July 21, 2009
Managing to a Successful Season Part II
Key Stakeholder – Parents
Parents, as a group, can be the most influential stakeholders. On and off the field, parents affect the soccer learning environment. Parents can shape how a player perceives everything from his / her abilities, to the quality of practices, to whether the team was successful during a game (regardless of whether the team won or not). Remember, parents have access to the players far more than coaches do. For better or worse, intentionally or unintentionally, a parent’s expectations will probably affect the player’s learning and enjoyment.
I know this to be true because it recently happened to my daughter. Yes, I was the unhappy parent. My daughter joined a U-14 competitive team. At first she truly enjoyed practices. Her team was allowed to frolic and laugh and fall on the ground and chat almost at will. Needless to say, as a parent paying more than a thousand of dollars for my daughter to play competitive ball, I expected a bit more structure at practices. However, my daughter seemed to enjoy being part of the team, so I did my best to keep my “not so rosy” opinion to myself. As the season went on and this behavior continued, I became more and more disgruntled. My daughter’s technique, physical conditioning and tactical awareness diminished rather than improved as the season continued. Off the field, I began to express my perspective on the practices and the coach in “less than glowing” terms to my wife. At first, I made sure my daughter was not around, but as the season went on, I became less and less guarded with my comments. After one of my comments, I heard my daughter say, “The only thing we did at practice was mess around.” This was the first time that she had said something negative about her team. It struck me as odd. Within weeks, my daughter asked if she could quit the team. When I asked her the reason for this, I heard my own word (almost verbatim) parroted back at me. I would like to think that it was my daughter’s sophisticated soccer insight that caused her to form this opinion, but something tells me that I had something to do with it. This is a long way of saying, if the parents aren’t happy, the players aren’t (or won’t be) happy. Therefore, managing parents’ expectations is one of the keys to a successful season, but how do we do this?
Working with Expectations
By looking outside of soccer to the business community for tips, we can create an effective approach for managing parents’ expectations. According to the various sources in the business consulting world, the keys to managing expectations consists of creating a common vision and constant communication. Creating a common vision entails the following: 1) determine your vision, 2) develop a plan to reach this future state, and 3) communicate the vision and the plan to ensure a common understanding and buy-in. Constant two-way communication is embedded throughout the process of creating a shared vision. Let’s see how a coach can use this information to help him work with parents.
Determining a goal is the first step to managing perception. As a coach, you need to know what you would like to achieve in order for others to be able to share and support the vision. Your image should take into account factors like the team’s age group, the experience level of the players, and needs of the players. Sharing your initial thoughts with others is important. It helps to ensure that your dream is realistic and relevant. In most cases, your goal will be something that most parents will like and approve. An appropriate future state for a U-6 team may be to ensure the players have safe fun with the ball. On the other hand, an appropriate vision for a U-10 team may be to improve the fundamental skills of the each player.
Check back next week for the continuation of this great article.