Keeping Children & Parents Under Control

When I started coaching soccer I had never coached before, although I did have the advantage of being an assistant coach for 2 seasons. Two of the most difficult things I've had to learn are how to deal with disruptive players and disruptive parents. I don't have all the answers, but I will share with you what I have learned:

  1. Be a coach & an authority figure, not a "buddy". Occasionally, you will see a coach who is a natural leader. I'm not and have found that it works best for me to be an authority figure; firm, but nice. (Don't be a mean coach, be nice).
  2. Do not tolerate rude or disrespectful behavior from players. You shouldn't have to and, if you do, you will probably regret it. I have found it advantageous to tell the parents & players from the very start what is expected. One way is to send home a letter at the start of the season that discusses your "coaching philosophy & expected behavior" (an example of my letter is attached, in a form you can copy & use, if you like it). Six of my rules are (these may have to be adjusted for children age 6 or younger):
    1. Everyone must follow all directions given by the coaches & assistant coaches
    2. Everyone must hustle & do their best
    3. "When I talk you must be still & listen"
    4. I expect everyone to be a good sport whether we win or lose (this includes parents)
    5. "No cursing or name calling".
    6. Disruptive or disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated.

  3. Buy a whistle & use it to get attention.
  4. Safety Rules. Certain rules must apply regardless of age:
    1. "Keep your hands to yourself" (You cannot allow anyone to get hurt)
    2. "Do not kick the ball in the air unless I tell you it is okay" (otherwise you will have kids getting hit in the back of the head or the face by flying balls)
    3. Dangerous behavior will not be allowed or tolerated.

  5. Dealing with disruptive players (U-8 & older). (The following only applies to players ages 8 and older). I can't emphasize enough how important it is to "nip in the bud" bad or disrespectful behavior. This is a lesson I've learned the hard way & I've developed a policy for dealing with it. If you allow it to continue, it will get worse & worse and create a situation which is unfair to the other players & is unpleasant for everyone involved. Following is my policy, which I include in a letter to parents at the beginning of the season. (A copy of that letter is attached). A disruptive child gives you an appreciation of what a school teacher faces when dealing with a child who disrupts the classroom. Teachers are trained to deal with this, but volunteer soccer coaches usually aren't. I hope you never have this problem, but if you do, this policy may be of help:
    1. I will talk to the child & explain what he is doing that is unacceptable & why, and ask him to stop it.
    2. If he persists, I will ask him to do 10 "knee jumps" (he stands still & jumps, raising his knees to waist height. This is quick & less disruptive than laps).
    3. If he still persists, I will ask him to go to the sideline until he is ready to obey the rules. I will take him over to the side & speak to him privately & explain to him that he is disrupting practice (or doing something unsafe) & that I won't tolerate it & that if it happens again I am going to make him sit out until his parents arrive & then talk to his parents.
    4. If he still persists, I will ask him to sit on the side line until his parents arrive at which time I will talk to the parents.
    5. If he still persists at any future practice, or if the parents don't support the need for discipline, I will give them the choice of attending each practice so they are present to observe & enforce discipline, or I will ask them to resign from the team and I will file a written report with the league administrator.

    Warning: Never say anything mean to a child & be very careful about touching a child. I know of cases where parents became upset and threatened to sue because a coach patted their child on the head or grabbed him by the arm.

  6. Dealing with disruptive parents. This is a dilemma. Depending on the circumstances, ask your league coordinator for advice & support. I do the following:
    1. In the letter I send out to parents at the beginning of the season, under "Parental Behavior", I say:
      • "Positive encouragement is good; negative comments are bad."
      • "Cheering is good, but do not yell at your child or anyone else's child during the game. It can be distracting & what you tell them may be different from what the coaches are saying. If you would like to be an assistant coach, please call me, I would love your help."
      • "Be careful not to say anything that might be taken the wrong way or hurt someone's feelings. Remember: this is for fun & these are children."
      • "Be a good role model & a good sport."
      • "Do not yell at the referees or say anything bad to or about the other team. Never boo the other team or cheer when they make a mistake."

    2. One very good thing to do & encourage your league to require is that teams U-10 & older sit on the other side of the field from the parents & spectators.

  7. Letter to Parents. A copy of the letter I send home to parents at the first of the season is attached. You are welcome to copy & use it. It is set up so you can fill in a few blanks to customize it for your use & don't have to re-type it.