The Accidental Manager: Highlighting the Bad Behaviour of Adults at Junior Football Games

the accidental manager book
Grown ups behaving badly at junior football games... if you've spent any time in the junior games at all, you've probably seen it yourself. And now grassroots coaches Simon Compton and Mark Jones lift the lid on some awful adult behaviour in the junior game in their new book "The Accidental Manager."

Contents

Since accidentally falling into coaching a junior football team myself, I’ve become acutely aware of the negative behaviour of the so called grown ups at kids’ games on occasion. Or maybe more than “on occasion,” if I’m honest.

It’s a problem up and down the country. I’m at the end of my first season coaching and I’ve already seen aggression from parents on the sidelines towards referees and even angry shouting towards the children on the pitch.

And to be clear, last season I was coaching at under 8s level. 

So I was interested when Simon Compton and Mark Jones released their new book, “The Accidental Manager: The Uncomfortable Truth About Junior Football,” in which they expose some of the “violence, intimidation, cheating, players being tapped up, politics and corruption,” they experienced and witnessed in the junior game.

It’s a page turner and anyone who has been around the game at junior level will almost certainly recognise at least some of the behaviours they write about.

Rather than me introducing the book, I’ve invited Simon and Mark to write for us about their experience of adults behaving badly in the junior game. Here’s what they have to say:

Simon and Mark on Bad Adult Behaviour in the Junior Game

Accidental Manager Simon and Mark

Parents play a very important role in junior football.  They get the children to training and matches, in most cases they pay for their child to play, and many parents offer support and encouragement which has a positive impact on the kids playing.  But many other parents seem to believe that they are more important than the children playing, seemingly incapable of letting their child play in peace, insisting on shouting and screaming out to the children and often being abusive to officials, other parents, coaches and even the children making it all about them. Usually, it will be a middle-aged man who passionately believes that he has more knowledge and expertise in matters of football than anyone and must impart this knowledge to the children.  The reality is, he is clueless, aggressive middle-aged man screaming out meaningless cliches, desperately trying to live his own failed football ‘career’ through his child who just wants to play and for his loudmouth Dad to be quiet.  This then leads to parents’ actions being copied by their children.  We saw many children taking after their Dad after watching him act appallingly on the sidelines, extending it to violent and aggressive behaviour on the football pitch.   

The Leagues and clubs have guidelines as to how parents should behave on the sidelines and there will invariably be a ‘code of conduct’ parents agree to.  In reality,  hardly any will even read it and it is completely ignored.  In most games these guidelines are broken, parents shout abuse at players of any age and will routinely abuse referees.  Often referees are only a little older than the players, just starting out in the game and this can put them off refereeing in the future.  In many leagues there is a huge shortage of referees, it is hardly surprising, 90 minutes of abuse and grief is not really worth it for £30.  We talk about the different types of parents in the book and quite often it will be the parents who contribute nothing, never help setting up or running the line or doing anything to help the team who have the most to say on match day.

We have said many times that we were part of the problem and on occasions our behaviour was unacceptable, you react to the people and culture around you but as adults there is no excuse ever for abusive or aggressive behaviour in front of children.  But there are people up and down the country who behave terribly every week, it has completely normalised, we all just accept it as part of football. We used to know the teams who would also cause problems and the type of atmosphere to expect, it was almost always the same offenders.

Like the FA and all the leagues and clubs, we don’t have all the answers, but a good starting point would be to clamp down on serial offenders with banning punishments.  But the teams and clubs (including mangers of the clubs) have to follow through with this.  We speak about different punishments that are maybe realistic and could maybe be introduced into the junior game, we don’t want parents to be banned from watching their child play matches but you could argue that would be a much better situation than we are in currently.  In no other sport or environment involving kids would anything like this be accepted.  You would get arrested if you started screaming abuse at a child anywhere else apart from round a football pitch on a Sunday morning.

In the book we write about our own experiences in managing junior teams.  The good times which are almost exclusively working with the children and the bad times which is almost exclusively dealing with the adults.  Make no mistake, when you are in that environment it can bring the worst out in people, it doesn’t mean that they are all bad people, we were all bought up in an environment where this was seen as normal, but it was wrong then and wrong now, it must time for football to catch up with the rest of society.  If that means parents don’t get to see their children play, its far from ideal but until they can behave, it could be better than doing nothing at all still.

It is not just parents setting a bad example to kids.  Coaches and club officials also need to take far more responsibility and lead by example.  We have a chapter about the whole ‘volunteer’ role.  Many people do this for the right reasons but there are some who do it to massage their own egos and for a power trip.  In our age group teams were constantly folding because too many adults in positions of authority were again making it about them rather than the children.  We always found that if a team was settled and players generally happy, they improved massively.  It was much better to focus on being a team and friendships which in turn mean the football took care of itself.

It really is not easy to change a whole culture embedded for decades, the only way it could work is if everyone involved universally agrees and supports each other.  It must be made abundantly clear to parents, official, managers and players that any abusive behaviour to anyone is unacceptable.  Any ridiculous notion that screaming out abuse at kids shows ‘passion’ must be treated with the distain it deserves.  The leagues have to actually punish clubs who cannot control their parents.  We had one situation in my last year where there was a full-scale pitch invasion involving dozens of parents following an incident where a child had been spat at.  Despite the other team fully accepting fault and cooperating with the league.  The ‘punishment’ if you can call it that, was a £30 fine 4 months later.  There has to be a deterrent. 

Most of all we have to think of a way to get through to parents that junior football is about children playing football – not them. They had their time now, let the children have theirs in peace.

Children don’t want parents shouting abuse and causing trouble, it upsets them and ruins what is meant to be a sport. 

The feedback to our book has been so positive and the reoccurring theme time and time again is that anyone involved in football can relate to it, they know the same sort of people, the same situations and frustrations.  Not one person has said the current position is acceptable which speaks volumes.  The leagues and clubs talk a great game, we have to now see some action.

Get the Book

It’s a cracking read that lifts the lid on a real problem in the junior game. So grab yourself a copy at https://theaccidentalmanager.uk

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