Friday, February 22, 2013

Planning your parent meeting

In my opinion, your most important non-technical moment during the season is your parent meeting.

Don't ever underestimate how important your team parents are.  They drive your players to where you need them to be.  They pay the bills.  They have incredible influence on how receptive your players are to your coaching and philosophy.  What they say in the car before and after your games can undo weeks of work at training.

I have always had parent meetings in one form or another but I never appreciated how useful they could be until my oldest son started playing travel hockey in Welland.   During my first parent meeting, as a parent, I also wore my coaching hat taking mental notes.  That was in 2001.

Your parents have to be made aware of as much as possible about your program.  They are trusting you with their children 2-4 times/week and you need to establish as much trust as possible.  You also want as much buy-in as possible to help move your program along.

My initial suggestions:
  • Set a location away from the field, and not around training.  Separate night and time, an event all on its own.
  • Confirm your location and required equipment.  Only once did I leave it a little "loosy goosy"and the facility ended up being unable to serve our needs.  Thankfully it was in the time of cell phones and we were able to quickly adjust.
  • Seriously consider if you want to invite the players.  I never did as I wanted parents to feel free to ask me ANYTHING.
  • Take the time to get to know your parents, have a little social time together, but take the actual meeting time seriously and be professional.
  • I always had it within a meeting room of a local restaurant or pub.  It allowed for social time after and suited those who came from work and might be hungry.
  • Ensure you give enough notice so at least one parent from each family can attend.
  • Give advance notice if your treasurer is collecting money that night. 
Set an agenda and review it with your assistants.  Make sure you leave your parents with everything they need to plan their season and do what you can to eliminate any surprises during the season.  Here are some points you might/should cover:
  • All contact info for team coaches and players
  • Locations and possible dates for season games (if schedule is out)
  • Training schedule
  • Location and dates for tournaments
  • Budget for season, over and above club registration
  • Corporate solicitation, fundraising if applicable
  • How you will communicate with team
  • Coach's expectations of players and parents
  • Club's expectations (Code of Conduct, etc)
  • What the parents can expect from you
  • What players can expect from you
  • How can your parents help you (some ideas on what to cheer on the side, bed times, pre-game meals, etc) 
  • Playing time philosophy
  • Policy/guidelines for handling disputes
  • Assign jobs to parents (involve your parents!) 
  • In modern times, you should have a social media policy for your team.
  • Open the floor to any questions people may have and ANSWER the questions
I am big on the parent meeting.  Here is my reflection of my parent meeting for the 2012 season. (I wrote in my reflection that I was considering inviting the players,  but that idea lasted about two hours.  It's possible that I might have hit my head on the cement and blacked out for a few hours.)  My intention was to set my parent meeting up to avoid any and all misunderstandings during the season.  My first and still assistant coach, Rino Berardi, set me straight on this back in 1989 and it's been very helpful.  I was always fortunate enough to have parents on my team who had older children playing travel sports and asking questions I had not thought of ... and nipped those in the bud the following year.

Just as you would prepare for practice, you need to prepare for the parent meeting.  Know your program inside-out and make sure your presented philosophy is sincere.  If you are pretending to be somebody you're not, the real you will come out soon enough.  

You want to share as much information as possible to avoid surprises for the families.  Do yourself a favour and avoid surprises yourself.  If you have jobs that require a lot of interaction or confidentiality, approach those parents in advance and assign those jobs.  And make sure you have several duties available for any parents who want to be involved.    Parental involvement is great for the group and gives kids a chance to see their parents in another capacity.

If you coach house-league, a lot of these issues may not need covering (budget, travel, etc) but your parents deserve the same respect in terms of meeting with you and knowing your program.  The children they trust you with are just as precious as the children in the travel program.

A new issue for coaches this year (2012) is answering questions about LTPD.  There are very valid questions that will be asked by parents and you should be prepare to answer them to the best of your abilities.

My last 3 suggestions:
  • Check with your club to ensure there are no policies with respect to team parent meetings.  Some sporting associations ask that an executive member or technical director be present.
  • Stay aligned with your club's policy on team bank accounts.  Many clubs are moving to a system of having one main bank account with sub ledgers for each team.
  • If at all possible, try to host the meeting at a location that sponsors your club.  Nothing builds goodwill like 30 parents walking through the front door!
Your parent meeting should not be seen as pressure, but rather the launch party for a peaceful and enjoyable season where you are left to do what you love; coach.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Social Media and coaching

We have the most wonderful tools available to us to aid in our communications and community building.  So hi-tech, so convenient and SO DANGEROUS.

Don't fool yourself; social media IS an issue you need to consider as a coach.  It can be a helpful tool but it has to be tended to like a fire ... at a level to keep you warm, but controlled so it doesn't burn your house down.

At your disposal you have everything you need to post an online schedule, share pictures, post technical and fitness information for parents, etc.

But some coaches don't stop there, get carried away or let their ego takes over. As do players and parents.
  • They start to post game pictures.  When that gets boring, they start to add crazy captions.
  • If they are feeling down on the way home after a loss, and decide to publish a post-game report that is not very nice.
  • A parent is frustrated and confronts the coach.  And the coach hits back, online.
  • Parents start a Facebook community, and crazy conversations start that identify players and be critical
  • Online forums for leagues and age groups are war-zones for players and parents of competing clubs.  Stupid things get written and can't be taken back.
  • Coaches start blogs and get careless with people's feelings (and privacy)
  • Somebody does a "reply all" by accident and writes something stupid about somebody else.
I've seen teams break up over online stupidity.  And so have you!

As a coach, I think you need to have some kind of guideline for online conduct when it comes to your team.  Do you have the right to establish a policy?  As a volunteer or a paid professional you not only have the right,  it's your duty.  Your prime concern is the players and their ability to enjoy the team environment.  Anything that interferes with that has to be dealt with.

Here are some clubs that mention "social media" in their conduct policies:

As a coach I have a few personal guidelines:
  • I NEVER accept friend requests from children.  My personal policy on Facebook is that I have nobody under 19-years-old as friends.
  • I limit my team's online presence to a plain and simple schedule.
  • I don't set up online chat forums for my team.
  • I have a section of my team meeting to remind parents of online conduct.  It's never been a problem once it's brought to everyone's attention.
  • I never publish a child's picture for wide open access.
As a coach, you need to be vigilant about what's going on in cyberspace.  It may seem like an extreme thing to state, but a simple, mature and direct set of guidelines for online expectations can save you a lot of headaches.  Parents can get carried away online, unintentionally, and you need to address that during your parent meeting and be clear about what you expect.

Let's be clear about one thing.   There is NEVER justification for a team adult to post ANY comment or opinion about ANY child on a team, and that might include their own.  A lot of parents write proud things about their children and the wording is very responsible.  A lot, but not all.  Sometimes even a sincere congratulatory message can cause jealous comments.  Sad, but true.  Consider some of the replies some of these comments might generate:
  • "So proud of my daughter who scored 2 goals in our 7-3 loss today."
  • "I wish our kids would pass more"
  • "If we could avoid goals against we would do better"
  • "We need to work on defending"
  •  "Exactly where is our team money going?"
As a volunteer your might think "I don't need this extra hassle" but it can be a non-issue if you're careful yourself and you don't ignore the possibilities.  Be knowledgeable and clear so you can turn your efforts to coaching.

You also need to address how your players involve the team environment in their online interactions.  Especially as teenagers.  The negative effect can be devastating.  A grade 8 teacher told me a few years ago "What happens in my classroom today depends on what happened on MSN last night."

An "old-schooler" might tell you that you are over complicating things, but it's part of the new reality for coaches that includes multi-home families, asthma puffers, peanut allergies, new social attitudes towards hazing and bullying, etc, etc, etc.

Social media has been a good thing in a lot of situations.  It has also damaged a lot of relationships. In a potentially hot-headed environment like sports where there are numerous relationships involving competitors, social media might not be a good mix if guidelines aren't set.

Some good articles about social media and sports:

Learning from other coaches, all coaches.

Don't ever think you only learn by reading articles and attending coaching courses.  Watching your peers in action and seeing what succeeds and fails is a very important part of your own personal development.

This week we had our fifth session with our club's U11/U12 development program.

The sessions have been going well with coaches Colum, John and Nilan helping out.  I have to say these three coaches have been very good for me as I am learning something from each of them in terms of relating to players.  They are also newer coaches in our rep/select program so I like to see how they're doing.

Coach John is a high school Vice-Principal and has 4 children.  Technically, in soccer, he is not overly experienced, but his approach with the players is warm and respectful.  He is not afraid to jump in and even out a small-sided-game that needs a player.  There is always a smile on his face, even when he's not smiling.  He is very experienced in sports, VERY experienced in dealing with young adults and understands everything we are doing so setting up and monitoring/adjusting is not a problem.  It's obvious to anybody watching that Coach John brings his experience as an educator to soccer.  John looks and sounds like a coach, and that's big.  Our conversations tell me that he is very comfortable with his philosophies and that is the biggest step to being a good coach.   I deal with Coach John on occasion during the day so we have a pre-existing relationship.

Coach Nilan is in law-enforcement and has experience with the game.  His voice is clear, his posture is confident and he comes to our sessions looking the part of a coach.  Nilan really enjoys coaching and the kids seem to sense that.  His change in voice at different times accurately relays his emotions and he is able to use that effectively with the players.  He can adequately demonstrate for the players and that  helps with his delivery.  I interface with Nilan at soccer and through work as he is a colleague of my wife.  He is a positive addition to our club's coaching ranks.

Coach Colum is a coach with whom I just started working.  We did not know each other before this program.  I have no complaints so far and I have to say I like his style.  He just assumed his position as head coach of our U11 girls team.  He comes to our sessions ready to work and he's not afraid to try and pump the players up during the exercises we're doing.  He is able to demonstrate and uses good soccer language when relaying information.  His body language is very positive and the girls are appreciative of his efforts. He looks, acts and sounds like a coach.

Seeing the qualities of these people, how can I walk away from a session and not gain something?  It may not always be technical, but it will always be something that strengthens my ability to relate.  Every session, before my eyes, I get three different approaches to the session's sequences and three streams of information to process.  It's been very enjoyable.

If you come to training with the attitude "You learn from me and that's that" you're not likely to be a very successful coach or engage the people you're working with.  I find myself gathering information from people all day long, a lot of do's and dont's.

As a coach I love to watch others coach regardless of the team, level or sport.  I often wander into the next ice-rink while waiting for my son's hockey game to watch a coach run their practice.  I watch their organization, teaching style, body language and how the players receive them.  In short, I am assessing them.

When you watch another coach, ask yourself the same type of questions as you would when reflecting after a session:
  • What did I like?
  • What would I change?
  • Did the players enjoy the session?
  • Did the players improve?
  • How was the coach's demeanour and appearance?
  • How was the organization? 
The assistants occasionally change my organization a bit for their own section of a drill.  That's OK because sometimes I adapt their idea for myself.

For your own development, make a point of watching other coaches using a coach's set of eyes.  It could be something completely new, something to reinforce good habits you have or plainly what NOT to do.

By the way,  all that is written above applies to every profession or occupation.  If you think you are done growing and learning, you're finished.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

District U12 Boys session - Physically Literate?

On Saturday morning I was a guest coach with the Niagara District Boys program.

I coached our district team for four years before handing it over to Vince Stranges, who is now in his fourth year with the program.

The session had 28 boys in attendance and we had half of a full pitch at the Youngs Sportsplex in Welland.

I have never worked with these boys so I kept the session basic and experimented with physical literacy sequences.

I started with a warm-up that worked all parts of their body and pushed the levels of their athleticism.  I have to say that it still shocks me how many young athletes (not specifically in this group) still have trouble catching and throwing with success.  Most of this group was OK.

A lot of them had problems with a part of the warm-up where they needed to jump and, while in the air, catch and throw the ball back to their partner.  If you're a basketball player, it's called an "ally-oop".

If you think catching and throwing is not important to a soccer player, I disagree!  With an exclamation point.  To me, it's an of their overall athleticism.

I'm not saying these boys are not good athletes, because they are all successful in their sports.  But I am saying that there are still athletes, regardless of sport, who do not have the full package of movements and muscle control.

More exposure to the movements and free play will bring this out.

At U12, their bodies are changing rapidly and working on movements and co-ordination is very important.  We want them to emerge from their growth spurt with all of their abilities, plus a little extra.

Their raw soccer skills were very decent but you could see there were components to their athleticism that needed work.  

I then followed the warm-up with drills that involved a LOT of turning and passing.  A LOT.  Their footwork was OK, but a few need to keep working on it to be more graceful and balanced in the turn.  If you're not balanced then you can't make the next move to shake off your opponent.  That will come with practice and time.

The games during the session were entertaining and competitive. We just gave gentle reminders on when to apply turns and other little ideas but , for the most part, we let them play.

This bunch was fun to coach.  It was 8am Saturday morning and they were ready to go and full of energy.  As a guest, coach there is some extra energy by both sides because everybody wants the other to be happy they came.

I wish I had let them play longer but the time used during the warm-up got away from me.  They did work hard for the entire session and I am confident they got something out of it.

Leaving this group and thinking about past district groups, this is probably the fastest group I've seen in years and a lot of them have very good technique.  I  look forward to see how they stack up against the boys from the other 2 districts within our region.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What I learned this past weekend.

This was a very busy weekend for me as a "sports guy".

We had, as a family:
  • 2 bantam house league hockey games, as a parent
  • 1 house league indoor soccer game that my son officiated
  • 1 midget house league hockey game, as a parent  
  • 1 novice house league hockey game, as an uncle
  • 1 travel basketball game, as an uncle
  • 2 soccer sessions (U4/U11) as a coach
Busy, heck yes.

I always watch with a bit of an analytical eye.  If you coach, it's hard not to.

My observations:
  • I enjoy watching my sons and nephews play sports.
  • Kids lack some gamesmanship and smart decision making.  Even a little bit of trickery/deception to create some space against an opponent.
  • Things are WAY TOO organized and structured for young athletes.
As adults, we have a HUGE challenge.  Our challenge is to not ruin sports for our children, as parents, coaches and administrators.

On Saturday afternoon I ran a session for my brother's U10/U11 program.  I felt it went well, but what did I need to keep in mind?  If we were to drop those kids off at the facility with balls and come back an hour later, they would have figured out how to organize themselves and play.  Heck, they do it three times/day in school yards all over the world.

Had we given my son's hockey team an hour of ice and some pucks, they would have had a great game on their own.  And probably figured out how to solve a few problems/situation during their game.

The amount of self-guided discovery that takes place during free play is immeasurable.  Kids playing "pick-up" have a fantastic way of solving their own problems while creating problems for their opponents.

QUESTION.  How do we structure our programs to help them improve their athleticism, technique and give them ideas, but not ruin the enjoyment and learning that they would have had in our absence?

The session before us on Saturday afternoon ended with a 4 minute small sided game.  FOUR MINUTES. 

There is a place for coaching or organizing, but we have to make sure that our programs serve the needs of our customers, the players.

So what did I learn/reinforce this weekend?
  • Work hard to make sure training sessions continue to involve game play.
  • Remember why players came and what will have them want to come back the next week.
  • Make sure the kids know the game or practice belongs to them.  
  • Fun doesn't always have to be a game with 2 teams and 2 goals.  There are a lot of games that are competitive and teach at the same time.  
  • Always give them problems to solve while they are playing.  
  • Structure sessions so they say "Hey, I'm glad he came because he gives us a chance to play.  Let's hear what he has to say, try it and see if it helps us during our games."
Next time you see kids playing on their own, watch them with your coaching eyes.  Watch how they experiment, how much fun they are having and how they organize themselves to make the game happen, including settling their disputes.  Then ask yourself the question "How can I, as a coach, infuse the information they need into their fun they want to have."