Suffolk: Youth football coach says it’s time to ban parents from the sidelines

Mike Bacon has been a youth team coach at Woodbridge for five years. He’s taken almost the same group of players from under-8s to what will be under-14s next season. He’s seen plenty of good, bad and ugly on the mini pitches of Suffolk.

I often wonder how many youth team games officers from the various Football Associations around England watch in the course of a season.

One, two, half-a-dozen – none?

My colleague Terry Hunt, whose perceptions of youth games are well documented on the page opposite, is a good example of someone who sees it at first hand, week in, week out. He knows the score. I like to think I know the score too.

Coaching for more than five years and since the famous (or is that infamous?) ‘Respect’ campaign came in, I can’t say I’ve noticed that much difference in the behaviour of coaches, parents or players.

I’ve noticed some ‘Respect’ tape marked up around pitches in the early days, but even that has died a death at most pitches now.

I’ve noticed the ‘Respect’ wording on the sides of professional players’ shirts and in dug-outs – usually during the same games those same players abuse, bite and swear at officials – and each other. I’ve noticed lots of shaking of hands before a game – before the two-footed tackles fly in.

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And at youth level, even as recently as a month ago, I’ve watched as a parent leant over and insulted one of my players – ‘Get up you wuss’ – as he lay prostrate on the ground after a tackle.

I’ve seen parents waving their arms gesticulating to referees and I was told of a recent game that was halted while two parents, who had squared up to each, were separated while the lads looked on astonished.

One of my U13 players was jeered by a parent for missing a penalty this season. The same parent had shouted out to all and sundry when the said penalty was awarded; “Referee you’re a complete joke”. The referee in question was 16. I went out of my way to tell him he had a fine game – as did the other coach.

None of these incidents would have reached Suffolk FA HQ – things improving then?

OK, I’ll admit it’s a minority. But it’s a noisy one and they spoil it for the rest.

The banning of league tables for under-8s, 9s and maybe under-10s next season is just a cosmetic ball of fluff, implying that parents won’t get so excited, agitated or aggressive at games where the result doesn’t matter? Funny that.

I asked one under-9 coach how he got on this season.

“We were excellent. We lost just one game, won the rest,” he told me.

What? How can that be, you have no competitive fixtures or league tables?

Bottom line: As soon as you put one team against another you have a competitive fixture. The idea that parents don’t care if their ‘little Jonny’ is getting stuffed 10-0, in a non-competitive game is naive.

Bad tackles still fly in, offsides occur and agitated parents patrol the touchlines.

You can change the perception, but not the rules. So, what do I think should happen? Ban parents from youth games. Drastic, I admit.

If they can drop their children off to training nights for an hour on a Wednesday without have to hang around while the coach does boring things like ‘coach’, then why not on a Saturday or Sunday?

Put the game in charge of a referee and fully-qualified coaches who have to pass more than a basic Level One to run a side. Perhaps the FA could appoint ‘assessors’ to assess games.

And I would hate to tell my Woodbridge parents that news – because they are superb.

But for the greater good, they’d understand. Youngsters just want to play. They don’t care about ‘Respect’ banners or tape, or ‘grassroots surveys’. They don’t care about winning at all costs. They don’t care about a poor offside decision or a young referee getting a decision wrong.

It’s some of the parents who care.

And you can try and educate them as much as you want, it’s not going to happen.

Time to change tack, FA.

What do you think? Let Mike know at

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