Highlights from the Ian Barker Interview on Parents and the Youth Soccer Landscape - Soccer Parenting Association

Highlights from the Ian Barker Interview on Parents and the Youth Soccer Landscape

Ian Barker is the Director of Coaching Education for United Soccer Coaches and joins us for a discussion on a wide range of topics directly related to parents and the youth game. 

  • The tension that exists between parents and coaches
  • What the ideal environment looks like for a child, and how a parent can make sure the environment suits their child
  • Sideline behavior
  • A guide on choosing your child’s environment
  • The role coaches play for long term athlete development and functional movement
  • The role of the recreational level volunteer parent for our novice players
  • Collaboration in our youth soccer landscape
  • How our National teams affect our youth development

And much more!

While the entire 55 minute interview is available on the SoccerParentResourceCenter.com, I've included a few clips below.

Tension between Parents and Coaches

Transcript:

Skye:
Are there problems that you're consistently seeing or issues that you're consistently seeing that are standing out to you within our U.S. youth soccer environment?

Ian:
Well, in terms of parenting, what I think is a concern, that's been there for a while now, is the tension that appears to have occurred between parents and coaches, many of whom are parents themselves and maybe even have children on the teams, and then the kids are right in the middle of that tension. So anything we can do, as parents and coaches and people around the game, to continually put the kids first and be mindful of what these interactions look like and how they support the kid or the child. That I think is where we need to be looking.

Skye:
What are the tensions? What are one or two or three examples of what you're talking about?

Ian:
Sure. I think the most common refrain from a lot of the coaches is that the parents are helicopter parents. That's to say they're trying to manipulate playing time, they're playing various sort of mind games, if you will. They're very intrusive in the coaches space, where the coach is trying to organize his or her team. So I think that's the sort of set standard one. But I think, at the same time, we'd probably find a lot of coaches that would wish their parents were a little bit more engaged at times in understanding what the coach is trying to achieve and trying to be there and be supportive.

So, on the one extreme, we have the parent who is barely dropping the kid off at training and the car is still sort of running as the child jumps out the minivan and then we have the parent who sort of sitting on the field in their deck chair. So everything in between. But I just think that coaches need to be a little bit more explicit with what they would like to see from the parent's support. And I think anytime we can open up the lines of communication, in an intelligent way, we'll achieve some of those corrections, if you will. In terms of getting parent's there.

Skye:
One of my concepts that I kind of come back to a lot with the Soccer Parenting Association and the work I'm doing is that we need to stop blaming the crazy soccer parent. And I think that parents need to stop doing that and say, Oh, I don't want to be a crazy soccer parent, so I therefore am not going to get involved. And then they don't get involved maybe when they should advocate for their child or the environment. And then there's coaches that say, Oh, all parents are crazy soccer parents, so therefore, I'm going to push all of them away. I would venture to say, and my response from parents as I'm working with them has been that, I'm not a crazy parent, but I do have some stress and I would like the coach and the club to address my stress, help me, guide me, support me through this, and then everything's going to be fine, but nobody's addressing my stress. Does that make sense to you?

Ian:
Yeah, it does and I think you put it in an interesting way. So we talk about the extremes of parents, whether it be extremely engaged or extremely disengaged, if you will, but if that is impacting the majority who are comfortably in the middle, who want to be supportive, want to be part of the solution, if you will, but they don't know how and they're now disenfranchised, they're now dissuaded from being more active, because they don't want to be labeled the crazy parent. That would be really concerning. Because I think in a moment of clarity, most coaches will concede that the majority of their parent interactions are extremely positive and extremely necessary. And so, as we try to, quote unquote, address the extreme situations, we don't want to lose the bulk of the group who are solidly with us.

Skye:
Yeah. The work that I'm doing with coaches now is saying, just ignore the crazy ones. Let them be crazy. Let the crazy parents go work with the crazy coaches. And then let's focus on improving our environment and let's focus on giving the attention to sort of, like I said, the level-headed but maybe stressed parents and then that's when we'll see an improvement in the environment.

Ian:
And I think some of these sort of legislations that we have sometimes, for example, it's a Silent Sunday, which I've never been a fan of, you're penalizing the majority who have no issue. And very often the people you're trying to address with that rule or mandate are still going to carry on being crazy, because you haven't educated them in any way. So I'm not really one for mandates and requirements and legislation, because typically they impact the people that don't deserve to be impacted.

Skye:
No, that's true.


Choosing An Environment for Your Child

Transcript:

Skye:
So let's talk about an environment that parents should be really seeking for their kids. You know, what would be some priorities that parents should have as they're looking for a youth soccer experience or environment for their child?

Ian:
Yeah, I think this answer to this question ranges from the absolute most fundamental park and rec program up through the Academy programs, be it ECNL, US Soccer Development Academy, US Youth Soccer National League. And that is fun and safety because they are children and they may be aspiring to play professionally or they may be aspiring to just play on the local park once a week. But for a child it must be fun and it must be safe. If those two things are true, then what should happen theoretically is intrinsic motivation. That is to say, the player ultimately plays for their own free will. And then hopefully that also fosters free play. That is to say that outside of the training sessions and the required attendance at games and training that the kid is interacting with the game, with the sport in free play or in other opportunities. I know it seems like a very simple answer and a very trite answer, but I can't think of anything more important than making it fun and safe and so that the kid wants to continue playing up to his or her potential.

Skye:
Exactly. I like that answer because it allows for various pathways to evolve based on, like you were saying, the child's intrinsic motivation. I interviewed, for the summit, Yael Averbuch and she talked a lot about her motivation and how or why, a child's why, needs to be driven by them, not the parent at all.

Ian:
Yeah. Absolutely.

Skye:
It seems a little bit like what you're saying there. So if you were placing your child in a club, and I want to dig into fun and I wanted to get into safety for a little bit, but would you be trying to look in any other considerations? I mean, common words that we have popping up these days, you are curriculums and culture and things like that. I mean, what resonates with you as far as that's concerned?

Ian:
Well, I think there's many ways of tackling the question and it would obviously depend on every parent's unique situation. And I do think every parent has a unique situation, even if they live in the same neighborhood and the kids go to the same school and they're the same height, et cetera. But I would be looking at the investment of time and money that I was willing to make. So if I was in a good metropolitan area and I had an eight, nine year old, I don't know why I'd be looking at a program that wants me to travel every other weekend, three, four hours to a tournament. I think there should be enough opportunity for me to invest time and money that is rewarded, if you will. The dividend is getting to see my kid play and then still coming home in time for dinner, for sure.

I think coaching qualifications, which is obviously my main responsibility is important, but more so than that is making sure that the club has risk management policies. The club is welcoming to parents and is prepared to explain to the parent what the menu options are within that club. I do think what happens a lot is parents sign up for a program because they've heard about the program and they only investigate the services the program gives them once they've committed the registration or they've attended the tryout and been offered a spot. So if these clubs have good websites, if these clubs have informational sessions, I'd be looking for a club that's willing to share it's story as opposed to one that that sort of gets my money, and then shares it's story.

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When Well-Intentioned Yet Uneducated Coaches Coach Our Most Novice Players

Transcript:

Skye:
You talked about how you all reached through the United Soccer Coaches, a lot of Grassroots coaches. That's a big part of the work that you're doing amongst lots of other great work, but what are some of the solutions? Again, focusing on solutions to our issues that we have with the unqualified, but extremely well intentioned coaches that are working with our most novice and impressionable players.

Ian:
I think you can go one route, which is try to educate each individual coach, but I think one of the strategies that a lot of us are looking at is the notion of institutional education and then seeing that trickle down. I was recently at a club actually with working with US soccer and we were introduced to the technical director of the club. He came into the clubhouse. It was a club house on the facility. A little bit later, the Grassroots coaches came in for the Grassroots cleaning we've been conducting and they never met him. They didn't know who he was and he'd been there for two, three years and he was telling us about his resume and telling us about all of the teams in state comp, but his Grassroots coach had never met him.

Ian:
That suggests to me a real problem that the club is charging and giving a degree of service, which is commensurate with the expectation of the parents. The parents looking for one training a week in one Saturday morning. However, if the club isn't providing good education for those Grassroots coaches, then I do think they're taking advantage of those parents. Just because the Grassroots requires and asks for less, they don't want to pay the fees and get all the nice gear and go to all the tournaments, that doesn't mean they should just be given nothing.

What I would like to see is a more concerted effort on the behalf of professionals, of pay coaching directors, of club administrators who manage the clubs and making sure that the educational pieces that are so important are being put in place of that level and not all dedicated to the state cup teams and the high school age players.


About the Author Skye Eddy Bruce

Founder, SoccerParenting.com Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF “B” License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.

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