Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Why parents criticise coaches

davidscwnewI think all of us have a dark side that turns us into critics. Some people can be more critical than others, but if you’re on the receiving end you have to close your ears to the comments and just let the critics get on
with it.

I was at a coaching session last week and all around me coaches were being critical. Rather than write the session down and create something new from it, they just wanted an excuse to say “I’m better than you”.

But it’s not just true of coaches. Working with grassroots teams I tend to hear criticism constantly and a lot of it comes from the parents at the side of the pitch. If their son or daughter has not played well, they think the coach hasn’t been doing his job properly. If their son or daughter is substituted, the coach hasn’t a clue what he’s doing.

And on it goes. Remember, criticism is easy to make but your achievements are not. And it’s easier to deal with criticism when you realise the reasons behind it. Criticism from parents is often a tool to defend their children and to defend themselves in the face of other parents with higher achieving kids – it’s not an attack on you as such but it can be hard to ignore.

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You are doing a great job so don’t let them put you off. It is because you have given up your time and taken on the role of coach that you have been thrust into the limelight and unfortunately a lot of people will resent your position of importance.

When I first started coaching I remember that one of my teams went through a sticky patch in the middle of the season, having started out with four straight wins. After one game a parent came up to me and told me that he had spoken to a few of the other dads and they had decided my tactics were wrong.

I was taken aback and rushed home to go through my notes and think about what they had said. My tactics hadn’t changed but the players were on a steep learning curve and some aspects of their play were just beginning to come through. At that time I felt quite nervous about the score in games – not like now, when I look at how well the team played before I even think about the score.

In attacking me the dads had come up with reasons why their kids hadn’t won the game, but it was their problem, not mine. Now that I understand why people criticise, I no longer feel nervous about what parents think of me. Once you realise why people criticise you’ll deal with it much better too.

Solve your coaching problems

davidscwnewA couple of seasons ago I was asked to take over a team that the club said were underachieving – they wanted the side to get more success than they were having. So I went along to watch them. It seemed that for the first half of matches they were very successful and were often winning at half-time, but they always seemed to capitulate in the second half. I found it slightly puzzling that it happened so often, but I soon realised exactly why.

The team had a player who was an outstanding defender. He read the game well and was the type of footballer anyone would want in their team – commanding, fearless, always in the right place at the right time and joined in with attacks.

But this last point was the reason for the team’s second-half horrors. It transpired this young man had come to a deal with the old manager to play in defence for one half but attack for the second. With the player gone from defence the team were soon in trouble – and I cant for the life of me think why he wanted to play up front. He rarely saw the ball, and when he did it was usually from a panic clearance that he struggled to control. As his frustrations got the better of him, the coach took him off to calm him down.

I’m all for players moving around in different positions, but this just wasn’t working and the team were throwing away excellent first-half performances to accommodate this deal. I spoke to the player and his parents and I gave them an idea about what I wanted. I saw him as a fantastic centre half running the game from defence, but I also accepted that he should get the chance to play in attack.

However, rather than change at half-time, I explained that I would target games when he was most needed in defence, and for other games he could move up the pitch, allowing his team-mates to gain valuable experience at the back. As a result, he was still getting to play up front but we were getting full games out of him playing in defence.

I also made him captain, which gave him a huge boost. Having him at the back for full games made a huge difference to the next few games and the team began to be much more successful, built on the shoulders of a great player who excelled at the fundamentals of defending.

The manager had been doing the right things but he needed to think more about the problems he was having and come up with a solution like mine. Sometimes it takes another pair of eyes to see where a coach is falling down and a simple solution will often fix it.

How to time your sessions… don’t!

davidscwnewI always remember when I was struggling to cope with delivering sessions in my early days, a very experienced academy coach said to me: “There are no failures, just experiences and your reactions to them.”

It’s a great piece of advice. My right hand man at training is fairly new to coaching and he, like you, works very hard at getting the right sessions and delivering them to some of our younger teams. But he gets very nervous and if the kids haven’t understood what he wants them to do, he moves right on to another session and tries that.

Understanding is vital to a session, both for the coach and the players – often it takes time for the players to get the session you are delivering. We were well into the session last week and I could see the players looking at one another slightly lost.

“It’s not working, Dave,” said my right-hand man. “You said it was a 15-minute exercise but time’s almost up and they’re not grasping it.

I told him to hold fire and managed to block out the murmurs of the watching parents who were keen for me to move on to something else. But I wanted to show them one more time that this could work. It’s never easy watching kids struggling with a concept, but I couldn’t give up on this with them so close.

I tried giving two players some extra encouragement – sometimes that’s all it takes. And sure enough, within 30 seconds, they began to ‘get it’. And more than that, they started having fun. The session was working and they wanted to carry on, because part of the fun was ‘getting’ the session.

Within a further 10 minutes they were making it look easy, which was exactly what I wanted. “Okay,” I shouted, “it’s a wrap!” And guess what? They didn’t want to stop 

Some players began to move onto a small-sided game, but a good number were still running the passing sequence. I initially planned this as a 15-minute warm-up, but it had ended up filling the majority of the session!

I’m always amazed when coaches tell me they ran a session with 15 minutes of ‘this’, then 20 minutes of ‘that’, and another 10 minutes to finish, because that is what it told them to do in the session notes. Sure, following that principle helps you keep control of your session, but it won’t allow you to develop your players with any spontaneity.

Don’t keep looking at your watch just because it says 15 minutes in your session notes. Instead, watch the players and use your own coaching knowledge to judge what to do next. Trust me, the results can be fantastic.

How to get every player playing every week

David ClarkeOne of the experiments I’ve been trying at my club is to run extra teams who play friendly matches. This is so that players who have been substitutes the previous week get a full run-out the following weekend.

It has worked really well. Parents have shown a lot of interest because it provides a great outlet for those players who find themselves sitting out the majority of matches for the main team.

It’s also a good way to integrate any new players into the club. There’s a huge benefit for the coach as well, namely that it’s an ideal way to watch and monitor talent, keeping the kind of check on their development that you just wouldn’t be able to get normally if you only saw them in training. After all, game time is essential for any player looking to really ‘find’ their game – it gives them something to aim for.

On Sunday morning, I went down to watch a couple of new players in one of our friendly teams. The match was against a strong local side. They lost, but you wouldn’t have thought so when you saw them after the game. The players were full of energy and self-confidence and were thrilled at having achieved a full game for our club.

I’ve only had one negative comment so far.

This was from a parent who didn’t want to pay the same amount of money as other parents whose children played in what he called ‘proper’ matches – “Why should I pay for friendly games?”

I explained that the coaches involved still have to turn up and organise the friendly games. Then there’s a referee, and someone to book pitches. Everything else is the same apart from the kids get more out of the experience.

The player named Man of the Match in the friendly will play in one of next week’s league games as a result. It showed all the other kids that putting in the effort really does pay off – and we can use it the other way around with ‘first-teamers’ not giving it their all.

But the best element it is that around 20 boys in each age group are all playing regularly, and that can only be a good thing.

My 12-point plan to dealing with troublesome parents

dave clarke

There will be times as a coach when you have trouble dealing with parents.

Parents are one of your main support links with the team and you rely on them for lots of things – mainly getting their child to training or matches. However, your biggest supporter could become your biggest problem if they feel aggrieved by the way their child has been handled.

This can result in problems in the coach-player relationship

A cross parent can be difficult to get through to because when dealing with their child logic or reason goes out of the window. This can be very stressful for coaches, and in some instances could threaten their job with the team.

Here is my blueprint to dealing with parents.

  1. Arrange a meeting rather than have a stand up argument at the side of the pitch.
  2. Hold the meeting in private but have another coach or some other person present.
  3. Do some digging and find out if the parent has previous history of aggressive or unreasonable behaviour.
  4. What does the problem revolve around? Playing time/Not starting games/Upset by coach. You could put together a plan of how to resolve this but if the parent is being unreasonable don’t agree to something that means other players will suffer – time on the pitch for example.
  5. Give parents time to get their point across without interruptions.
  6. Give your point of view but don’t give too much information than is necessary and don’t discuss other players.
  7. If possible, document the facts or details of the parent’s complaint. Determine whether any and all supportive information will be available at the meeting.
  8. When meeting with the parent, always have another person sit in on the meeting, perhaps the AD, assistant principal, or another coach–someone to verify what actually takes place.
  9. Meeting alone with the parent can develop into a no-win scenario.
  10. At the meeting, allow the parent to vent his or her spleen. Make mental notes, but do not interrupt.
  11. Avoid attacking the parents over the reasons they may be attacking you.
  12. If parents start being rude or shouting at you stay calm and let them calm down
  13. Go over the meeting in your mind and action any points you have agreed with the parents. What could you have done better? How could you have made it easier for yourself?

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