I've recently read some online discourse surrounding silent weekends at grassroots matches, with people arguing for and against them. We shouldn't need them, because parents should be have. But we do need them, because parents don't behave. But also coaches complain, because they aren't able to input as much as they'd like to. Which leads me to the question within the title of this article; do they actually know what they are supposed to be doing?
I have long believed that a coach should be working hard to make themselves obsolete. Train and prepare the players so well that they don't need you. They should be able to stand on their own two feet without the coach telling them what to do every second of the game. Yet I feel in grassroots, the term "coaching" does a lot of heavy lifting. What we're more likely to see is joysticking, micromanaging, and emotional venting. These are things that parents love to do. When we say "no coaching from the sidelines" in regards to the parents, they're not really coaching the kids, they're just barking instructions and letting out their frustrations. It's not helpful for the kids, and the only purpose it serves is to act as a cheap form of therapy for adults who should really be seeking help for their mental health.
When announcing a silent weekend, there is always backlash. Those dads that are always on edge. You know the type. They turn up to games in a tracksuit, but never offer to coach. They always occupy a part of the touchline that is closest to the position their kid plays. They use the term "we" when referring to a U8 team they don't play for or coach for. They throw their arms out in disgust and frustration when a player loses the ball, or the referee doesn't give the decision they want, in a move I call "doing the Jesus." They also have some weird phrases they bark at the kid constantly, with little phrases, that have often thrown me off as an adult, causing me to lose my train of thought. "Turn your runner? Wtf is he talking about?" The kid likely has no clue either, which is why they visibly appear more and more scared each time dad barks it at them.
Yet again, we encounter the 80:20 rule. 80% of your time and workload will be dedicated to 20% of parents causing issues. Not an exact rule, but we get the sentiment behind it. We all love the parent who gives you a wave or a nod, who you never hear on the sidelines, and you don't even know their first name. Their kid is absolutely no trouble and just gets on with it. "Thanks Coach!" they shout in your direction, as they get in the car. The only interaction you'll have with that parent all week, apart from perhaps their thumbs up reaction to your WhatsApp message asking for attendance.
A beautiful relationship that should be preserved.
But what about the others? They often don't take too kindly to these new, progressive ideas. "The kids these days are too soft! And these namby, pamby silent weekends are only going to continue to mollycoddle a generation of snowflakes! If they want to go pro, they're going to have to get use to people shouting at them and criticising them. And if they can't hack it with me and the other dads getting on at them, how are they ever going to cope in front of seventy thousand at Old Trafford?!
"What, so I'm not supposed to praise my kid when they do something good?"
It's not about you. It's about the kid. You're not the main character.
Parents regularly praise the wrong things, such as booting the ball out for a throw rather than keeping it and doing a skill or a pass.
You can praise them after the game.
Kids need to learn how to do things without adults being around.
It's a redundant question, asked in bad faith, that is supposed to reduce the options to yes or no, in an attempt to trap you.
"Yes, of course you should praise the kids when they do something good." "Thank you! So why are we even doing these stupid silent weekends?"
"No, you shouldn't be saying anything at all." "Don't you tell me how to parent! It's my kid and I'll do what I want!"
That last one is often compounded with "do you have kids yourself?" when 99% of the time, the parent knows the answer, and asks what could potentially be a very insensitive and hurtful question.
As a millennial who has been coaching since 2008, I'd like to reply with "no, because your lot buggered the economy, meaning none of us can ever own property, and because you've ruined the environment, meaning if I decide to procreate, I've done so consciously knowing of the impending doom facing our planet that my offspring would have to suffer through." But such retorts are not conducive to remaining employed.
When I have coached, refereed, or just generally observed grassroots youth games across the world, it still bothers me that after all this time, with all our increases in technology, with all the advancements in coach education, you still regularly see youth teams compete without a clear idea of how or what they are supposed to be doing. Even at restarts, such as goal kicks and throw-ins, they don't know where to stand. Standing is easy, and something a lot of footballers are very good at (especially when your team is defending a counter-attack).
This here for me is much of the reason why coaches protest about silent weekends. It's because their method isn't coaching the team in training, it's instructing them during games. Now that power has been temporarily taken away from them. Does this sound familiar? Ask yourself the following questions;
How confident would you be your team would perform at or close to their regular levels if you weren't there?
Are they able to run the warm-up without you?
Is there a player or group of players that can perform team talks?
Do they know the in possession shape?
Do they know the out of possession shape?
Do they know how to press and defend as a unit?
Do they know how to build up and create attacks?
Do they know defensive organisation at set-pieces?
Maybe some of that is too advanced for the age group you're working with, in which case we look at concepts associated with phases of the game;
Do they know what to do when we have the ball?
Do they know what do do when we don't have the ball?
Do they know what to do when we win the ball?
Do they know what to do when we lose the ball?
And simpler still, if we're still looking at individuals rather than groups;
Do they know what to do when they have the ball at their feet?
Do they know what to do when a teammate has the ball nearby?
Do they know what to do when a teammate has the ball far away?
Do they know what to do when an opponent has the ball at their feet?
Do they know what to do when an opponent has the ball, but another teammate is nearer?
Do they know what to do when an opponent has the ball, but they are far away?
Sometimes we're not even looking at 11v11 or 9v9 shapes. Sometimes it really is basic concepts of how to behave in possession and out of possession. This is why coaches are screaming at the player on the ball what to do, and what not to do "Don't lose it there!" or "Don't play about with it!" The players haven't been shown what to do, and therefore don't understand what to do. This is why the games are so transitional, and teams make very few passing sequences that are more than three passes. Teams will play a very rigid shape, with very little freedom or creativity, and hope that the ball ends up with one of their better players, who can dribble and shoot from outside the box. Sure, you might win some games, but it's not going to help develop any players, and it's not fun in the long run.
What happens when you actually have basic routines, shapes, and a collective understanding of what to do in certain situations? Funnily enough, you can coach less, observe more, and when you do coach, it becomes deeper and more meaningful. I tend to find that coaches who say less usually have teams that play better, because they're not putting out fires. Coach A may say 1000 words per half, but it's mostly nonsense. Coach B may say 100 words per half, but it is all useful, well-timed, and meaningful.
We're preparing kids for a future in which we no longer exist. So while you're around, teach them so well, they can do it without you.