‘We have to reframe the conversation’

Chris Panayiotou has a rather grand title.

The British-Cypriot coach is global grassroots technical director of Rush Soccer, an international organization focused on the development of soccer players, which is partnered with more than 100 clubs around the world.

One of those is Virginia Rush, where British-Cypriot coach Panayioutou is director of coaching. Pre-pandemic, Virginia Rush had more than 3,000 young players – male and female – from ages 3 to 17.

The club also visited 42 of the 55 elementary schools in Virginia Beach over a four-year period, coaching more than 100,000 children.

Chris spoke to former SCW editor Dave Clarke about working with parents, coaching philosophy and the art of coaching communication…


SCW: What are your roles?

CP: “When I first moved to Virginia Beach, I was the developmental director of coaching. That role was coach education, player development, and parent engagement and education.

“Then out of that was born the position of the fancy title, the global grassroots technical director for Rush Soccer. We look at coach development, run webinars, and try to set best practices.

“It’s trying to make sure that coaches and children are having an excellent experience within the sport.”

MILAN, ITALY-MARCH 17, 2019: parents watching and supporting during a kids soccer match, in Milan.

SCW: The parents of the players you coach must get a pretty good deal out of you, then, with you working in that kind of area.

CP: “We say as coaches, ‘you have to know who’s in front of you’. But to know truly who’s in front of you, you have to know where they are coming from – culturally, their backgrounds, getting to know their family.

“Whether they are getting a good deal… they may not realize it right now, but hopefully after they have moved on from having me as a coach, parents realise.

“Over here, it is very results driven. But our aim is higher than winning. We have to have a higher purpose than just winning.”


SCW: That’s quite difficult, isn’t it? You know as well as I do, you can see your team play brilliantly and then one of the parents will say, ‘Oh, you didn’t win again’…

CP: “I think we have to reframe those conversations. For example, if we were working on developing play in wide areas, I will share with parents that this is what we worked on in training and this is what to look for in games.


“Over here, it is very results-driven. But we have a higher purpose than just winning…”


“It is sharing that plan with parents, giving them an idea of what to look for – and if they see it in the other team, having them applaud that, too.

“Once we bring the players in afterwards, we’ll look at the game and say, ‘Okay, what went well, what could we do better?’ and leave them with some really good points.

“Then we reinforce with the parents, in terms of what we’re working on next week. We’re reshaping the conversation in the car ride home.

“Parents want the best for their child. So if they’re yelling and screaming, it’s because they want the best for them. However, if you ask kids, ‘what do you want from me as a parent?’, they will probably say, ‘don’t embarrass me’. Parents don’t stand behind them and tell them what to do in Fortnite!

“But there’s little things we can do. We can put the parents in that situation. You could let the parents play 2v2, and have the kids yelling and screaming at them for 45 seconds.

“Next, the parents play a minute and a half, 2v2, and nobody says a word. Then play 2v2 for two minutes and have just positive encouragement – and ask them [the parents], ‘how did that feel?’. I think then they start to get the picture.”


SCW: When kids first turn up to training, the first thing you have to do is get them to want to come back, to love the game and to feel confidence. I’m sure, with your experience, once you actually speak to parents, a lot of that would come through.?

KB: “When you look at kids these days, I don’t think it’s easy. It’s very different to when we grew up – if you do something stupid, it’s recorded and posted on social media.

“Street play is in decline. Kids in sport is in decline. I heard this alarming statistic – prison inmates get more outside time than children.”

Coaches should refrain from yelling at players from even 10 yards away – wait until you can have a one-on-one with them, as it is more effective, says Chris Panayiotou

SCW: You have quite a lot of coaches under you. When you have a coach’s meeting, there must be a multitude of ideas. Do you have a philosophy?

KB: “Yes, we do. Our philosophy is having kids enjoy and experience the sport. The methodology we’re using right now for our grassroots is ‘play-practice-play’.

“It’s similar to ‘whole-part-whole’, but a little bit different. They start with a small- sided game, and then go on with a part- practice focused on a skill.

“We’ll have a more challenging and a less challenging activity, and then we’ll end with a slightly bigger small-sided game. So, we start with 1v1 or 2v1, and modify that, and then we’ll end with a game.

“In the first ‘play’ part, we’re just observing and planting seeds. So if we’re working on dribbling in the opponent’s half, we might be saying, ‘look for openings, get closer to create goalscoring chances’. We start to plant those seeds and we observe.

“Then we go into the ‘practice’ part, where we go less challenging, more challenging. The more challenging might be one dribbler against two defenders and a goalkeeper and the less challenging might be one-v- one.

“Then we’ll go back to the game and we look – has there been a change in behaviour? Have they got those principles? That would be our philosophy methodology.

“We try and tell the coaches – ‘no lines, no laps, no lectures’. And we ask them to reflect – if you were a child, would you like to be a part of that session?

“With the younger ages, we do a lot of themes – we get into the imagination of the kids. It might be some tag games with a ball, it might be tag games with a partner, trucks and trailers, or whatever. But just getting into the imagination, and trying to deliver and meet the kids where their developmental needs are.”


SCW: In terms of communication on the pitch, do you have different ways across the age groups? I often get asked the question, ‘how do we coach communication?’…

KB: “As far as communication goes, what we say with the coaches is, if the player’s on the ball, try and avoid giving them direction.


“Street play is in decline. Prisoners get more outside time than children…”


“If you’re on the ball, and I’m saying ‘dribble!’, ‘beat him!’, ‘shoot!’, I’m taking away all your decision-making opportunities. Trust yourself, trust in your coaching and on game day, let them go.

“My good friend Reed Maltbie has the ‘100/10/1’ rule in communication – if they’re 100 yards away, you’re yelling, and even if they’re 10 yards away, you’re still yelling. And nobody likes to be yelled at.

“Wait until it gets to the one [yard] and have a one-on-one conversation at the right moment. That would be a lot deeper. Sometimes the less we say, the better it is.

“I would encourage every coach to put a video on yourself at training sessions, and at games – are you the coach you think you are? As coaches, it might take us six weeks to figure out our players. But it could take the player six minutes to figure out what kind of coach we are.

“If we say we are player-centered, but we’re giving the players all the answers to the questions we’re asking, then we’re not really a player-centered coach.

“I would say I’m a player-centered coach, but I would have to watch the videos to really say, ‘am I giving the children decision- making opportunities? Or am I stepping in really quickly and giving them the answers?’.

“Language is important. How is the tone, how is the tenor, how is the delivery, who is it directed at? Can we communicate clearly and concisely, and can we get the message across? It’s got to be relevant. Otherwise, it’s just white noise.”


“I did my USSF B. There’s 35 of us in the class and three lecturers. And Landon says ‘coaches, I need to ask you this question’…”


Share this
Follow us