For some coaches the customers are what makes them coach and causes them to quit. In our industry there are two forms of customers – players and parents. Both are required to make the business work. We must attract them to the club, give them the product they signed up for and retain them for future years. A large portion of this rests on the shoulders of the team coach as 85% of player and parent contact with the club can go through them. Similarly, some team coaches are more active and/or effective at recruiting players.

Attracting New Players

Bringing in new players to your club can have several components: it can also be affected by the rules in your state and the governing body you follow. In some states you cannot actively recruit players who are members of other clubs, in others it is a free-for-all where you are welcome to show up to their practices and hand out business cards. Same with phone calls, texting, guest playing at tournaments, camps and other events. Be sure you know what the rules are before getting yourself suspended.

Regardless of the rules you can attract people by offering a great product. This can start with a strong website that looks professional and lays out exactly what you offer and the results you get. Combine this with a strong presence on social media platforms that players and parents use (Instagram, Facebook etc – more information here). Add to that the construction of a strong reputation in the community, with happy players and parents who tell their friends how well things are going. Offering great value and excellent customer service will further enhance this reputation and make you desirable to potential customers.

If you do want to be more direct, some coaches will congratulate opposing players after games, singling them out and saying how well they did. Having positive behavior on the sideline during the game also helps as no one will want to switch clubs to play for the guy who was rude to them. Understand that you are always on show, and it might make sense to tone down your celebrations or outrage when you play against teams you could potentially take players from in the future.

Tryouts (or Player Placement) are another important part of attracting players. Like a job interview these are a two way process, where they get to decide if they want to play for you, and you evaluate whether you want them on your team. Keeping that in mind should affect how you act during the process – being positive and friendly to all potential customers, not showing favoritism to players with existing relationships with you and above all treating everyone professionally.

Parents in your club are often a good way to find new players too. They are likely to have friends from other groups (school, different sports, hobbies) who play on other teams and they are likely to talk about their different experiences with soccer when they see each other. If your parents like you, they are likely to pass on the good message to others, and maybe let you know about people who are unhappy elsewhere.

Keeping Players

It is important that within any club there are systems in place to hold coaches to specific standards when it comes to all interactions with players and parents. This should include: –

  • Team and individual meetings. What is said, how meetings are managed, how often, where.
  • Training sessions. How coaches talk to players, hold players accountable, discipline players, use assistants, wait around after or before for players to arrive and leave.
  • Games. When players arrive, how the coach communicates with players during the game, half time and afterwards, whether parents can talk to coaches after games, whether there is a cooling off period.
  • Tournaments. Who is responsible for players, where are they staying, when do they go to games, how should they behave, who takes them to activities outside of soccer, meals etc. and how should they act.

Coaches need to understand their role and significance to the organization. Should their team fail or leave, the club stands to lose potentially tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, dent its reputation in the area, damage the age group that remains and strengthen the competition. Similarly though, if they can increase the demand for the product, the club stands to gain from the reverse of all of those.

As directors you can support this workload with education programs, proactively dealing with any problems, regularly attending games and practices, and staying in contact with the coaches on at least a weekly basis. If the club offers other training opportunities (technical sessions, Finishing Fridays, camps etc.) you can make sure players and coaches are aware of them and take advantage of all of the value added benefits of being a member of the club.

It is important to make people feel wanted in the club. This means having a relationship with the parents and the players beyond occasional head nods and official meetings. Try to make a point of greeting them as you pass at the fields, learning their names and attending team social functions. When you do have individual player meetings be sure to listen rather than just talk. Find out how they feel about things and what you can improve.

We recommend individual meetings at the end of every season with 10-20 minutes per player to go through goals, evaluate their performance, set new goals and let them talk about anything that is on their mind. This might give you a better impression of how happy they are and whether you need to do anything to keep them at the club. Many coaches will have a similar meeting at the start of the season in order to set the goals that they will be working on. Also you can then compare their reaction to you between the two meetings to see if you have improved.

Losing Players

There are times when you might have to lose players from your team. Your job is to represent everyone and understand that at times you might have to think of the group as a whole at the expense of an individual. This could be because of the playing level of the player (if they are just not able to compete at that level and their confidence is suffering as the rest of the team gets frustrated) or it could be a result of team chemistry. In the latter case we have seen situations where the player becomes disruptive and tries to divide the team into social cliques. We have also seen situations where the parent believes he or she can do a better job than the coach and spends their time undermining everything the coach does to players and other parents alike. In this situation it can be almost impossible to fix the player/parent and the damage done to the team is usually larger than the benefit you get from the player (even if they are the ‘star’ player). Getting them out will be a difficult process but will often benefit the group as a whole (and save you from sleepless nights and high blood pressure!).

If you get to the unfortunate position of having to drop players from the team, keep in mind that your actions will reflect upon you and even if you feel you did the right thing, there will be plenty of people out there who think otherwise (or hear otherwise). It is important to position yourself appropriately. Make sure that the rest of the team know why you did what you did and that these decisions are never easy but that you are trying as best as you can to fix the situation for the benefit of everyone.

Lastly, decide how you feel about holding grudges. There is a chance in a year that they will be back and you will have to decide how you feel about that. Or they might have a younger sibling or you might get a new job at their new club… Remember that it is a small world out there and having a longer term view tends to work out better than blindly taking the easy route.

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