Mailvox: the parent problem

My big concern: how to properly deal with parents and the community? I know that issues has gotten most of the coaches I’ve know into some type of hot water… Is there a ‘rule of thumb’ out there for coaches that works?

My answer is necessarily incomplete, because there are fewer potential problems for the little kids with whom I have experience than there are for high schoolers. But the one thing will inevitably come up at all ages is playing time.

I tend to favor the rather brutal approach of demonstrating to everyone the foolishness of their ideas by applying them ruthlessly. For example, I decided to invite all of the kids, not just the tournament team, to our first tournament this spring so the little ones could see what they were like. This proved to be a bit of a mistake, as the parents of the young ones were upset that their kids weren’t playing at all and many of them were complaining about having to waste their morning there.

Their kids weren’t even close to being ready to play, of course, and all the children knew it. The older kids in particular were aghast when I announced the starting lineup for the last game, which consisted of the five youngest kids on the squad. The little ones gave up three goals in the first twenty seconds, at which point my best midfield raised his hands to the skies and howled with heartfelt anguish, “what are you doing?”

“Making a point,” I answered, loudly enough for all the parents to hear. After another minute and a few more goals, one of the smaller kids blocked a shot with his chest and went down crying. The parents then began begging me to take the little ones out, which I did, although I kept our starters sitting since I’d already decided to concede the game and I wanted the substitutes to get more tournament experience. They did pretty well, actually, and we ended up losing by only a goal after spotting the other team six or seven.

I haven’t heard a peep out of a parent about playing time since. Once you demonstrate that you know exactly what you are doing, people are significantly less likely to question you, much less argue with you.

A good tactic is to pull a few of your better players early, when you go up by two goals. Let the team coast a bit with the substitutes, and the starters are usually fired up to get something done as soon as they get back on the field. Once the game is put away, either by your team or your opponents, take out all your starters and let the substitutes finish the game out. When everyone is confident that they’ll get to play, they don’t complain if you leave the stars in longer on the few occasions that it’s required.

To conclude on a tangential note, most coaches from the kiddy to the college level make the mistake of regularly overplaying their best players, leaving them exhausted just when you need them most. Even my track coach at the NCAA D1 level used to do this at every major meet. It’s interesting to note how often professional teams make substitutions in comparison with teams at lower levels; sure the substitutes may be better, but the margin for error is smaller as well.