Thursday, March 10, 2011

Handling parents in youth soccer

Tab Ramos is one of the great players in US Soccer history, and has taken his talents to coaching youth soccer. His NJSA 04 Gunners won the USYSA Under-14 national championship, marking the first national championship for a New Jersey club team in two decades.

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America caught up with Ramos, and discussed the best way to handle parents in youth soccer.

SOCCER AMERICA: If you had a magic wand, how would you use it to improve youth soccer in America?

Wow. I’d have to think about that …

One of the things that’s been most important for our club is, from the first moment, eliminating parents’ opinions from what we do.

The opinion of the parents of the players here is completely irrelevant to us. And that’s been a good formula for making this club a real soccer club.

SA: What would be an example of detrimental parent interference?

There are a thousand things. But I’ll start with an example of a parent who had the right attitude.

On our U-16 [U.S. Soccer Development] Academy team we have a great player who starts all the games. He’s been at our club for four or five years and just about every year previously he’s been a substitute. He did not start. He happened to be on the team that won the national championship, but he didn’t start.

It’s the perfect case of a parent who figured it out the right way. This boy’s father is a soccer guy. He kept his son at the club even though he wasn’t starting. He could have moved him somewhere else and started for another team. He stayed here while he was a substitute -- trying hard all these years. Now he’s 16 -- in the year that it really matters for him -- and starts every game.

I think that’s the right formula.

SA: And the wrong parental approach …

For most other cases, parents will be looking only at two things.

No. 1. Whether your team is winning the games. So if they’re not winning the games, then obviously it’s time for Johnny to move somewhere else -- to the team that just beat us.

No. 2. The huge effect that the parents have on the kids when they drive home. When the parents get in the two front seats of the van and little Johnny’s is in the back. And he hears the parents say, “Well, the coach this … the coach that … He only gave him five minutes. … And I was timing the first half, and he only put him in this position. …”

All that negative talk instead of saying, “You know, that’s great, you only played five minutes but you tried as hard as you can. Maybe if you keep trying hard, the next time you’re going to play more and impress the coach.”

I think parents are very protective of their kids and obviously everyone should be, but when it comes to sports, I have yet to meet a coach who doesn’t want to play a good player a lot of the time. So chances are if your son is not playing a lot, he doesn’t deserve to play at this point.

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