No coaching from parents during matches helps develop creative footballers? Discuss.

I strongly believe that in order to develop creative players of the future, something that England has been pretty dire at achieving over the past few decades, you need to give players the freedom to make their own decisions.

Of course during training sessions you teach them how to make better decisions and players can then improve their decision-making through repetition over time, but during the game, I don’t shout instructions while the ball is rolling. Occasionally I might call out with some questions or instructions while there is a break in play, but I try my best to never do so while the ball is rolling.

Some of the most creative players on the world stage today grew up playing street football. No adults making the rules. No rigid ‘if this happens then do this’ instructions. Just play. Trial and error. Improvisations. Messi, Aguero, Suarez … this list is long and compelling.

Rene Muelensteen put it simply while he was in charge of youth development and the academy at Manchester United when he said “footballers cannot learn how to make their own decisions if they are used to receiving instruction from the touchline.” In an interview with the daily Telegraph Muelensteen said that at the Manchester United academy, parents are asked to sign a contract that says they will not shout out during coaching sessions, and that the Manchester United coaches do not shout instructions while the ball is rolling.

I am glad to say that at academies this ‘no coaching from parents’ is standard practice these days, but in grass roots football in England we still have a culture in which parents and coaches shout out a stream of instructions while young players are trying to concentrate on the game, and that leads some to observe that grass roots youth football matches can appear to be like ‘Playstation for dads’ with the parents holding the controller and the kids running around according to instructions.

So many England internationals from the past 30 years have grown to become more functional than creative, and the fact that I have to hark back to players like Hoddle and Gascoigne to remember truly creative, unpredictable, England players is a concern for English football. This rigid, predicable footballer is a product of the coaching they received when they were young. Its great to see this changing in professional academies, but there are still far too many ‘touchline tigers’ pacing up and down next to youth football matches at grass roots level.

So how can grass roots coaches help? As a youth coach you are of course aiming to be a positive influence on the young players in your care, but no matter how well you do as a coach the parents will usually and understandably be the most important influence on the young player.

With that in mind I think it is so, so important that the lines of communication are constantly open between the coach and parents. I see parents as a part of our team. I think that to create the environment you want that you need to ensure it is communicated clearly to the parents. It is much easier to build a positive learning environment for the players if the parents and coach work together, but sadly many coaches don’t feel that the coaching they deliver is any of the parents business. I am of the view that the opposite is true, and I regularly write to the parents of my players to keep them updated on what we are practicing, why, and how they can help if applicable. The no coaching rule is a part of that two-way communication.

Football is an emotive game, and often as a parent or a coach you will see an opportunity that the kids playing do not see, so keeping quiet can be really difficult for some. You might feel compelled to shout out to a player to adjust their position, or tell them to pass, shoot or whatever. The urge is understandable, I appreciate that, but the result of that action is that you short-circuit the players own decision-making in the short-term and it is more difficult for the coach to gauge deeper, longer-term learning.

I have seen games where the coach is constantly screaming instructions at the kids who are trying to focus on the game, and on the other side of the pitch there are many parents shouting their own instructions. It is ridiculously confusing for the kids to receive multiple instructions from the adults, and most importantly, it can stop them from making their own decisions if they become used to receiving instructions form the coach or parents.

Before the players in my team were even selected for the squad, I wrote to all parents with a message that said if their child was selected, they would be expected to abide by the team rules which state that we do not allow parents to shout instructions from the sidelines. Once I had selected the players I wrote to the parents of the kids in question once again to say that their child had a place, but subject to the strict rule above. I believe it is that important to the long-term development of the players. I have only had to speak to one parent about shouting instructions from the side thus far right at the start, so I’d like to think that I have helped to create the right environment for the boys in my team to flourish.

I of course whole-heartedly encourage the parents to shout encouragement, and praise, as that makes for an energised atmosphere, but as long as the calls don’t offer the boys instruction on what they should do. In that environment, I am happy that the boys have the freedom to make their own decisions based on what they have been learning in training.

Would love to hear your thoughts?


25 Replies to “No coaching from parents during matches helps develop creative footballers? Discuss.”

  1. Great post Mike and something I agree on. I email out to my parents every week with information about our weekly topic or block of training, how the training is helping etc and anything else they need to know about the team. I also speak to them all after training as a group and try to speak to some individually too (with 15 players at training it’s not possible to speak to everyone individually each week). This week my email had the following toward the end:

    “This weekend the coaching from the parent side of the pitch was so loud I thought I was being asked to pass, shoot or dribble the ball! lol Joking aside this is very confusing for the children and will not help their learning process when it comes from everywhere. Cheer, clap, encourage and let us coach please. This excellent illustration of the effects was made by FA RESPECT Gold Award winners in 2014 Longfleet Youth FC and worth the two minutes of your time, some of you might recognise some of the sideline characters 🙂 :

    It’s a great little video that makes a light hearted attempt at broaching the subject.

    1. Hi Mark,

      I think I know where this is going, so please let me explain. I coach at a big local club, and each year we start a new U7’s team from open trials. We often get 40-50 kids turn up and of course have to trim that down to a manageable squad.

      So yes, trials, but only out of necessity 😉

  2. Couldn’t agree more. At our club, if a parent is concerned about a particular aspect of their childs game, I ask them to make a check-list or a ‘bingo card’ with the player containing different skills to be improved on. ‘a dribble’, ‘a shot from outside the area’, ‘a one-two with a team-mate’ for example, rather than shout instructions on match day. The parent will feel that they are being part of their childs development & also makes it fun, while allowing parent & child to discuss the players development outside of match day or training.
    At our grassroots U9s club, we regular play against teams where the parents & coaches try to control every movement. The parents of our team have seen me sit down, relaxed, giving the occasional thumbs up & applauding good play, while the opposition coach who is jumping up & down yelling instructions. It amuses them & has given them an example of how controlling/instructing players during the game does not help at all.

  3. It might be nice that the FA also provide decent surfaces for the kids to develop their abilities rather than playing on rutted muddy surfaces where Parents have to tie up broken nets.
    May also be nice that the coaching badges above Level 1 are affordable to normal working people

    1. I agree but where did Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar all learn to play? they probably didn’t even have nets..That’s a luxury in our game

  4. Hi Mike, I am putting together a match programme for a series of junior cup finals and would love to use this article – if only to try and strike a chord with those watching, many of whom are ‘sideline coaches’.

    Let me know if you are happy for me to use this article and to credit you and this website – maybe it will encourage a few less shouts on Thursday night at the Under 13 final!

    1. Hi Garry, by all means, please use whatever you wish.

      If you could send me a photo of the programme I’d be interested to see it, but don’t worry if you can’t.

      Good luck in the final!

  5. At the beginning of 2015 the Yorkshire RFU issued a dictat that training sessions and competitve or friendly matches for junior players would, for one month, be silent. As a parent watching my sons play for 10 years I had witnessed a gradual increase over the years in verbal aggression between rival parent supporters reminiscent of when they tried soccer. The parents accepted the instruction, it was strange at first and instead of the ‘playstation dad’ shouting there was just applause for good play.

    Now the shouting has crept back in but it is less aggressive and usually just cheering for the team and not giving instructions. Rival supporters in rugby are less tribal anyway and usually applaud good play on both sides.

    I asked my 15 year old son if he or his team mates thought it made a difference. Surprisingly his response was that when they are on the pitch they are so focused they don’t hear anyone but their team mates or captain, not even the coaches.

  6. Dear Mike, loved the article. So true regarding our sidelines /standbys watchers. I have been watching my son over the year and was rather amused as to how our sidelines shout, give hand signals, facial expressions and the list continues. Fascinating. I as coach love to encourage my team to think and make quick decisions! We have a very strict rule especially when it comes to a competition, no interference, shouting at the team/ your child. Automatically the team is disqualified! Very sad for a team that has worked so hard due some standby watchers giving instructions. Naturally we want to help our children, however it must be done in a mindful and respectful way which internally will help the team overall. I also believe that coaches also need to encourage, teach new skills, do something different during the training, no need to shout, participate as the coach to show your team that you are also committed in helping them and learning new skills. Positivity always goes along way and especially an open communication between team and coach.

  7. I grew up playing competitive football, wrestling and lacrosse. Parents and coaches shouted all the time. It never bothered me. If I actually heard and listened to what they were saying, the message didn’t bother me. I either disagreed and move on or agreed and took the advice. It NEVER affected my creativity. Maybe soccer needs more creativity and less structure, but I don’t see why thats a zero sum game.

    1. Totally agree Steve – kids can be creative even if there is cheering, shouting, or coaching from the sideline – creativity comes in practice, in the school soccer fields with friends, at home in the backyard – it doesn’t come just from games! Parents and friends are shouting words of support most of the time and kids should learn to take advice on board not be scared of it. We have to be careful to not develop kids who are scared to learn during the game, after all, they work so hard each week to train for the game, they need help and encouragement to practice all they’ve learned! (Note I’m in full support of parents being quiet during practices as this is where the kids need to hear what the coach is teaching!). Maybe we should be talking more about HOW the advice is given and in what tone rather than keeping people quiet during the game! Not sure what sporting events you’ve been to where it’s fun for the crowd to be silent – I’m sure our kids would say the same?! I think if you’ve ever taken your child to a sporting event they’re most likely not just sitting there not saying something to their brother, sister, or team they’re supporting are they? I often found growing up playing all types of sports (including baseball and basketball at a high level) that I learned more from an in-game situation than practice because a coach or fan pointed something out to me during the game. For example, “X player keeps going right, might want to make him go left, as he can’t dribble with his left hand!” This might have been something I didn’t see until after the game or ever, but it helped immediately during the game. Why is that so wrong? Again, the creativity can still come from the child choosing if/how to use that information just provided to them. That advice also didn’t hinder me or stop me from shooting a far range 3-pointer let’s say which I learned myself that it was out of my range! Many people from the sidelines, whether parents or friends have experiences to share – something they learned themselves growing up either playing or watching the game – why not share that with their child or the team? Aren’t coaches the same? In fact they’re the leader of the team so why are they not supposed to teach the kids these situations? Why do we want the coaches to be quiet? The best coaches teach and use game experiences to teach and explain to their players – how do you do this by being quiet? Fans can also offer up the guidance and what the player does with that guidance is the creativity! Coaches should be more secure in their teaching of the game during practices and less fearful of those others on the sidelines wanting to offer encouraging experiences! Do teachers stop teaching just to see how their kids will learn math let’s say? The best coaches continually help their players get better, not “give up” on them during game situations! I see the game as a perfect time to re-enforce what you’ve taught in practice – it really is the only time kids can be taught the situation you’ve just taught them! Kids should be told that it’s ok and realistic that parents and fans will encourage from the sidelines not that it is wrong or to be fearful of those that offer advice! Coaches should continue to coach during games as this is when players need the support and guidance the most! The message should be remember what we practiced and what I’m working with you on, if others tell you something different let’s stick to our plan. But I have attended many sporting events and I can’t remember the last time that a fan or a parent shouted out something that was incorrect or going against their team (most likely again because they have grown up playing the game and want to see their child or team do the best they can)! Let’s not go over the top here asking fans, parents, or friends (who are very excited, enthusiastic, and wanting their child to play well) to keep quiet during games, not offer advice or guidance! And let’s trust that the kids’ creativity will come from how they choose to take information on board while knowing that their parents, friends, AND coach are there trying to help out in support of their efforts!

  8. The problem with the local grass roots in the soccer in the US is that this maybe the only exposure to soccer that a player may have. I have seen players that stand on the field and will watch the ball. They will not move no matter what was taught to them in practice. The ball roles on and then there is a shot on goal, and this becomes repeated over and over again. That child and team becomes defeated and ultimately crushed by a loss of 14-0. (an exaggerated example).

    The real problem (the way I see it) at the grass roots is the player and parent may not even know what is a soccer ball. They never watch the game nor do they play the game on their own. There is no understanding from parent of even what is going on. In fact, you probably have a coach that is a parent that has limited knowledge of the game. They are only doing it because their child brought home a flyer from school and said they wanted to sign up. Then there is no one that will volunteer to coach the team. They then get drafted to do the job just because they are willing. Now you tell them they are wrong in the way that they do it. They just got off work or maybe even took off work to do practice or a game. Then you expect them to know soccer much less coaching.

    Your article cites players that played in dirt lots and fields without parents. It would be much like kids playing baseball on a sandlot years ago. Those children played and lived soccer. However I am sure that by the age of 10/11 that both Messi and Neymar were at some professional team’s academy. The grass root players here in the US only get “game time” in a game. That leaves little ability to learn to be creative or even what I am supposed to do in a game.

    Another issue that you fail see is that at the grass roots player is so far behind on what soccer is. The starting point is so far away for most of the players that at U10 players are still learning the basic ball handling skills. How many games all the way up to U10-U12 are kids still having to point the direction that they are to head at the beginning of a game and the beginning of a half? So it is not a fair comparison to say grass roots have to be like Man U, or even players need to be like Messi.

    Another thing that I never hear with coaching is how a child develops, and if they do they say how the child is developing, then they tell the coach to do an opposite thing for that child. Here is what I am talking about. Early childhood development say children start with concrete thinking. “This is a block and so on.” Then the instructions are to let them be creative. The child knows forward and back, point A to point B. Yet on the soccer field they are supposed to now be free thinkers. It seems to be a disconnect. Just kick the ball up the field and be creative with it seems to me to give these children deer in headlight looks. They tend to look at you and say what am I supposed to do.

    Another problem for US grass roots players and coaches, is that they all come very structured sports background. The Super Bowl is the single biggest sporting game in all of sports including the final at the World Cup. Yet football is the most structured sport of them all. Each play is diagramed and planned. My wife who is a Brazilian is always complaining why a run play goes a certain way. She does not have the understanding that is the way the play was designed. This is the background on which you now ask a grass roots soccer parent/coach to be free thinkers and creative. They have diagramed plays in football, basketball and even in baseball.

    The problem I see with parents is not them “coaching” from the touchline or as they know it the sideline. It what they are saying. I have seen those that berate the child “what are you doing”, “you want to lose the game”, “that was stupid”, and use profanities. It is not the “Pass” “Shoot” “Dribble” instructions that cause the problem.

    I currently coach a recreation U10 girls team in rural Oklahoma. I want to be competitive with them, but the best thing is to see those same girls sign up every season. I have had one even stopped choosing cheer to play soccer because it is more fun. The parents are excited because they can shout and be excited about a sport their child is playing even if they don’t know what they are carrying on about. Soccer in the US has a much bigger problem then parent coaching or instruction while the ball is rolling (in my opinion).

    In the long run, my solution is to get more US soccer teams on ESPN even in the rural areas. In my local market, I am hard pressed to find the US teams on TV. I can see the English Premier games, which is good for the real soccer fan, but poor in getting the casual viewer to tune in. There has to be more effort from the professional teams to reach out to the rural areas and not just have concern in the Metro Areas. That would then give you more interest in the sport and would give a bigger pool to find the next big player. (from my prospective)

    Also I wonder if you ever have to fight for a place to practice. The club I am associated with is in another town about 10 miles away, and is actually a smaller town. The practice fields are completely full in that town. So finding a park, field, or place to practice with a big enough space becomes a problem in the town I am in. I am normally having to share the space that I have with a group of Hispanic men that have come to just play.

    So I say all this not to completely disagree with the article’s point, but to point out issues that I do not believe you consider. I maybe way off base, but I assure you that most in my area would not change their “instructions” because there will be no perceived improvement for the 4 or 5 years their child may play the sport. The US may just have to be different then the Europeans and the South Americans. Why are we not innovators instead of imitators?

    1. Yup. While parents coaching from the sidelines is annoying, I also don’t believe it’s hampering top level creativity. Like you, I think the biggest factor is kids don’t play it and discover the sport on their own outside of their league games.

      At the ‘grassroots’ level, the players are far from being able to exhibit creativity. Many are still learning to stop the ball.

      If the goal is to produce a more creative top-level, the discussion should center on how to get kids playing more street ball, which means finding fun ways to get the kids playing on their own.

  9. Kids today need creative thinking .my day are coach gave us skills to play the game .they guided us . Parents are to involved .they all think they are experts .they forget the game was made for fun .enjoyement and unity .to be part of a team gave you a sense of unity a bond that you will use in life .for the love of the game . Let it be .

  10. Have worked in the NSW schools system coaching the 17/18 age group here in oz since 92′. Probably coached 600 or so games. We all have our own philosophy on the coaching of the game but I would say that the parents of players should be shown clear boundaries on their role around match day. Once this is established a good working relationship can evolve. An illustration here would be the occasion when I interchanged a player because he got booked for dissent. His mother ran around the touchline quite upset believing the boy had been injured. When I said no he was fine but I bring off players getting booked for dissent she was flabbergasted saying he’d never been withdrawn in a game before….Smiling I said unless he adjusted his behaviour it would become a regular occurance!
    Being very much a ‘stand up’ coach it is clear to me that any verbal coaching during a game should be delivered in short clear phrases using terminology that the side are familiar with. Anyone who ever played football would know that ‘touchline instruction’ can be muddled at best, unintelligible at worst. To me the underlying philosophy of risk taking in and around the area is always encouraged for attacking players. Having something at the end of it…header shot cross etc is a basic objective for all my sides. Confirming to a player that shots are desirable and won’t ever be criticised if the player makes that choice, is a good way to encourage flair. This sometimes goes against possession based practice but surely we want the decision making to remain with the player.

  11. I’ll say it – I think the concept of ‘silence on the sideline’ is ridiculous, but having watched some absolute ‘horror’ parents, I can definitely see how this rule came into being!

    Yes, in academies (and even my local club) there is a ‘no coaching from the parents’ rule. You can’t have more than one teacher in the room, otherwise the kids won’t know who to listen to, right?

    In ski instruction, the most effective learning strategy is one of ‘guided discovery’. You need to ‘do it yourself’, but also ‘have a guide’ so you don’t re-enforce bad habits. You definitely need to let the kids make the choices and make the mistakes themselves, but without a guide the progress is slow and while they will get good at the sport, statistically speaking, they rarely make it to the elite level.

    A typical soccer scenario: If from a young age you only have one training session a week and not much input on the weekend, you won’t learn much. To accelerate your progress, you need individual feedback (and academies that provide good 1×1 are not cheap). Instead, you need loads of practice sessions and just as importantly, you need loads of ‘guidance’. If your coach has 15 other people in the squad, they won’t get much focus on their individual skills or tactics.

    Playing Div1 and also coaching a young team, I routinely ask my friends on the sidelines to call out ideas to me (as they might see an opportunity that I hadn’t). Again, the ideas are ‘things to consider’ rather than ‘orders’ (but the delivery of the ‘advice’ needs to be tailored to the individual.. For the young player, you need to find out which way appeals to them. Everyone is different – we shouldn’t have a blanket rule.

    As the coach quite often can’t (or won’t) call out to all the individual players during a game, a knowledgeable parent should (in my opinion) be allowed to call out to their son/daughter on the wing to give them ideals to consider (providing that it’s done in an appropriate way). If done properly, it provides the player with additional individual options that they may not have thought of, or the motivation to keep going when they are exhausted and their team needs them and accelerates their understanding of the game.

    Everything in balance is the key here.

  12. Street ball for Ronaldo and Messi? Hardly! They were both part of major club programs before their teen years. Creativity might come from less overt coaching, but creativity only is useful if matched by skill, which these great players gained through intense coaching and training.

  13. Totally agree that parent coaching from the sidelines is confusing to the player and ultimately a detriment to their development. If a parent wants to coach, he should become a coach. That said there are definite productive steps a coach can take help educate parents and create a more positive environment for player growth.

    This post on Each Game as it Comes offers a great step-by-step method for coaches to deal with this:

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