Ruth Nicholson, May 17, 2021
Coaches, are you prepared for parent questions?
When my sons were playing soccer, I hated tryout season. More than tax season. More than any other time of the year. I detested the stress and insanity around it all. Clubs would vie for players by scheduling multiple tryouts in a day and over a weekend resulting in players attending more tryouts in a weekend than they would play games at a tournament. Clubs would often demand that players attend every one of their tryouts to have a shot at a team, which could be up to three tryouts in less than a week for a single club. How can a player stay fresh and show his/her best in that type of situation?
Did I mention that I HATED tryout season?
So, I came up with my own 3-4 question information-gathering interview for coaches who might coach my kids. Quite frankly, I was seriously less invested in the club as compared to finding a good coach for my sons. So, what did I ask?
1. What is your player development approach this year?
Sometimes I phrased this question differently. Some examples include:
- What do you want the team to accomplish this year?
- What do you want the players to learn this year?
- What is your player development philosophy?
The purpose of the question was to gain an understanding of the coach’s training approach. It included his/her goals for the team and what s/he wanted the players to learn and accomplish over the course of the playing season (for recreational teams) or playing year (for more competitive levels at club teams). Our best coaches know that players develop in four areas: physical, technical, tactical, and mental abilities. They also know that at different ages, it is important to prioritize development in these areas differently. I wanted to know how coaches balance these four elements for the team and its players.
Regardless of how I phrased the question, the answer helped me assess the coach’s approach and how it stacked up with the development needs of my own kids. It also gave me some insight as to the coach’s view of the balance between learning the game and a win-at-all-costs mentality.
Coach, what do you want your players and your team to learn and accomplish this year?
1. What are your expectations for your players?
Personal responsibility matters.
The purpose of this question had to do with the coach’s view of the personal responsibilities for my sons with regards to the team and for their improvement in the game. I wanted to know what would be expected of them at team events, like practices and games. I also wanted to know if the coach planned to assign personal homework or other outside-the-team training. If I understood the coach’s expectations clearly, I could reinforce those expectations at home to support my kids, their coach, and the team.
“Coach, what are your expectations for your players on and off the field with respect to the sport, communication, and personal responsibility?
1. What are your expectations for your parents?
Too often in my work with coaches, I hear them say that, ideally, they would like to work with orphans with trust funds. I believe that a great deal of this unproductive angst is related to unclear communications and expectations between coaches and parents. It poisons the relationship we need with each other to support our players.
I fully expected the answer to this question to change and evolve as my sons grew older and took on more responsibility for communicating directly with their coaches. I pushed my kids to talk directly to their coaches at an early age. I was the back-up communication system.
The coach’s answer to this question gave me a clue to how s/he viewed parents. I valued coaches who could articulate clear expectations for parents and saw a partnership between the adults in supporting players. As a professional facilitator, I could tell when a coach simply wanted to coach orphans as compared to someone who wanted a real partnership with parents to support our players.
The answer also gave the coach an opportunity to inform me about team and club expectations for volunteer activities or other needs s/he might have in the upcoming playing season.
“Coach, what are your expectations for parents in terms of communication, support of their children, and support of the team and club?”
1. How do your players earn playing time?
I only asked coaches this question for teams competing at a higher level. The assumption behind this question is that all players would not automatically receive equal playing time and that these types of teams have an internal competitive environment. I assumed that playing time would be roughly equal for all players on recreational teams, assuming the players were following team rules.
I added this question to my interview list following a seriously awful experience on one of my son’s teams. I decided that it was important to ask what the criteria was so that expectations would be clear upfront.
The answer to this question told me something more about the coach’s player development approach and how s/he viewed the balance between developing players and a win-at-all-costs mentality. It also gave me additional information about what personal responsibility my sons needed to take on to compete within the team and on game days. Again, it enabled me to reinforce the coach’s expectations at home with my kids.
“Coach, how do you manage playing time?”
Most coaches were surprised that I asked the questions. One coach took the time to write me an incredibly long email with detailed answers to each of the questions. My son played for him, and it was a good experience for all of us. Other coaches struggled with the answers. Some even tried to hide their sense of offense that I would even dare ask for such information.
The key was that I did not lobby for my sons in asking the questions. The purpose was information-gathering only, not showing off my sons’ skills. My kids had to do that on the tryout field and earn their spot on a team themselves. Sometimes they made the team. Sometimes they did not.
Prepare for tryouts?
Preparation for tryouts is more than reserving fields and facilities, designing activities for players, and advertising tryout dates. Help prospective players and parents to gather information on your team and club at tryout time by communicating when team and club informational meetings will be held and adding information to club websites for players and parents, including policies and codes of conduct.
Preparation for tryouts also involves considering how you as a coach will answer questions about what you want your athletes to accomplish this season and what your expectations are for players and parents. Make time to be available to answer player and parent questions in person, via email, or on the phone.
Ruth Nicholson is an internationally certified professional facilitator, mediator, and organizational alchemist helping sports organizations better support players and coaches. She is the founder of GO! offering proven governance, leadership, and administrative tools.
In 2020, Ruth was inducted into the International Association of Facilitators Hall of Fame. She was a co-creator of the international 2019 Think Tank to Improve Youth Sports which engaged over 60 speakers from two dozen sports. In 2018, Ruth was a finalist for the Hudl Innovator of the Year award for youth soccer. Her work has engaged sports enthusiasts in North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America.