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The Parent Trap!

Updated: Jul 9

A few months ago, I wrote about ‘Grassroots’ football and some of the issues I’ve witnessed since getting more involved with it. During that blog, I touched briefly on the role of parents and hinted at a more detailed look…


Well, here it is.

When watching amateur youth football, I often find my gaze drawn not to what’s happening on the pitch, but to the cries of encouragement and instruction from excited parents, extended family and supportive friends off it!


The support the parents offer to youth football can not be underestimated. Forgoing their weekend lay-in to ferry players to and from games, in addition to voluntarily supporting the running of clubs from administrative duties, to washing kit and preparing the post-match drinks and snacks. It’s an ask that’s too much for many!!


Without doubt, the parents and guardians are the engines that keeps the grassroots game going and without them, it would simply cease to exist. We’d be left with school football which, away from regional/district representation, or depending upon the approach of the school, can often leave a lot to be desired.


However, there is one aspect in relation to parents and youth football that I think lets them down, and that is their input from the touchline and in some cases away from it. I once watched an elite youth game between Fulham and Cardiff City. It was a U14’s game at Fulham’s Motspur Park training ground. I remember one of the coaching staff from Fulham solemnly walking around the pitch to the side where parents and supporters were situated. In front of them all, he asked if they went into the classrooms of their sons and helped them solve the maths problems they’re faced with?


It was a rhetorical question to which he followed up with; please don’t tell your boys what to do......part of their development is learning to resolve problems they’re faced with on the pitch.


Simple but sage words.


However, on Sundays, I’ve noted this concept is neither adhered to nor even acknowledged. Instead, I see a barrage of parents shouting to their child (or someone else’s) an overload of useless, inaccurate and at times contradictory information.


A coaching qualification doesn’t always guarantee a common-sense approach to football. However, if we entrust our children to play for a team, we’re consciously accepting that the man or woman managing that team, is in charge of our child’s development and enjoyment. What isn’t ideal is for a coach to instruct his/her players only for those instructions to be undermined from the touchline by a parent that thinks they know more/best!


How many parents consider what the coach is trying to achieve in relation to developing the team and the players within it? How many discuss this with the coach, and his or her views on their child, and then trie to reinforce this away from training and matchdays? If anything, this would achieve consistency of message and will be in keeping with the group ethic? A better way of supporting player development at this level escapes me. To use the school analogy again, if your child's maths teacher said your child needed to focus on multiplication, would you then get them to focus on subtraction?

This is not resigned to instruction only, but for those able to, can be extended to player specific things to work on (when they train at home by themselves) and things the parent can highlight when watching other games, to reinforce the message being conveyed by the coach.


Only clear, honest and fully comprehended communication between coach and parent will achieve this. A coach worth his/her salt will be happy to oblige in such feedback and conversations.

This is where another point I’ve noticed springs to mind. Many young players will comfortably admit to NOT watching the post-match analysis on Sky, BT or Match of the Day! They simply disengage. Experienced and celebrated ex-professionals and Managers are breaking the game down for the watcher to understand and LEARN! Make your child watch and discuss it with them. If they’re serious about understanding the game, for me this is an absolute must!!


I’m fully aware that I may be preaching to the choir here, as many many parents understand the importance football plays to their child and do all they can to encourage and facilitate that growth and enjoyment.


However, there is a great deal who lack any kind of self-awareness and live vicariously through their children. They want the best for them because ultimately, they want the best for themselves. Sadly, this can manifest itself in different ways and sometimes the young person suffers as a result of it.


If your child is playing football and constantly looking to seek YOUR approval, you’re doing something wrong. Your role is not to strike the fear of God into your child, but to support, encourage and be a boost to his/her confidence every time they train or play. The opposite of this can lead to a lack of enjoyment, stunted development and the possibility of falling out of love with the game.


I often observe players who are a bag of nerves and looking over at their parent, more than the coach or Manager. Is this because there are further consequences that await them away from the team set-up if their performance doesn’t match the expectation?


The final thing that comes to my attention is the overly competitive nature of some parents and supporters. Yes, by-all-means get behind your team, but should this be at the expense of sportsmanship and balanced, rational behaviour? The things I’ve heard and the way opposition players have been spoken to or about from the sidelines, warrants me to ask the question: in any other setting, away from the sporting arena, would this aggressive behaviour towards minors be tolerated?


I think we can all agree on the answer.


Having children myself, I understand the parental urge to want what’s best for our own and be overly protective. Nobody would expect a parent to stand by idly as their child is mistreated by a coach, opposition players, or abused from the sides. Some rules and protocols that should be followed, and every club should have a robust safeguarding policy in place.


Look to work in partnership with the coaching structure at your child’s team in relation to their development. If they were part of an Academy set-up, this would be pretty much a given.


The additional coach-player contact time, superior coaching and better opposition will always put players in Academy set-up’s, ahead of boys and girls that are not. This is why encouraging your child to develop and increase their understanding of the game is an absolute must. They are lucky to have access to such detailed game, position and player analysis that they get every time there’s live football on.


Lastly, and most importantly, make sure they’re having fun and enjoying the game. If they’re not, the parent shouldn’t be the reason this is the case.


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