minutes. Bring the player over to stand beside you. Don't make a big deal about it - just say "John, come over and stand by me, please". Or send the child off with an assistant. Often, if they just sit for 5 minutes, they can come back in (and use it as a carrot - "John, if you stand still and just listen for 3 minutes, you can do the demo for me"). It often can be helpful to simply tell them to come and let you know when they think that they are ready to follow the rules.

    Children with ADHD/ADD often display the following problems:

    In many respects, although these children may have superior intelligence, their distractibility may require similar treatment to children of sub-par intelligence or athletic ability. All of these children require additional structure; special instructions; additional supervision; and substantial patience. However, in his own way, each of these children can succeed at soccer - and the ADHD children may be able to become World Class players with proper training. Indeed, several players on the U.S. National Team have this disorder. Thus, the coach may find that the player whom he wanted to strangle at u10 is a player whose autograph is being sought by many at u23. It helps to keep reminding yourself that this is not their fault; that yelling at them is just as unfair as it would be to yell at a child with asthma for not running when he cannot breathe; that they almost always are trying; and that, ultimately, they really will learn to cope with their disability if the adults in their lives do not yell so much that they get to the point where they see no reason to try because everybody hates them.

  3. Dealing with attendance problems
  4. The best time to deal with attendance issues is at the Preseason meeting. Remember, soccer is a team sport. As a result, it creates huge problems for the coach and the team if the players don't show up for games - as the absence of sufficient players spoils the game for everyone (and may even cause a game to be forfeited). Likewise, because many skills in soccer build on skills which were learned earlier, it can create a nightmare for the coach if a player consistently misses steps in the instruction - because the coach either has to make special effort to try to help the player to catch up; simply have the player sit out until he can find time to help him; or let the player flounder (which then disrupts the learning of his partner). Similarly, if the player is chronically late to practice, this leaves the coach with the same 3 bad choices (let the child sit; let him flounder; or try to juggle things so that he hold an extra parallel practice for the latecomer).

    So, use this meeting to make clear what your expectations are on attendance. Talk about the importance of making a commitment - and keeping a commitment. Explain that you do not want to be the only adult who keeps their commitments and that, just as you won't skip practices or skip games, you don't expect the parents to allow their players to skip practices or games. Ask if everyone is willing to make a firm commitment to come to all of the practices and all of the games, unless there is some true emergency or illness. Hand out player agreements in which the player promises in writing to come to practices and games, and to work hard. Make a production out of this - and explain why you are doing so. Why is it important to address attendance problems early? The answer is easy. If you don't push hard for good attendance, the kids who will end up leaving your team are the reliable ones (because they will be sick of playing on a team where nobody shows up - and where the practices are no fun, because coach is always distracted by trying to bring others up to speed or the teammates cannot do the drills because they have missed so much work).

    Furthermore, if the other parents/players see that Johnny is never coming to practices and not showing up for games (and coach doesn't act like this is a problem), some others will be tempted to start doing the same thing. So, if you allow parents and players to believe that you don't care if they show up and will accept any old excuse, your team is likely to be filled with players who show up when they feel like it - and whose skills (and win/loss record) reflect their lackadaisical approach. If one or two parents do not want to make this commitment, offer to try to move them to another team. And, if half or more of the parents do not want to make the same commitment to the team which you are, you need to consider whether it is worthwhile to bother with this group (because the chances are good that even the committed players won't bother coming by the end of the season, as it is not much fun to play or practice with people who show up so seldom that they may not even know your name). You can flatter yourself that you can make the practices so much fun that the kids will want to be there. However, the kids don't drive. Thus, if the parents view you as a glorified unpaid babysitter to use whenever it is convenient, or as a way-stop in a whirlwind tour of every extra-curricular activity in the universe, the pleas to return to practice will fall on deaf ears anyway.

    Despite having this discussion at the outset, you may run into some problems with attendance by some players. Here are some things to do which may help you to nip these problems in the bud.

    Always take attendance at practice. If anyone is tardy, note this as well.

    Make a big deal out of any absence or tardiness. Tell the player that he was missed. Keep him late to go over anything that he missed (or ask for him to come early). Call the parents at home to ask why. Remind them that you need him at practice.

    When a player is tardy, don't allow him to join the group immediately. Put him to work on doing warmups or fast-footwork drills. Then, hold him out of the scrimmage at the end of practice to do special work. Make sure that he understands that the reason that he is not scrimmaging is because he showed up late.

    If the player is late more a few times, talk to the parent and find out why. Suggest other transportation options. Suggest a carpool. But, make sure that the parent understands what happens to YOUR schedule when the player is late - as it is very unfair to expect you to run parallel practices or to disrupt others.

    Take attendance at each game, and give a star (or small treat) to anyone who made all of the practices for the week on time and who showed up for the game on time (give a reduced award to the ones who were tardy). Allocate any extra time to those with perfect attendance. If your best efforts at persuasion do not work, then your primary objectives are: trying to get the other parents/players not to follow in the path of the irresponsible parent; and, if you cannot cut the child at the end of the season, trying to convince his parents to take him to another team.

    Some coaches try to achieve these objectives by benching the absent player. However, this option often is not available to Rec coaches (because Club rules may require the coach to play a player for one-half game if he shows up, even if the child never comes to practice). Besides, if the team has to play short if the player is benched, it is difficult to do this without upsetting the other parents.

    Even where benching is possible, it may be very hard to punish the child (who doesn't drive) for the irresponsible behavior of the parents. The child often looks so miserable that other parents and players will feel sorry for him (which can cause a backlash). Likewise, angry confrontations with the parents whenever they show up do little good (as this scares all of the other kids; tend to upsets the other parents (who won't really understand what has gone on before or why you are so upset with this group of parents); and tend to affect how the coach comes across in the practices and games (because an irritated coach usually lacks a sense of humor and doesn't seem to be having a good time)).

    So, what can you do? First, talk to the Club and make sure that they know that you could use an extra player. Often, where a team is having to play short, the Club will bend the rules on signups and allow the other players to find a classmate to come to the team late. If you can get a replacement, it may be easier to diplomatically offer to let the other child drop off so that his parents won't be bothered by having to bring him when it obviously is so much of a burden.

    In most cases, you also will want to hold a team meeting to talk about how to handle the attendance problems (in order to place the spotlight on the problem and bring any complaints or problems out into the open). Some coaches are afraid to hold meetings to discuss attendance problems - because they fear that the irresponsible parents will claim that it is the coach's fault that the child doesn't come to practice. However, if someone is going to make these claims, there is a good chance that they already are doing it behind the back of the coach anyway - so it makes sense to get these complaints out in the open where the coach has some chance of giving a rebuttal to the back-biting.

    Remember that, if the majority are not happy with your coaching, this is something that you need to know (as either you are wasting your time or you haven't done a good sales job on your philosophy on player development). Quite often, parents with little involvement in team activities will blame the coach when what they really mean is "we don't like the win/loss record" or "my child should be playing more". This is why it is a good idea to address your definition of "winning" and your philosophies on playing time at the Preseason meeting - and to continue to give regular updates to the parents on the progress of the children, so that they will realize that the players actually are learning new skills in practice, which will help to improve their win/loss record over time.

    Also understand that, to some parents, the only thing that matters is that their child is on a "winning" team (even as a bench-sitter). There also are parents who truly believe that they are entitled to drop in and out of any activity without penalty, and it is your job to be an unpaid babysitter for times when it is convenient for them to drop the child off. If most of the parents do not agree with your coaching philosophies, then you are the wrong leader for this particular group - even though you are a good person and may be a terrific coach. If you are the wrong person for the job which is being offered, then you need to know this - or you will be beating your head against the wall in frustration.

    In most cases, the vast majority of parents have no interest in coaching; are very grateful that you are doing the job; and will be supportive once they understand the problems which you face when players are tardy or absent. Often, they can help to bring pressure to bear on the Club to provide another player to your team and/or help to locate an extra player. If this isn't possible, they may be able to help you to talk the Club into disbanding your team and placing the responsible kids on other teams. So, the chances are good that you will manage to work things out in a manner which suits the majority. However, if you are offered a job by the majority which you just don't want, don't be afraid to turn it down.

  5. Dealing with "overly-helpful" parents
  6. 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 humored 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 behavior.

  7. Dealing with Parental complaints
  8. 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."

    Updated 17 March 1999

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