OFF THE PITCH: Questions you should ask the coach is pleased to continue with a new columnist to our website. She is Ruth Nicholson, founder of GO!, a go-to expert resource for youth sports governance and operations. Ruth addresses soccer topics in her special series “Off The Pitch.”


Questions you should ask the coach

By Ruth Nicholson

When my sons were playing soccer, I hated tryout season. More than tax season. More than any other time of the year. I detested the stress and insanity around it all. Clubs would vie for players by scheduling multiple tryouts in a day and over a weekend resulting in players attending more tryouts in a weekend than they would play games at an intense tournament. They would often demand that players attend every one of their tryouts to have a shot at a team, which could be up to three tryouts in less than a week for a single club. How can a player stay fresh and show his/her best in that type of situation?

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Did I mention that I HATED tryout season?

So, I came up with my own 3-4 question information-gathering interview for coaches who might coach my kids. Quite frankly, I was seriously less invested in the club as compared to finding a good coach for my sons.

What did I ask?

1.What is your player development approach this year?

  • Sometimes I phrased this question differently. Some examples include:
    What do you want the team to accomplish this year?
    What do you want the players to learn this year?
    What is your player development philosophy?

The purpose of the question was to gain an understanding of the coach’s training approach, as well as his/her goals for the team and what s/he wanted the players to learn and accomplish over the course of the playing season (for recreational teams) or playing year (for more competitive levels at club teams). Our best coaches know that players develop in four areas: physical, technical, tactical, and mental ability. They also know that at different ages, it is important to prioritize development in these areas differently. I wanted to know how prospective coaches balanced these four elements for the team and its players.

Regardless of how I phrased the question, the answer helped me assess the coach’s approach and how it stacked up with the development needs of my own kids. It also gave me some insight as to the coach’s view of the balance between learning the game and a win-at-all-costs mentality.

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2.What are your expectations for your players?

Personal responsibility matters.

I was not the type of parent who packed my kids’ gear bags or carried their bags to the field. However, I did create a checklist for them to help them remember the things they should have in their bags. In addition, there was always a plastic laundry basket of clean, full water bottles by the front door to grab on the way out to training or games.

The purpose of this question for the coach had to do with the coach’s view of the personal responsibilities for my sons with regards to the team and for their improvement in the game. I wanted to know what would be expected of them at team events, like practices and games. I also wanted to know if the coach planned to assign personal homework or other outside-the-team training. If I understood the coach’s expectations clearly, I could reinforce those expectations at home to support my kids, their coach, and the team.

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3.What are your expectations for your parents?

Too often in my work with coaches, I hear them say that, ideally, they would like to work with orphans with trust funds. I believe that a great deal of this unproductive angst is related to unclear communications and expectations between coaches and parents. It poisons the relationship we need with each other to support our players.

I fully expected the answer to this question to change and evolve as my sons grew older and took on more responsibility for communicating directly with their coaches. I pushed my kids to talk directly to their coaches at an early age. I was the back-up communication system.

The coach’s answer to this question gave me a clue to how s/he viewed parents. I valued coaches who could articulate clear expectations for parents and saw a partnership between the adults in supporting players. As a professional facilitator, I could tell when a coach simply wanted to coach orphans as compared to someone who wanted a real partnership with parents to support our players.

The answer also gave the coach an opportunity to inform me about team and club expectations for volunteer activities or other needs s/he might have in the upcoming playing season.

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4.How do your players earn playing time?

I only asked coaches this question for teams with a more competitive bent, like select and premier teams. The assumption behind this question is that all players would not automatically receive equal playing time and that these types of teams have an internal competitive environment. I assumed that playing time would be roughly equal for all players on recreational teams, assuming the players were following team rules.

I added this question to my interview list following a seriously awful experience on one of my son’s teams. I decided that it was important to ask what the criteria was so that expectations would be clear upfront.

The answer to this question told me something more about the coach’s player development approach and how s/he viewed the balance between developing players and a win-at-all-costs mentality. It also gave me additional information about what personal responsibility my sons needed to take on to compete within the team and on game days. Again, it enabled me to reinforce the coach’s expectations at home with my kids.

What happened?

Most coaches were surprised that I interviewed them. One coach took the time to write me an incredibly long email with detailed answers to each of the questions. My son played for him, and it was a good experience for all of us. Other coaches struggled with the answers. Some even tried to hide their sense of offense that I would even dare ask for such information.

The key was that I made sure never to lobby for my sons in asking the questions. The purpose was information-gathering only, not showing off my sons’ skills. My kids had to do that on the tryout field and earn their spot on a team themselves.

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Tips to gathering information at tryout time –

  • Attend team and club informational meetings
  • Check club websites for parent information, including codes of conduct and handbooks
  • Ask prospective coaches to identify a good time to talk to you about your questions. Make your questions short and concise. Do more listening than talking. Avoid using these conversations to lobby a coach on behalf of your player!

goRuth Nicholson is the founder of GO!, a dynamic resource offering youth soccer organizations proven leadership and administrative tools. Set to launch in Spring 2017, GO! includes coaching survival tools developed in collaboration with Bobby Howe, former US Soccer Federation Director of Coaching. For more information, visit,

PHOTOS: John Sokol / / Kennewick High School Men’s Soccer Program.

4 thoughts on “OFF THE PITCH: Questions you should ask the coach

  1. RUTH I would ask what EXPERINCE the coach has for parents to actually believe he /she CAN see your daughter /son not now but in three years time .They cant as they do not have the skills to JUDGE this .
    Once the American parent realise this they will set a new road to go down
    Any parent wishing to know more feel free to contact me .Not to help me but to help your child .
    Ruth you know coaches take test to set drills at training .That in its self is great but it does not give them the skills to see the player OF THE FUTURE also at how to look at the individual player in three years time . get in touch and see what an assessor can do for your daughter or son .that is so very different to a coach .


  2. Kate /Ruth,
    Kate nothing wrong with your question other than you will not get an answer from any US coach at whatever level .Ruth I have no idea why you liked this question. When you know, no coach will answer it .While my reply to you does not get a like ,not really bothered at all by that as it is your choice .It does appear you are sitting on the fence just a little .The question will not be answered and we all know it .
    I would suggest no coach would answer it ,as many would not want to without being seen as waffling .They do it all the time to parents and just leave it at that. No wonder their will be very slow progress in this area until women coaches who in my opinion are all in the main forward thinking .So much better then bury their heads in the sand in general terms of a usa MALE coach of any standard.I am not one to upset the apple cart but so are the coaches that is the reason you will not get a straight answer to that question . You must be looking to get answers why coaches will not or do not like parents asking questions .They don’t know how to answer them .
    I am in Denmark at this time seeing a young AMERICAN player who turned pro in JAN this year. No body as asked about this girl or why she was missed for the sake of the coach that didn’t play her as he did not see the player .With that last statement lets open a discussion on how ,why did he not see her talent he saw her every single day .Yet Played her NOT once .At the end of the season just gone she signed pro in Denmark her stats so far played 8 scored 8 assist 6 .every game played a full ninety minutes. The parent did not feel they could approach the coach. I would suggest this needs looking into how many more young players are not seen. By coaches that are just coaches and have no idea as to how to look at a player properly why would they.? Like I say sweep this under the carpet and protect the coach at San Diego Aztecs if you wish .Or take a closer look at coaches for the sake of the young players that are missing out all because of a coaches making up he can see a player . Its an absolute travesty certainly not helping the USA young players at all . Is it a wonder many drop out .Brian


  3. Interesting piece. Very good questions for competitive, though had you asked our organization it may have raised some red flags. These are the focus of our parent meetings. Listening is an important trait that might not be learned at home. I am assuming much of the orphan talk is hyperbole as parents are valued in most clubs, disruptive parents on the other hand are not.

    I think this should be less of a interview and more of a dialog. If a parent asked these questions I would be worried about the parent’s expectations by what is not being asked. My extention of Montessori philosophy applied to the pitch may not be a fit for the parent, nor the parent be a fit for me.

    Soccer should be fun. All of the questions were about winning or developing. Developing a love of the game should be a priority and what does to coach do to help avoid burn out would be top of my list. How does the the coach value sportsmanship should be of importance.

    There are many roads to great first touches, and while a coaches style may not mesh with a parents wants, that parents “style” may not mesh with a coach’s and rob a player of a great experience if these great questions are not handled respectfully.

    I do like asking parent expectations, though it is usually the same answer for all coaches. Have your player arrive on time, no verbs from the sideline, and let this be your child’s experience, not yours.


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