How to enjoy your child's game

I once had a parent/coach in my program who was an accomplished coach who had a talented child. The child played multiple sports and excelled at each of them. For this reason, he only played in my program every other season. His father was his coach initially, but wasn't able to work coaching into his schedule after the first season, so he had to relinquish coaching to others.

I would see him on the parent's side of the field, pacing, fists clenched. He would yell instructions to his son (sometimes other players) and always looked unhappy. Sometimes other parents would report his behavior to me when I wasn't around. When I did talk to him, he was always reasonable, but he was never happy either with his son's play or the coaching that he was receiving.

Do you get the picture? I was reminded of this recently when I came across this excellent article from Go Play Better, a website dedicated to improving youth sports by focusing on player development and teamwork. Their ultimate goal is to help us develop players as both athletes and contributing members of the community.

In the article they discussed six ways that parents can increase their enjoyment of youth soccer. You know what most of the items on the list are going to be: it is supposed to be fun; don't yell at your kid; your kid isn't perfect; don't worry about the wins and losses.

Let Them Go
The item that struck me the most is "Let them go." That idea struck me on several levels which are key to my own philosophy of player (and personal) development. People describe soccer as a simple game, kick the ball into the net and score a goal. Those who play, know that it is far more than that. The complexity can be mind-boggling. Imagine just one situation: a ball is rolling towards you near midfield and a defender is coming up hard trying to get the ball. You can experience this same situation a thousand different times and solve it the same way every time or a different way every time. The decision about what to do next is determined by all of the information you are getting from your senses and your knowledge about the game and your skill set (don't forget your size, strength and fitness as well). As an observer on the sideline it is easy to criticize the decision that your child made and lots of us do just that.

Even worse, we try to speed up the decision making process by telling the player EXACTLY what we think s/he should do. If the child fails to do it or it doesn't work out well, we are disappointed, just like my parent/coach from earlier in the story.

The great thing about soccer is that there are a lot of decisions to be made. Unlike many other sports where there is a lot of choreography, soccer is a lot more chaotic. There are definitely principles of play involved and they are important, but the most important thing about the game is that the player is in control of the decisions that are made. Many decisions will be bad. However, as a player develops, you will see her make many more good decisions as her confidence and skills grow.

The process is organic and the best player development model allows for the children to learn on their own as they play. Humans are not machines, you cannot precisely control the environment to ensure that they develop as rapidly as possible. You can give them the freedom to develop, all you have to do is LET THEM GO.

I have already written about this idea in an earlier piece called "Helping your child." I guess you could say that I feel pretty strongly about the effect of parent behavior on player development, especially in the game situation.

If you are looking for more from Go Play Better, check out their website:


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