Following on from our most popular and most read article ‘The Unknown Damage – caused from the touchline’, I today took the opportunity to carry out a further experiment on the sideline of an academy football match.
In the original experiment of a grassroots game 16 months ago, we recorded 134 direct instructions yelled on to players at an under 8 football match, from either spectators or coaches and looked at the negative impact that this type of behaviour had on the young players involved in the match.
A further experiment that we carried out at an under 10 grassroots game saw 100 instructions yelled in the first half alone, so we know the issues that people are facing and some of the environments being created.
Today at an Under 9 academy game, there were 43 shout outs from the sideline of which around 30 were positive pieces of praise and the rest small coaching instructions from the relevant coaches, a fantastic result in 40 minutes of football, the same time scale as the original experiment. In my own experience over the last two years at many academy matches, I would say this figure would be no different to the vast majority of match day environments.
So, my big question to all administrators, clubs and coaches reading this is why? Here at Working with Parents in Sport, one of our big driving forces is to provide support to every sporting parent and coach regardless of experience in working together to provide children with the best possible sporting experiences. This support should not just be limited to children who find themselves in high performance, academy or pathway programmes.
Having witnessed first-hand the environment today compared with the grassroots experiment many months ago there is absolutely no doubting which environment was more productive for both players and parents. Players were free to make their own choices without fear of recrimination, parents were far less stressed out as this has become something of the norm in academy football, so why can’t we try to do more so that every child gets to play in such an environment.
How has this come about in academy football? Very simply by the clubs taking the lead and setting out standards of expectation and behaviour to parents in advance of any training or matches. New parents arrive into the system and as we know from our work, merely mimic the environment that they find themselves in – which gives everyone hope of trying to create some positive change. Granted, there may be a little bit more fear on the parent’s behalf that if their behaviour is not up to scratch, that it may have negative connotations for their child within the system, but this should still not be an excuse for us all not to try and instigate change at a local level.
The behaviour of the coaches is also a key factor in this process. If they are seen to be calm, picking well chosen pieces of coaching advice, many parents see that as normal behaviour around their child’s sporting experience. If parents come into a new environment and see coaches who run up and down the pitch, joystick coaching every child, berating every refereeing decision then for us they have merely provided carte blanche for all parents to follow suit.
So who has the ultimate responsibility for this?
Do clubs need to take more of a lead in setting out the culture and ethos of the club? – Including what they expect and what their club are trying to achieve?
Do coaches need to ensure that their behaviours follow the cultures and ethos of the club and set great examples to the parents in their team?
We saw this week via social media a coach criticised for not shouting enough at their players in an under 10 game but as the coach pointed out that they are just under 10, but so many inexperienced coaches can feel the heat from the parents on their team and feel they need to be acting this way to show that they care or are doing a good job. Without really good support from experienced coaches or the club, many can often feel very alone.
Do parents need to be better informed and resourced in what a young persons sporting experience should look like, as opposed to making their own assumptions based on how sport is portrayed on the TV and perhaps based on their own sporting experience?
Clubs and coaches need to remember that many parents experience of sport comes from their own childhood when many methods would now appear outdated(we certainly know more about the science behind it than we did a generation ago), from how sport is portrayed on TV and in the media and how other people behave in the environment that they find themselves in. Humans are ultimately designed to conform and fit in with the crowd.
The reality of all of this is that it requires buy in and a well thought out process and all stakeholders have a key role to play. In the clubs and organisations we work with we talk about creating cultural alignment between club, coach and parent.
This can be easily discussed and put into place, but it is then the behaviours of all the parties involved to uphold this culture. Words on a wall or phrases in the code of conduct are rarely enough to create real culture change without the relevant behaviours being modelled and celebrated on a regular basis.
Our work suggests that preaching to parents, telling them what to do has very little impact and creative solutions need to be found to help inform them of the how and why they should be creating the environments they do for their child, both at the club and at home to give their child the very best chance of being successful, in all walks of life not just on the sports field.
There is no short term fix but until we find the time to create effective organisational cultures, provide support to coaches as part of coach education on how important their behaviour and communication is and support and inform parents in fun and creative ways, we will still be hindered by the same old issues.
We do not have all of the answers but what we do know is that a large number of football academies create effective match day environments as do a number of grassroots clubs who have really got to grips with this, but there are many children playing in environments that mean their fun and enjoyment will be dwindling and their progress hindered.
No parent would intentionally set out to do that as we all love our children, but a child’s agenda on why they play sport is often very different to the motivations and agendas of the adults involved in their experience. Children still ultimately play for fun, which can take on many definitions but based on the work carried out by Amanda Visek, we know that winning and playing in a tournament for example are way down the list of a child’s priorities. Yet in the adult agenda if pushed, they would certainly be a top 5 answer as to what is important in their child’s sporting experience.
We hope this blog has raised some awareness and provided plenty of food for thought. In some small way we hope it has addressed some of the potential issues, providing a basic framework to work from.
We would love to hear from you on this one?
Have we created a perfect world picture above which is impossible to try and get to?
What do you think hinders you as a club, coach or parent in creating the best possible environments for our young players?
Let us know, we will revisit and follow up this piece once we have received all the feedback.