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Coach’s Survival Manual

Coach’s Survival Manual

 Coaching is a blast.  In the ideal world you will show up to practice 5 to 10 minutes early to greet the little bastions of soccer as they come to play.  The kids will all show up on time, listen to every word you utter, immediately grasp the theme of the practice, excel in the cooperative and competitive portions of the practice, have fun, be picked up on time enthusiastic about returning to practice in two days.  You will go home to your wife, have a delightful gourmet meal with your family, then sit on your porch swing with your wife basking in the glow of a full moon.  Yeah, right!’

Regretfully, it doesn’t work like that.  You could well end up waiting a half hour for kids to be picked up, having two or three kids miss every practice, dealing with hostile parents, lacking volunteers etc.  The following is a coaching guide to survival that discusses techniques I have successfully used in dealing with teams over the past 20 years.

The key to my season starts with the parents’ meeting and for this I thank my good friend R.L.  On leave from the army I walked in on his 8th grade class the first day of school only to hear my kind, gentle friend lay the law down like a true demagogue.  This easy going guy appeared to have transformed into a very total, take no prisoners, authoritarian.  As he explained later:  “Len, my first year I was gentle and the classes took advantage of me; I lost them, and it was hard to get them back.  Now I start off hard, gain their respect then loosen up.”  I recommend following this example.

At the parents meeting succinctly list your rules, expectations, and penalties in a no nonsense manner.  Give parents a written summary at the end.  Never give handouts before you talk – the parents will read them and not listen.  The following are some of my rules that work well for me:

Players will be picked up on time from practices or will go to our babysitter service which charges $1.00 per minute for watching the child.  Exceptions are always made for true emergencies but in over 20 years of coaching I have only had one real emergency.  You can improvise with this one but I found that by having this service available, I never have had to use it; and kids were always picked up on time.  I have my parents sign an authorization form for this service or a permission slip permitting children to go home on their own.  If they refuse, I try to transfer the player off my team.

Practice Time:  I will always try to be at practice early; however, emergencies can always occur (knock on wood, I have never had one) and no child should be left unattended at the field until I have arrived.

Parents at practice:  There must be one parent at every practice (i.e. a second adult) in case of emergencies (injuries, asthma, etc).  I handle this the way I select volunteers – see below.  In many cases there are parents who attend every practice so volunteer lists will not be necessary; however, as kids get older you will need to assign people.  Due to league rules, parents are not permitted on the field (a polite way of saying no coaching).  I encourage parents to sit 40 to 50 yards away whenever possible.  I discourage cheering at practice

Siblings/friends at practices:  Not acceptable.  Not my responsibility!!!!!  They cannot join us.

Playing time:  Every player will play at least half the game if they attend all practices that week.  I will excuse players if they have an acceptable reason and I am notified in advance.  School open houses, medical appointments are always acceptable.  Doing Karate or another sport is not (my feeling is that life is a series of choices – if you miss a practice because of dance or little league then your playing time is effected.  If you disagree you can certainly modify this).

Playing time again:  I encourage players to be at practice on time (exceptions are made for parents who work late) and indicate that players who are late to practices will usually be put in late in the game (tit for tat or late for late)..

No foul or abusive language will be permitted.  Early in the season I make some exceptions for words kids might have learned at home but as the season progresses I use red and yellow cards at practices and will sit kids out during the game (regardless of ability) for unsportsmanlike conduct and language.

No fighting – verbal or physical.  I warn them about my cards

Game days:  My players are always at games, dressed and ready to go ½ hour before game time.  Those not on time will not start.  If you arrive after the game has begun it is like arriving to the airport after the flight has taken off.  You will not play.  Many people disagree with me on this, stating that being late is the parent’s fault and I should not penalize the child for the parents’ lack of responsibility.  This is certainly a debatable point; however, I have found that after this happens to one person everyone is always there on time.

Parents #1:  I make it clear that I will not go to the parents house and discipline or yell at their children; conversely, I do not want them to go to my games or practices and discipline or yell at my players.   I want lots of cheering with positive comments toward players of either team who do well.  Parents will be warned and/or ejected for any negativity.  In addition, I emphasize that I am the coach and the only one permitted to make limited tactical adjustments during the game.  THERE WILL BE NO COACHING FROM THE SIDELINES.  Coaching parents will be warned then ejected.  Similar very strict rules apply regarding comments toward the referee, other fans, and other players.  I need to emphasize that as a coach I set the example for the team.  I follow my own advice.

Parent #2:  If there are problems, I want the parents to contact me sooner rather than later.  I rather nip a minor problem in the bud rather then a major problem which has festered.  I state times I will available to discuss concerns with parents.  I recommend never before a game and rarely after a game (emotions are too high).  Over the past couple of decades I have only had three outwardly hostile parents.  Each time my response was:  “Right now emotions are too high, when things have calmed down, I would like to discuss this with you.”  I then walked away and made sure to discuss the issue with the parent at a future date.  We were always able to solve the problem.

Parents #3:  See #1.

Parents #4:  Play with the kids and have fun but do not coach or try to teach them.

Parents #5:  See #1

Volunteers:  I will make sure there are lots of jobs available for the parents (organizing team pictures, calling to remind people when it is their turn for end of game snacks, end of year party, baby sitting (see above), organizing trash pick up, setting up/taking down nets, etc).  At the meeting I will list the jobs then go back and ask for volunteers.  If no one promptly steps up (I wait 2 to 3 seconds), I will point to one parent and thank them for volunteering, never taking no for an answer.  My job is to coach, I leave the administrative stuff to the parents.  On the rare occasion that I have a “supermom” I will relinquish acquisition of volunteer duty to her.

Trash:  I always stress the importance of policing the fields when we are done with practice.

As mentioned, the above is presented (not discussed) succinctly and authoritatively at the parents meeting after which I give the parents a two to three page handout listing my rules, idiosyncrasies, and whatever.  Some coaches have a handout they require to parents to sign, acknowledging awareness to their rules.  I have not found this to be necessary.  What I have found is that I have a great group of parents who enjoy watching their kids play.  I have had had very little problems with these rules.  Most of the parents respect me as a coach and understand the need for the structure. We have lots of cheering on the sidelines, not too much coaching or negativity (at least that I hear), and my kids and I have a blast.

Dr. Leonard Marks

Dr. Leonard Marks is a specialist in Pediatrics and a Fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics - Sutter North Medical Foundation. He coached the Marysville High School Varsity Soccer team for 21 seasons and was named the Sacramento-San Joaquin Section Model Coach of the Year in 2010.