How to be a resilient coach with young players

To be a good coach with young players, you often have to spend more time managing the parents than the children. Here’s my approach to this often testing relationship, by Steve Riddlestone, youth and senior coach.

First, let’s put my team into context. They do win occasional games, improving over the year, and are now beginning to make their skills count.

During my time with the squad I have had several parents who believe their children to be better than the average player. Despite knowing nothing and being entirely taught and coached by me within the squad, they decided that their child was better than others (admittedly they may have been more physical or even showed greater desire to win).

So they demanded that they either not be substituted or they moved clubs that adopt a win-at-all-costs approach. This is always disappointing at the time, but I have learned to move on quickly for both myself and the remaining squad players.

As time has passed, these so-called better players have become either disillusioned as others have improved, or quit the game altogether.

And even though I always make it very clear that they can come back (within the ethos and guidelines laid down) to our squad, they never do. The parents have essentially made them quit a sport they loved so much.


I always hold regular briefings with my parents and players at the beginning, middle and end of the season. I always remind them of the ground rules for having me as Head Coach:

  • Everyone will be coached equally – dependent upon their individual need.
  • Everyone will play as close to an equal amount of time in games (except cup games) as possible. The only exceptions being positional requirements to make the team function.
  • Players will be expected to focus on core skills as their ultimate priority. Positional skills will be coached as needed. Good core skills take time while it’s easier to adopt positional skills.
  • Players will be expected to play in more than one position for the good of the team.
  • As they grow older and body shapes and abilities change, their positions will change.


Cup games are the only games where we play to win only.

We may not use subs because:

  1. Each round is a blank sheet for selection.
  2. If you were not in the first round you can contend for the following round.
  3. We may suffer unavailability for a variety of reasons.
  4. Everyone needs to feel we can compete due to good core skills and we have players used to playing in different positions.
  5. We progress through each round as a squad.

By keeping everyone engaged may not win but the lads keep turning up and we are now getting better and closer to those that used to thrash us regularly.

I had a squad with 24 registered players at U14 and training and games saw an average attendance of 20 players, even during the really bad weather. The lads took great heart and motivation from very nearly overturning opposition that had previously beaten us by 30 points or more, the players are starting to realise that they have the potential.


More importantly, after 8 years of giving the same messages to the same group of players and parents, I have finally got the responses I have been hoping for in parent attitude.

Several parents of players, who are now showing good skills and a genuine desire to play well for the team, have said how their son would have given up if it was not for the inclusive nature of training, coaching and selection

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