Monday, May 16, 2011
I heard it again the other day, "That coach isn't giving my son enough playing time." We've all been there with our sons and daughters, watching the team struggle while our child sits on the bench. We're normal parents who see our kids through those rose-colored glasses of pride and anticipation, unable to believe that everyone else doesn't see the same abilities and potential. That pride can be a dangerous thing if it leads us to an angry confrontation with the coach. It's important to remember that a myriad of elements goes into any coach's decision about who to play, what position to use a player, how much to play someone, what tournaments to attend, what skills need to be worked on, and how best to convey those skills to the players.
Before it even gets to the point of wanting or needing to talk to a coach, parents can help eliminate some of the issues by understanding all the club policies as they relate to player concerns. Most clubs will soon begin registration for fall recreational teams and tryouts for their select programs, so this is a great opportunity to make sure that your child joins a club where the philosophies and policies are most in line with your expectations. For example, what are the playing time policies of your club? If your child is on a recreational team, then playing time should be evenly split among players no matter their skills or their years with the club. Make sure that policy is clearly stated in the club materials, so there won't be any confusion. If the team is a select team, there may still be some playing time minimums that the club will enforce. Also you should check with your league and your state association to determine if they have any policies that member clubs need to adhere to. That will give you a basis for discussion if you believe the coach is ignoring those policies.
However, I always encourage the player to talk to the coach first rather than have the parent do it, which can be intimidating for most youth players. Nevertheless, it's a good idea to start there and then if the coach appears to dismiss the concern it opens the door for parents to become involved. I know that coaches always respect the players who try to resolve their issues with the team or the coach, so encourage your child to approach the coach on his or her own. Some issues, however, do require the input of the parent, especially when they affect family concerns such as travel and expense.
Before you sign with a club, pin down the coach or the team manager on what the financial obligations will be. It's easy to put in the club literature that the team attends three tournaments a season, but if you're a team in Wisconsin, there's a big difference between tournaments in the state and tournaments in Florida or California or even Ohio. Once you're signed with the team, it's difficult to refuse to attend a tournament that requires airfare, especially when the parents around you are thrilled with the idea. So be sure you understand what ""travel tournament"" means before you place your child on a team. Make sure that all expenses are detailed up front; ask about uniform costs, travel, shared expenses such as lodging for coaches and bus drivers at tournaments, team dinners at tournaments and any mandatory team expenses such as soccer bags, warm-ups, and team dues. These questions should be asked of coaches and club by parents. As long as players need to pay for their training, their parents should have a detailed accounting of what it will cost them.
Other issues can be anticipated prior to signing for a club. Attend a few practices of the coach you expect to play under to see how sessions are conducted and if you have any problems with those practices. It's no secret that coaches can be salty in their language and occasionally downright menacing in their directions. Just like you shouldn't expect to change a spouse's behavior, you're not going to change a coach's behavior, so if you are uncomfortable with a coach, find another one. Once your child joins a team there will be very little you can do about how a coach conducts him or herself. You can also check out how many players at your son's or daughter's position are already on the team and what formation the coach uses. If there are four forwards on the team already and the coach uses a single forward, chances are pretty good that playing time for most of the forwards will be limited. And expect that if your son or daughter becomes the newest player on the team that there will be a probationary period resulting in limited playing time.
Finally, if you do need to talk to the coach about an issue, stay focused on the issue and don't get personal. Very few of us have as much experience coaching soccer as your child's soccer coach. So trust the coach to see the big picture of which your child is a part. If you truly question the coach's ability to coach then you need to find a new coach – again you're not going to change the coach to your liking. If you think your child is being treated unfairly as compared to others on the team, then again you're better off finding a different team and coach. Be sure that you are also not missing the forest for the trees. If players want to improve they need to possess the basic skills of soccer, the most basic of which is first touch. This means the player can receive the ball on any part of his or her body and move it quickly to their foot without sending it away for an opponent to snap up. Your coach may be working on your child to develop and retain an excellent first touch or some other significant skill before adding the element of competition which could result in developing bad habits. Not playing in a game doesn't necessarily translate to not being considered a good soccer player. Development means taking certain steps and taking them in order. So give the coach time to explain without needing to be defensive against your attack. Ask why rather than why not.
Shortly after Robbie switched teams, his new team was playing for the National Championship. We were behind 1-0. Robbie was a forward and had been on the sidelines the entire game. One of our forwards had hurt his hamstring earlier in the week and could barely run, but he remained in the game as the team struggled to overcome their deficit. The coach, who went on to coach in the MLS, made the difficult choice between injured experience and healthy unknown. He decided that keeping someone in there who understood the team dynamics and tactics and was a known leader would be the best to lift the team even with an injury. In the tournament we had won two games with that injured player to bring us to the championship, so overall it appeared to be a wise decision despite the outcome. Still, Robbie's frustration at not being given a chance to contribute and the team's and parents' frustration at the loss did bring up immediate doubts of the coach's choice. Eventually everyone let the moment pass and no one talked to the coach. That kind of restraint is difficult but necessary. I definitely urge parents and players to remember that they will need lots of bridges so be careful which ones they risk burning.