Top-level soccer coaches encourage parent engagement, discourage hovering
Christian Lavers, the former executive director at U.S. Club Soccer, pontificates how to provide a diplomatic answer when asked if parents should attend practice or not.
Picture a tripod, he says, with the player, coach and parent representing a leg.
“When all three are on same page on what we want out of the experience and how we’re going to get there,” he says, “we maximize potential.”
But a moment later, Lavers acknowledges what is a troubling trend in not just youth soccer but youth sports as a whole.
“The part of the stool most off is usually the parent,” he says, “who doesn't have understanding of expectation.”
To highlight the parent dynamic, Lavers shares a story he’s experienced several times.
Picture a room with 30 to 40 players eating dinner, he says.
“It’s loud and energetic,” Lavers says. “Then one parent walks in and, within seconds, the entire room is silent.”
Many coaches have differing opinions on whether they like or dislike having parents attend practices. Some mind, some don’t, and some are indifferent. Here are three perspectives from elite U.S. Club Soccer coaches:
Christian Lavers, President of Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) and director of coaching for FC Wisconsin:
“I want parents involved and engaged. But that being said, engaged and involved doesn’t mean hovering.”
“You don’t go to third grade and sit in the classroom with your child the whole time. ‘Hey, I don’t think my kid got that!’ But if there’s a problem, then you need to address it.”
John Curtis, former English Premier League player and currently technical director for the New York Club Soccer League and the player development director of the New England Premiership:
“Drop your kid off at training, go have a Starbucks and come back and pick them up then ask the kid if he or she enjoyed herself or himself. That’s it.”
“I can think of many times I’m coaching and talking to (a player), and they’re not looking at me in the eye. They look at dad on the sideline. That in itself is the biggest problem. In this game, no one can help you but yourself. (The parent) cannot help them. The way you help them is by abandoning them and leaving them on their own. Only by leaving them on their own will they grow.”
“It goes against nature. Yo want to help your child. But in reality, the only way you can help them is by abandoning them to the coach, to the team, to the game.”
Eddie Henderson, former player for the U-17 and U-23 U.S. National teams and currently director of youth coaching for the ISC Gunners program in Washington:
“In any business, you have to show transparency. Parents are inquisitive, and they are curious. Is this (club) the right fit? Is this coach the right coach? I don’t mind parents coming to practice, but there are certain areas they need to be.”
“What I found is, the better job you do, the less parents you have at training. Maybe that’s out of trust. Maybe I’m just fortunate, but I don’t have helicopter parents who hover around.”
Henderson laughs as he recalls a situation with parents at a different club. At training, he was full of energy, constantly providing information and interacting with the players. But in the game, he would mostly sit, and not voice much, except a few tactical changes.
“I did this for three games in a row then the parents called a meeting,” Henderson recalls. “ ‘We love your training (sessions). They are awesome. But in games, we want you to be more interactive and coach.’ ”
Henderson says he told the parents that he does his coaching during training.
"When I get to the game, there’s not enough time for me to bark instructions or play like a joystick with the team and get each player to do what they need to, on a minute to minute, situation to situation basis,” Henderson says. “I have to use practice time to prepare them. You have to have players who can solve problems on the field, not players who listen to audible cues from the coach.”
The higher the level, Henderson says, the faster the game moves and the more players must make split-second decisions to adjust.
Thinking again of the tripod Lavers refers to, he adds that for a student-athlete to thrive, he or she must have support from his parents.
“If a parent is engaged and educated on what the club does, and why they do and how they do it,” Lavers says, “the parent can reinforce the messaging.”