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Coaching Apr 29, 2014

The parent-coach conversation: Should we…or shouldn’t we?


It Couldn’t Be Done
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

I’ve always loved this poem, by Edgar Albert Guest. Nothing motivates me quite so much as telling me something can’t be done. Unless it’s telling me I can’t do it…That pretty much guarantees I’ll try. Guess I have always had a bit of a rebel. Maybe that’s why I enjoy working with kids so much.

One place I’ve been warned to steer clear of in youth soccer is the parent-coach conversation. I’m not sure I have ever met a coach who really relishes the notion of having a long conversation with the parents on his team. This used to be different when parent-coaches were the norm and paid professionals only coached at the higher ranks.

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As parent coaches, we tapped into what little playing experience we may have had, checked out a few library books, attended some certification sessions and took to the sidelines.

We were doing our best, but most of us were pretty satisfied to turn it over to the professional ranks when our kids reached a certain level and our abilities had pretty much peaked.

Of course, “turning it over” meant we hired someone to run practices; that didn’t mean we sat quietly on the sidelines and watched happily as little Johnny or timid Mary didn’t get the playing time we thought they deserved.

And if the team was getting pummeled, certainly there should have been some adjustments in playing positions or strategies. This was hard to keep to ourselves, especially since we were paying someone to do this right.

So, we may have been a bit vocal about this. This conversation has been parodied all over the place: “Soccer Mom” goes haywire while the coach, usually in a clipped international accent, coolly explains what Soccer Mom is missing and why Soccer Mom should leave coaching to the coach. She should stick to halftime oranges.

First time I saw this, I was livid. How dare they stereotype me like this? This is when I asked people (and apologies to those of you who go by this moniker online — but keep those cards and letters coming) to stop calling me “soccer mom.” She does not have a very good reputation out there. I googled her and was appalled at the language I found and the descriptions of her behavior, her dress and her presuppositions. Really. Once you have googled, please come back.

Okay. So, I guess I had forgotten about this animosity, me being a coach and trainer with a PhD in Exercise Physiology and a good bit of experience under my belt, when I contacted the parents of players on the teams I currently train. It’s overlap season for them: they are playing club ball at the same time they play for their high school teams and they are carrying full course loads. Some of them (gasp) are also learning to drive. I asked these parents to tell me which school teams these kids play for so I could be in touch with these coaches about coordinating the physical demands on their kids.

I think this caught them by surprise. Some were sure that the coach would never respond. Some told me they didn’t think the coach would appreciate being contacted because the coach “hated club soccer.” Now this was getting interesting. One parent asked me to let them know about their kid because they were not getting any playing time, and one parent actually asked me please “do not contact my daughter’s coach” because the coach is “big on having kids advocate for themselves.”

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This could get exciting. I didn’t plan to use any kids’ names. Hadn’t even planned to identify the team I represented, and I certainly wasn’t asking about playing time. But clearly these parents had been cautioned against “contacting the coach.” Probably because of the Soccer Mom phenomenon.

Of course, having been told that I would not succeed in my quest, I happily embarked on it. I sent emails to those high school coaches, ccing assistant, Varsity and JV on the same email. The subject heading was “sharing your soccer athletes.” My intention was to ask about their training and competition schedule, to let them know I was training these players and to coordinate our efforts to keep them healthy and injury free.

More than half of the coaches responded within 48 hours. Not only that, but they seemed genuinely pleased to be connected. They shared their approach to conditioning and fitness and, in some cases, offered advice regarding what kids needed. Also, they told me their plans to meet the schedule of multiple games in the coming weeks and conference play to follow onto this.

Stafford Revolution 00G Blue U-13s coach Jonita Hooker speaks to one of her players at the 2013 Capital Fall Classic.Some even mentioned the demanding course load kids had and the flexibility being offered in this regard. They shared my concern about watching for signs of overtraining and had addressed this with their players. In short, these coaches were remarkably on the ball and very receptive. Why is there such a stigma associated with reaching out to them?

Now, I am the biggest proponent out there for kids advocating for themselves. I have been through “playing time negotiations” with all my kids; each kid has taken it directly to the coach with no parental intervention. If things went south, we adjusted strategies, and I sent the kids back in under their own recognizance. Self-advocacy is my middle name. One time (only once) I had such concerns about a coach that I called the school activities director to stand in on the meeting to be sure things were fair and reasonable. (That’s a story for another blog.)

But this experience in contacting the coaches left me feeling pretty hopeful about the club vs high school situation out there for our kids. I did find that the kids (not necessarily the parents) knew pretty well how likely it was that their coach would respond to my query.

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I do remain a bit concerned about those coaches who say “Under no circumstances should parents contact me.” Have Soccer Mom and Soccer Dad really left such a bad taste in their mouth? Is it safe for these players? Usually reasonable folks will entertain a reasonable conversation. Which means everyone needs to holster their weapons.

Portland Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone watches her team train in Rochester, N.Y. one day before the NWSL final. Photo by Caitlin Murray, property of Caitlin Murray and reflection on this I found particularly poignant came to me from a current college player who responded candidly to my query.

“No one who doesn’t get playing time is gonna like the coach,” she said. “There is bound to be resentment.”

Now there is some honesty. How hard is it to be the star of every team you’ve ever played on and then ride the bench for four years?

So, how do you approach that in college, I asked. “You fight for it,” she said. “Everything about your character is tested. The ones who have trouble,” she observed, “are the ones who have parents who have glorified their kids’ egos.”

She compared it to when, on American Idol, singers who don’t have the talent are consoled by parents who assure them that the judges are wrong and next year they’ll realize this.

These kids just aren’t prepared to hear the truth. What’s worse, they are unprepared to fight for playing time. A dose of honesty might do them good. At least give them a fighting chance.  ….

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,

There are thousands to prophesy failure,

There are thousands to point out to you one by one,

The dangers that wait to assail you.

But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,

Just take off your coat and go to it;

Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing

That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

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