If you have been around the youth soccer world for any amount of time, you will know that we still have a lot of work to do in order to create a consistently healthy environment for our players to thrive and keep falling in love with the game.
Unfortunately as is the case in other areas of life, some parents are not open to educating themselves on how to be a soccer parent. Many think that by simply being a parent it qualifies them as a soccer parent - not true. Being a successful soccer parent is something that needs to be worked at and learned to do continuously. It is a skill, just like being a player or coaching a team.
In his book The 2nd Goal Parent, Positive Coaching Alliance founder Jim Thompson says that the role of a sports parent is to support the athlete and the coach. He explains that coaching and the scoreboard should not be the concern of the parent, instead they should help to cultivate an environment that best supports peak performance. The parent, player and coach all have the same amount of responsibility but their roles are different - this is known as the athletic triangle.
Does this mean the parent should be passive and say nothing? Far from it - the parent has an equally important role to play. The key is to remember that the role is different to that of the coach.
Ideally the coach will have a meeting with all parents at the start of each season to explain their coaching style, methods of communication, player expectations and also the role that parents can play. If the coach doesn’t do this, I suggest reaching out to them in a friendly manner and asking for a meeting. I have learned that the more communication between the coach and parents the better as it allows for clear expectations to be set.
The key roles of a soccer parent:
- Let the coach be the coach. Be respectful of their style. Don’t criticize. Build them up. Coaches are doing their best and need encouragement. If you do need to speak with the coach, be sure to set up a time away from the field (at least 48 hours after a game). Never do this in front of your child, the team or other parents.
- Encourage your child to work on the things they can control - their effort + attitude.
- Create a positive, supportive atmosphere encourages your child players to maximize their potential - both on & off the field.
- Give players space - don’t camp out next to the practice field. Let them practice and make mistakes in an anxiety-free environment. Nobody likes to be micromanaged.
- Do not coach from the sideline during games. This creates confusion for players and actually stifles their development and decision making. It is not helpful.
- Model sporting behavior - respect opposition and officials, congratulate good play by both teams. This sets and example for players and parents.
- Steer post-game conversations away from the scoreline. Examples: What went well? What didn’t? What did you learn? How you going to respond?
- Keep it fun - ensure your child is enjoying their soccer experience regardless of the level they are playing at. You can still encourage them to be competitive without it being too intense and serious. I have seen too many young players quit the game because of the pressure often put on them by parents. Youth soccer gets too serious too soon - keep things upbeat and lighthearted.
- Think Big Picture - statistically very few soccer players receive college scholarships or get pro contracts. If they do then great! Yes, let's encourage our players to strive to win and be competitive; however, more importantly let’s make the most of all the life lessons and teachable moments that soccer presents us with.
Educating parents about their role in the athletic triangle might be new for your coach and your club. If this is the case you could be the one to start shifting the culture.
As a youth coach, I can say that those parents who understand their role as a soccer parent not only develop a better experience for their child, they have a much more enjoyable experience themselves. Conversely, the parents who don’t know what their role is, or who are unwilling to fulfill it, are the ones who encounter the most frustration and who upset the equilibrium for everyone else - their own child, the coach, the rest of the players and the other parents.
Being a successful soccer parent requires learning new skills and reframing conversations. Coaches, administrators and parents all have a role to play if we are going to succeed in changing the current culture.
From a coach’s and club’s perspective, educating parents takes courage - especially in the play-to-play model. Not all parents are ready to hear that they need to work on developing their arsenal of tools. Rewiring years of thinking and changing behaviors is hard work. Yet I believe that once parents understand their key role in the athletic triangle and they start to understand what is expected of them, we create a culture where our players start to flourish and deepen their love for the game.