“Shoot” “pass” “get rid of it” “not there” “what’s that” “no” “clear it” “down the line” a selection of comments shouted endlessly on the side of football pitches each weekend. Not to forget the collective gasps as a young kid has the nerve to dribble the ball away from inside his own box or the predictable collective groans if a kid fails with an ambitious trick or the said dribble. No I’m not talking about the coach today I’m discussing the behaviour of parents!
They support their kids love of the beautiful game. Come rain or shine they take them to numerous training sessions and matches; paying subs and buying all the latest equipment. However to many a grassroots coach and more importantly the child themselves the parent can be the biggest barrier to enjoyment and development. This subject is huge and I will only be able to scratch the surface.
I believe it is fair to conclude that the vast majority of parents in their own mind genuinely want the best for their kids but most are oblivious to the impact that their actions/behaviours have on their child. Culturally there are huge problems with the development of kids and I have discussed at length in previous blogs the negative effect poor coaching behaviours can have on enjoyment and development. Poor parental behaviours can have an equally negative effect. I strongly believe we need to improve coach education and develop club philosophies that drive change within our culture challenging current behaviours. The FA are introducing mentoring schemes to help volunteer coaches and to develop club philosophies but without significant resources which at this moment I do not believe the FA will invest this initiative will take years and years to have a significant impact. The education of parents also needs to take high priority within any coach/club philosophy.
Some parents are exceptionally supportive of their own children and great role models under which children flourish and grow. However from my experience negative parents are certainly not in the minority and their behaviours clearly have a significant impact on their own child as well as others within a team environment.
How often have you witnessed a parent intervene during training or a match trying to galvanise their child whom they perceive isn’t performing. The said session finishes and parent and child walk away miserable, unhappy and generally discontent with life. I can only imagine the conversation (or bollocking) that takes place on route home. As each week goes by the child falls further out of love with the game. The child dreads the next session, no wonder they can’t relax, enjoy and develop. The parent might forget the last session but often the child can’t and another withdrawn performance and the cycle starts again. The classic line I hear is ” I haven’t got a clue what’s wrong with Jonny he puts so much more in when he plays in the garden”
Two of the biggest problems that I witness from lots of parents (vast majority of times the father) are that they are either living the game through their child or they push and pressurise the child so much as if they are desperate for them to ‘make it’. All of us as parents want our children to achieve as much as they can and anyone that tells you they would not be immensely proud if their child ‘made it’ would be lying. Ultimately though this behaviour can have a very negative impact on player development and ultimately enjoyment of the beautiful game. When i talk about living the game through their child i talk about parents that push their children to take part in something that perhaps they actually do not want to do in this case football. I often find this from parents that did not achieve anything in the game and they are desperate to address that ‘failure’ through their children. I have discussed in previous blogs that kids training with grassroots clubs at such young ages in organised settings has many negatives when sessions are not conducted effectively.
From a personal view point my eldest lad has loved football from the minute he could walk, he’s never been without a ball. He was desperate for me to take him training with the local club when he was 4; I thought he was too young but did not feel it was fair when some of his school friends went that I should keep him away. My youngest son is now 4 approaching 5 and he likes football but is not desperate to go training with the local club every week; he’s registered and will attend as and when he wants to (probably on average twice a month). He plays with his brother in the garden and in the park. He did attend after school training with a private coaching company Sept-Dec last year and after the 2nd session the coach approached my wife when she collected him stated that he’s going to have to play with the next year up because he’s too good for his own age! I can imagine such comments to certain parents starts the pushy/pressurised behaviour rolling.
What of those children that are really pressurised. These are usually the children with some talent (or perceived talent). This is the parent that at 5 years old dreams their child is going to be the next big thing! The constant push, the endless organised settings, Dads critical eye berating the child if he has an off match or off training session. These young children are complexed, they’re growing up, learning about life. The ONLY way they will develop is through enjoyment, if they hate the setting or hate the potential/probably negative analysis from Dad they will eventually hate the game. If parents actually took a step back and considered their actions (I’d love to video/audio record some and play it back to them) I am sure many would be horrified.
On a more general note I observe U6-U9 football every week, training and matches and the parental behaviour particularly in match situations is cringeworthy. I started with the constant shouting from the sideline and the constant instructions. Do these same parents read the child’s home reading book to them when they’re learning to read? I very much doubt it, they allow the child to figure it out for themselves and just provide support and guidance so why should football be any different? I witnessed a classic last Sunday during an U7 match. A lad running back towards his goal with no immediate pressure close to the touchline with the ball now at his feet, he had the following shouts from parents within 1-2 seconds “get rid of it” “pass it back” “away” “Jonny is on” the confusion in the poor lads face was just heartbreaking; he just kicked it out 15 yards back towards his own goal for a corner. Step back and consider did that lad enjoy that moment? I would have loved to have seen what he would have done without the shouting but I guarantee he would not have done what he did.
I crave to ask 2 questions to all parents.
- Who would you name as the bravest English footballer you’ve ever seen?
- Why do you consider them to be so brave?
I would place my house on the vast majority of answers describing bravery on the football pitch as putting ones head in where it hurts or similar, I’d expect Butcher, Ince & Pearce to feature prominently in the answers to question 1. Again this would illustrate cultural problems that seriously hinders the development of creative and intelligent footballers, true match winners and game changers. Bravery needs to be promoted as being strong enough to try something different, something completely out of the ordinary. The gasp of fright and anxiety as the young kid is brave enough to dribble the ball from his own goal line should be replaced with roars of approval (I can only dream).
The tittle-tattle on the sideline from parents is a huge issue. I dread to think what they say to their own kids about other players and coaches in the car on the way back. The jealousy of the stand out player is frightening as well; why are we so quick to look for the negatives in our most talented performers? This can be present from parents on both sides in my experience. It happens at the top of the game; as i type this Ross Barkley is get some right stick from the Everton fans! I witnessed a lad 2 weeks ago playing in an U7 match, he was the smallest of the 16 lads. The first time he touched the ball he dribbled past 2 players as if they were not there. Initially the oppositions parents reaction was of admiration/shock on the sideline a few comments of “bloody hell he’s good”. A short time later it happened again and the lad scored. Most of the parents from that lads side continued with their praise although some remained silent; these happened to be the parents of the lads with considerably less ability. The lad continued to dazzle with his speed and dribbling ability whilst he was on the pitch. During the oppositions half time team talk the coach had deployed his biggest and fastest player to man mark this lad whilst he was on the pitch, constant shouts of “get close to him” “i’ve told you to stick with him” fully supported by parents. The lad continued to dribble past his man marker (and others) constantly getting fouled and at one point scoring by running from inside his own box taking on 3 players and then rounding the goalkeeper. The admiration from the other sides parents at this point had disappeared because they were losing. More significantly this lad took a thrown in towards the end of the game and he pretty much broke every rule that relates to a throw in. This brought huge amounts of laughter from the opposition coaches and parents and shouts of “need to practice those throws” and “he’s timing wasting, book him”. These actions/comments were fuelled by jealously. At the end of the match one of the oppositions parents approached the lads Dad and I heard him say “you need to work on his throw ins”.
In general there is obviously a complete lack of understanding of player development amongst most parents. Many feel they know better than the coach. I know a number of good coaches at U7 & U8 level that are encouraging the lads to play and generally letting them make decisions and develop but all they get off parents is negatives if they do not win or mistakes are made and it can grind coaches down. I have witnessed parents telling their child not to attack and stay as a defender so that its kept tight! It’s a cultural issue I have discussed in detail before we are a nation that loves order and direction and always look at the short term. I spoke with a parent recently, lovely man and football fan. He was perplexed at the sessions he was witnessing at his sons after school coaching, he used words like “there is no organisation” “no discipline” there always seems to be loads of balls out on the pitch and the kids are in chaos. I told him it sounds wonderful for his lads development and he was quite taken back.
I strongly promote that educating parents is a huge part of the next phase of trying to develop better footballers. An A4 letter each season detailing the respect campaign isn’t enough. I strongly believe the structure of grassroots clubs need a huge overhaul with support from the FA. Some have it right or close to right but that’s not enough, we need all clubs getting it right. The save grassroots football campaign is brilliant and I fully support it http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/66835 (please sign). Personally I believe structure of grassroots clubs and better coach/parent education is the priority over pitches/facilities. No point having great facilities under the current structure when many of the coaches/parents are not creating good environments.
I would look to implement some of the following practices to promote an all-round better experience for children and parents entering the game. The introduction of full time employed head of development within large grassroots clubs promoting coaching excellence and educating parents (I appreciate this would be a huge investment). Within the club philosophy there would be an agreement for parents to attend an education/information session. There is a responsibility for leagues and clubs to promote none competitive matches, simply not publishing a result doesn’t work. Some clubs promote results on social media and each week coaches always ask results against other sides. What I would introduce is an award(s) that is focused around skill, flair, technique and playing the game with freedom promoting creativity; it’s very subjective but league officials could reward appropriately. Winning this award should be the ultimate. Promote games where parents do not watch, watch in silence or from much further away. A fantastic suggestion I saw recently was to mix up kids between teams. Parents moan about game time so why have just 1 game where kids get 20 mins? why not a mini festival where 3 games are played on the same morning?
Kids are naturally competitive, admittedly some more than others, they mostly want to try and win which is great but in most cases winning is not the sole purpose of playing. We need to take away this win at all costs mentality from many parents and coaches. This can only be done with a complete change of approach.
I hope I have provided some points to consider and reflect on. I haven’t even touched on diets, letting kids be kids, participating in other sports, letting them play in the street and many other considerations.
Thanks for reading. Any shares, retweets and feedback really appreciated in advance.
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