The Cheer Don't Steer Parent Behavior Program

Bottom Line? Cheer like crazy, don't tell them what to do.

For years, I observed this interesting phenomenon with our youngest players, when a goal was scored, everyone cheered except the kids playing the game. They would look around at all the adults shouting and have little idea why they were all shouting. Because they hadn't grown up watching soccer and many have never even touched a ball before their parents took them to the first practice or game, they had no idea what to do. Through my practices and coaching education courses and coaches meetings, I tried to emphasize teaching the kids how to celebrate after they scored a goal so that they would begin to understand why all the parents were cheering.

Finally, one season, there was a U6 player who had watched soccer on TV and played with his family. He knew exactly what to do and was able to emulate multiple soccer stars goal celebrations. He was so good that he even helped his teammates celebrate their goals as well. One time, he lifted up a much larger teammate who had just scored. I wish I had taken a picture of that image.

We all know that scoring goals is difficult, even in the U6 which doesn't have goalkeepers. We also know that playing soccer means having a continuing series of successes and failures. In fact, that is one of the great things about soccer is that the opportunities for success and failure happen so often compared to other sports. In baseball, you may only get 3-4 chances to hit in a game and playing in the field, you may only get a couple of balls hit your way the entire game.

Because of the large number of opportunities and because the game is constantly going, parents and coaches can get emotionally involved in the action. One of my friends has taken up refereeing and recently had a parent on the sideline "go ballistic," when he felt that a throw-in at midfield had been given to the other team.

While that does happen regularly, most of the comments made by coaches and parents during the game are directed at the players. The comments are well-intentioned. The adults want to help the kids play better. Because they are not in the game, there are things they can see that a player cannot see.
You may have heard the expression "living vicariously through your child." I see it every week. It is like this internal voice comes out and you find yourself saying things that you would do if you were in that situation. Having played and coached most of my life, I could talk the entire time as either the player or the coach. Unfortunately, our "help" doesn't really help our children. It may make them:

  • be confused (different instructions given by different people).
  • be stressed (that is a lot of shouting, it may be intimidating if you are using a command voice).
  • do something wrong (you don't know what you are talking about). 
  • dependent on you to solve their problems (what did coach tell me to do?).
  • slower (it's hard to process that information in real time).

So, it makes you feel better because you say and occasionally they do, but based on the outcomes listed above, it doesn't help them do better.

To counteract that impulse you are feeling, our parent and coach behavior program is called "Cheer Don't Steer." The primary goal of the program is to remind parents that children want to be able to play the game without their help. They love your support and your enthusiasm. While it may increase their stress levels (you guys are pretty noisy), there is nothing like doing something well and hearing positive feedback from the crowd. It is easy to cheer when your team has the ball, but positive feedback is especially meaningful if it is for something subtle like making a good dribbling move or easily controlling a bouncing ball.

Next time you feel like screaming "kick it away," try to suppress it. Instead look for the skillful decision like a good dribbling move or a great save and complement the player with specific praise or just cheer on their effort. You and your child will enjoy the game more and you may possibly see your child develop faster as well.

Enjoy the game and enjoy the time watching your child play.

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