Any given Saturday or Sunday, take a drive to the local park and watch some soccer that doesn’t involve your child or your team. If you need help with directions, just open your car window and let the shouting and screaming help guide you.
When my teams play, I like to get to the fields an hour early. It gives me time to collect my thoughts, jot down some last minute notes, and just take in some extra soccer, letting me see some different clubs play as well as the talent in the area. No matter what complex or park I go to however, one thing remains the same. Coaches and parents put themselves at the center of the game, rather than the kids who are playing.
Coaches, how often do you send your players out to the field, only to have parents screaming instructions at them that go against what you have been trying to work on? Screams of “send it” and “never down the middle” have the players stuck between three ways of thinking, and their reprieve comes when the parents turn their attention to asking for children to receive yellow cards or referees to be ashamed of their performance.
Parents and coaches, do you just see this behavior, or do you also partake in this behavior? It takes a lot of honest self-appraisal to admit this behavior, but admittance is the first step into a larger world. Parents might not know better, and our job is to constantly educate, so let’s talk about what parent’s can do first, and then what coaches can do.
Game day belongs to the children. They spend the week practicing, improving, ready to show their improvement in the weekend game. It’s a ritual that the players know and love, because the game is what they see on television. The game is one of their connections to the superstars they hope to emulate. Parents, you have a very important job on game-day, but it doesn’t involve coaching.
It’s ok to not know.
Read that again. It’s ok to not know what to do or say when you start this journey. It’s always appropriate to tell your children to try their best and that you love watching them play. Often, however, parent involvement sees these phrases thrown around:
“Get a better touch.” We have to understand that this is essentially the same thing as looking at your child who is struggling in math and telling them to “just get better at math.” Precise instruction on HOW is necessary. “Never down the middle.” Why? When did this become dogma with youth development? “Send it!!!” Again, why? The repercussions of which see the goalkeeper booting the ball above everyone’s head, ensuring that 90% of the players never get a chance to touch the ball, but they sure do run after it a lot.
If you see a coach using these terms, that’s an immediate red flag. Parents should use game day as a chance to watch your child play and, if you understand better, use it as a guide on areas in which they should work on improving. If you don’t understand better, it isn’t your fault at the start. It’s our job to continually educate, but while you don’t know, stick to what is always good: encouraging remarks that motivate your child to work hard and improve while enjoying the process.
Parents, we want players who can think about the game. We want players who grow up respecting the game and the practitioners in it. When you yell and harass referees, often not much older than your own children, what message does that send to your own kids? When you yell at your children to send it, or kick it as hard as they can, what message are you giving to their development process? Let the players think on game day, let them take responsibility for their decisions, let them make the occasional mistake and learn from it.
While we can somewhat excuse parents at the beginning of this process (There is no excuse after attempts are made to educate and explain why parent involvement should be kept at encouragement and looking at areas for improvement after the game, not during it) we cannot excuse coaches who represent something much larger.
How often do we see coaches who scream at referees at a U7 game? Or fight with the opposing coach because two U8 girls ran into each other by accident, no doubt a malicious act from either player with a hidden agenda? Parents, know what to look for in a coach. If he or she is screaming at referees, at players, or at coaches, I can assure you that they aren’t the right coach for your child, now matter how many wins they like to tell you about.
Coaches can and should offer precise, short guiding messages to their players during the game. I won’t say they should be silent the entire time, because I’ll be the first to tell you that even I can’t do that. There are times in a game when after a mistake happens, a question or statement can help a player realize as it happens. This doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable to provide constant commentary on moving a player every three feet, or yelling at a player to get back quickly because he’s a defender and he can’t pass the halfway line.
I recently had a game with U9 girls where the goalie played it out of the back on a goal kick, but the pass went a couple yards astray and we conceded a goal. It was a mistake, but more importantly, there was no screaming or yelling. The only thing I offered was 1) to tell the keeper it was ok, next time take a deep breath and keep your eyes on the ball as you pass to an open teammate, and 2) to tell the two defenders to try and get wider so they had more time on the ball. It was the right moment to learn from a mistake, plain and simple.
The game belongs to the kids, we are there to help them improve, not to become the main attraction of the show. If you are trusted with children, trusted with their growth and development as soccer players and human beings, you are a role model. If you take time out of helping your players to harass teenage referees, to criticize and humiliate them, find a different hobby that doesn’t involve kids.
I like to win, everyone does, but I understand that there’s a bigger picture, and no where in that picture is screaming and berating people.
Does the message sound harsh? Maybe, but when you realize that by the age of 13, 70% of kids involved in organized sport drop out, it requires some reflection as to why. Kids don’t like being shouted at every five seconds, and they certainly don’t enjoy scoring a goal or stopping a shot, only to realize that mom is screaming at the ref, coach is yelling at the linesman, and the people that mattered most missed that special moment.
Maybe this isn’t you. Maybe you’re the parent that gets it, and maybe you’re the coach that understands whats important for proper development and what isn’t. Maybe you don’t think it’s you, but after some reflection you see some of yourself in this. Maybe this is completely you and you don’t see a problem with it.
No matter where you fall on this spectrum, I have a challenge for all of you. The next time your child plays, encourage them before and after the game and cheer them on during. Don’t coach, don’t tell your child what to do, watch and enjoy. Coaches, help your players out, but don’t become a commentator in the game. Share this article, and take the pledge. Let your parents in the team see it, let your club see it, let your friends see it.
When you share this article, tell your friends, your family, your coaches and your club that “I’m giving the game back to the kids. I won’t scream and shout, but I will watch and cheer my child on.”
Coaches, will you accept the challenge? Will you take the pledge the next time your team plays that “I’m giving the game back to my players. I won’t scream and shout, but I will help players learn from their mistakes and own their development.”
Maybe start small, start simple. Coaches and parents alike, take the pledge and tell your friends that “I’m giving the game back to the kids.”
Accept the challenge, take the pledge and spread the message. Try it the next time your children play, and encourage others to do the same. See what happens, and when you see the positives, you’ll wonder how you could have done it any other way for so long. It might not be easy, but the right path never is.
Give game-day back to the children.
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