Melville Academy: The Value of our Parents

By Michael Mayne

This week we met with parents to discuss our plans and where we would like to take the Melville United Academy in 2018.

These plans include growing by at least two teams and adding valuable coaching staff that can work at the level we expect on the programme.

While this evening was largely informative, it was also a good opportunity to thank our parents for the support and buy in they have given Sam and myself.

Parents are either your biggest ally, or they can be one of your most challenging foes.

Thankfully for us, our players come with parents who enjoy the competitive nature of the sport but are realistic with what the programme is actually about. It is no secret that Sam and I are trying to promote a certain type of programme, one focused on promoting exciting players that can have a future in the game should they decide to pursue.

I have no doubts that parents may have looked at our methods early in the programme and perhaps questioned ‘why’ we do certain things.

Why do we not encourage specialisation in terms of playing positions? Why are they not doing any traditional fitness in sessions? Why do they let them select their own formations, do their own warm ups, pick their own teams…?

A lot of ‘whys’. But, we have to thank the parents for their support and letting us evolve the player’s skill set and understanding in ways that they may not completely understand yet.

There is a bigger picture. We don’t see these players as 14-year-olds playing in a Federation League. We see them as 21-year old professionals in the early years of learning their trade. We want them to not just be great footballers, but also be problem solvers and great people. This is what we want from the programme.

One area of concern for me with regard to parents is how competitive they are, and how desperate they are to win, And for what?

I made a comment on social media this week around my observations that some parents seemed more concerned with winning games and leagues than the actual players do.

These comments came not only from what I saw during an academy match, but from what I have also witnessed plenty of times during other youth games.

There was blatant baiting of players. There were stirring statements for every little indiscretion that the young referee missed.

There were comments hurled about ability levels of players. There was over-the-top ‘cheerleading’ for every moment that resulted in players beating another or scoring a goal.

One comment I heard yelled across the pitch after one of our players had scored a pretty impressive 35 yard strike was: “That wasn’t that great boys, it was a fluke. He isn’t that good.”

Followed by a smattering of chuckles by the parents behind him. And for what? To get a little more out of his team, or to hurt the confidence of ours? My question is: What do all of these behaviours achieve and where do they come from?

The simple answer is this. They want to win, they want the points so desperately and to win the trophy at the end of the competition.

Is winning important to me? Of course. Winning gives you an outcome and purpose for the hours you have put in. But really, if we are honest, does winning the Federation U14 league in 2017 mean anything? Is there a cash prize? Does it mean your team gain trials anywhere? Are you identified by NZF as a leading club team in the U14 sector?

No. It means nothing, absolutely zero. It has no bearing on where these players will end up and it worries me why it seems to mean so much to the parents.

From what I can see, the short term gain and extrinsic value for the coach and parents seem far more important than the long term and intrinsic value of the player.

We expect a little different from our parents in the Melville Academy. Like everything in the development of our game, it comes back to the coaching. The main issue I see is the coach’s inability to educate parents about what’s important and the fear of potentially losing players because of fall-out with a parent for standing up for what’s vitally important.

The club can drive it, but it always come back to the coach. If the coach is so desperate to win for their own CV or ego, guess what? The parents will most likely reflect that same attitude.

What is important for Melville Academy parents is that we celebrate the right things, the things in the game that matter. Exciting play. Positive play. Overcoming challenges the game throws up. Being creative in the style of play. Individualism.

We encourage our parents to also understand how learning occurs. It’s never lineal. It’s a process that goes up as the player becomes confident in a skill and as new challenges are introduced, it will probably come down.

Learning is just as much as about failing as it is about the successes. It’s asking players to try and play under pressure. Not being afraid to stay on the ball at times. About trying to take on a player in a 1v1 situation.

What parents need to understand is that a coach may be promoting this type of play because it’s a recognised weakness for a specific group of players at the time.

So imagine how it feels when the player does try something new and the next thing that follows is criticism from the sideline because they may have messed up a ‘golden opportunity to score’ or they have tried to play out from the back and misplaced a pass that leads to a goal.

These moments shouldn’t define the player. These are all part of the development process and if they are unsuccessful from time to time, in what is perceived to be a youth development league, it shouldn’t matter!

All it means is they need to further develop this skill. Without this process of exposure and failure the skill may never be developed at all. Failure to execute a skill during a match is not a reason to berate the player or cheer for the one who has benefitted from the mistake.

As I have said in the past, don’t confuse these views as an excuse for players losing or having low standards. We strive to have a winning mentality in everything we do. But the end goal should be to allow the player the opportunity to develop their game without listening to ranting and raving parents or coaches on the sidelines.

Watch, encourage, and enjoy the game.

That should be enough for all spectators of youth football. And should they lose, well, what does it really matter? Don’t let those insignificant losses turn into a big loss of an outstanding player in the future.

This article was published in the Melville v Oratia programme, 19.8.2017

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