The presence of parents at youth football matches and training sessions has been adivisive issue for many years. On one hand, mothers and fathers can give kids the motivation, sense of achievement and confidence that are crucial to player development. However, all too often parents allow their enthusiasm to boil over into interference, abuse, and on some occasions, violence.

You can harness the influence of parents without allowing them to be detrimental to youth football by following some very specific guidelines.

Hold a pre-season meeting with all parents

Holding an open meeting for all the parents and guardians of players before the season starts can set the tone for the year. You can use this opportunity to inform parents about what lies in store for the season ahead. This meeting can also be used as a platform for questions and answers, and as a way of setting some ground rules from the outset. Try to cultivate a culture of togetherness and cooperation from the very beginning.

Adopt an open forum for discussion and ideas

As well as holding a pre-season meeting, it’s also important to give the parents and relatives of the children you coach an opportunity to raise their concerns at various stages during a season. Some parents will be concerned about their child’s welfare and happiness, while others will want to discuss the footballing side of their child’s experiences. If you don’t give parents these vital opportunities to have their say, they might let their frustrations boil over during training sessions or matches – causing friction with children, other parents and officials.

Create a code of conduct for parents and spectators

It is important that parents are subject to the same rules regarding conduct and respect as children are, which is why a written code of conduct is essential. Get parents to read the code when their child first shows an interest in joining your club, and have them sign up to it before their child signs on to play. As part of your club’s code of conduct, there should be a complete prohibition of parents publicly criticising players. You might want to include rules on the use of profanity, threatening behaviour and getting involved in tactical issues during matches. In short, your club’s rules on parent behaviour should have dignity and respect at their core.

Deal with conflict on a one-to-one basis

If you need to address a specific incidence of poor behaviour, or a repeat offender’s conduct, you should do it in private with the person involved. Try not to deal with these issues in a public forum, as this could lead to bad feeling and increasingly uncooperative behaviour. Take the time to listen to the concerns of angry parents – even if you don’t agree with them. However, it is important that you let problem parents know that their actions are not acceptable, and that they could lead to a ban from matches and training sessions.

Never blame children for the behaviour of their parents

It would be easy to allow the actions of a parent to affect the way you interact with their child. However, you simply can’t hold a child responsible for the actions of an adult, so try to separate the two issues wherever possible. If you need to discuss a parent’s behaviour with the individual concerned, do so away from the child. It’s also important that you don’t let any ill-feeling between coaching staff and parents affect the way children are treated.

Show consistency in your approach to parents

Parents will respond to a firm but fair approach to rules and guidelines. However, it is vitally important that you communicate these issues clearly and as quickly as possible. It’s usually a bad idea to change rules during a season, but if you have to, give parents and children plenty of notice – and the chance to respond. You should also ensure that you and the other coaches in your club treat all parents and children with the same level of respect. It stands to reason that some players will achieve more than others, but you should never let high-achievers get away with actions or behaviours that other players in the team wouldn’t – and the same applies to their parents. Parents and children in the average local club could hail from a wide range of backgrounds, religions and races, so it’s important to bear this in mind when devising your club’s code of conduct. But with regular communication, fairness and clear guidelines, you should be able to harness the positive influence that parents can bring for the good of the entire club.