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Dealing with the “Parent Coach”

Q: There appears to be a new type of soccer parent appearing at games. In addition to the wonderful parents who support soccer any way they can, we’ve seen the “parent coach”, the ones who run up and down the side lines hollering at their child, and the “parent referee”, the ones who run up and down the side lines shouting at the referees, but the new type are the ones who challenge and yell at their own coach.

I’ve noticed these parents mostly at the younger ages and I suspect that they come from two places. The first are parents who are on their last child, having gone through many years of soccer with the older siblings and the second are parents who played club and school soccer themselves. Yep, those wonderful children we coached fifteen years ago are back with their own children.

I have personal experience with these parents who confront coaches with how they believe their child should be coached. I have had parents approach me during a game and tell me what drills I should run in practice to correct a missed goal or pass, and a parent who was livid because we were playing a left footed player on the right side of the field, and several parents who were very upset because we didn’t have the girls standing in line before a game and taking shots on the goal (that’s why we can’t score goals in a game I’m told!). I’m sure all of us have had similar experiences as I’m hearing more of this phenomena from other coaches.

Well, anyway, this is my question, how do we deal with this type of parent? The parents who shout at their own child or the referee?

I realize that as a referee, you have the authority to control situations such as these.

But when you are directly confronted by a parent or a group of parents from your own team, what do you do? So, I am asking for suggestions and feedback from you Koach Karl, and your website readers.

Koach Karl: Communication is the Key!

Communication in the middle of the season, however, is way too late! You need to begin your season with a ‘Pre-Season Team Picnic’. Yes, you read that correctly not a meeting but a ‘Picnic’, a Potluck Picnic.

There are too many excuses for missing a meeting as you are surely aware. However, a picnic changes the environment from soccer business to family, food and fun! I would go so far as to suggest that attendance at the picnic be mandatory. You will find a suggested agenda for the picnic in my editorial of this issue. So let us get to your dilemma:

During the picnic take time to cover rules and regulations for both players and parents. Let the parents know what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior at both practices and games. Be very clear in your discussion with the parents as to what you expect them to do during the game. Here are some suggestions:

  • Become a spectator
  • Use appropriate language
  • Exemplify good sportsmanship
  • Cheer team effort positively
  • Let the coach do the coaching
  • Stay behind the spectator line
  • Avoid calling the players by name
  • Make positive comments to all players
  • No alcoholic beverages or smoking on the sideline
  • Never criticize a referee’s decision – learn the laws
  • Set a good example. ‘If you want to raise a good sport, be a good sport’
  • NO SHOUTING!!!

You must also be very clear as to the consequences for not following these rules. Freely and fully discuss your mutual needs, concerns and expectations. Make the discussion ‘two-way’ allowing the parents to agree and disagree with your suggested format. However, you must receive a consensus of agreement of the parents that the rules will be enforced by the team manager or by you as a last resort.

The most successful approach to handling outraged parents has been the following. Everyone on the team (parents, players, administrators) has agreed that there is to be no shouting at the referee, opposing players, coaches, etc. during the game. You, as head coach, must now set the example by never shouting. Have the team manager remind the parents who may have an inclination to shout that shouting will not be tolerated during the game.

Should the parent ignore your team manager’s request or warning and continue shouting, take the following action: At the next substitution break take the parent’s child off the field and explain to the child why he was substituted. In turn, ask the child to now explain to his parent why he is not playing. Once the child has convinced the parent and the parent agrees to stop shouting, the child may reenter the game.

Of course, the same action would take place should the parent shout at the referee; that is substitute her child off the field. Explain to the child that the referee knows the laws of the game and is doing her best. Now ask the child to explain to her parent why she is not on the field playing!

We know that the worst scenario for any parent is to have their child not playing. And if the parent is making life miserable for the child and everyone else at the event, the best solution is having parent and child communicate in closer proximity so shouting will not be necessary!

Here are some of the benefits of this approach: Child and parent actually get a chance to talk to each other about a common subject. Child is closer to parent than any other adult and may have the right words to resolve the situation. Child may be able to communicate through body language that the situation should change. In other words allow the family to solve it’s own dilemma!

Another reason for the picnic is that it gives you the opportunity to have the parents experience the trials and tribulations of playing our wonderful game. Once they experience how difficult the game really is, they may empathize and be less inclined to become involved verbally.

I suggest having them play the official length of time on the official size field that their child will play. If you know that a certain parent will be a potential shouter, actually shout at him/her during this game. Or have the children become spectators during the picnic game and ask them to shout at their parents during the action. Allow the parents to run a mile in their children’s shoes. Make it a point to sit down immediately after this game and talk about sideline behavior, especially the NO SHOUTING rule for parents!

Make every effort to resolve the situation in a civil manner. However, there will be times when you will have to take the must excruciating step and that is, to ask the child to play for another team. Hopefully, you will never have to face this situation.

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