Calming your inner voice

I had the chance to observe two U12 games this past weekend. Both games featured some quality play by both teams. One game was close, the other was not close. Even in the game that was not close, the losing team was creating chances to score so it felt more even than the score would indicate.

What really differentiated these two games was the behavior of the parents and the coaches. In one game, the majority of the talking was coming from adults on the sidelines in the other game it came from the players in the game. If you have read some of my other articles (the cheer don't steer program, "helping" your players during the game), you probably already know that I prefer the game where the players are talking.

I thought it might be helpful for us to consider why parents and coaches feel compelled to speak during the game. You already know that soccer is a player-directed sport where the coach can have little impact on the game because it is moving so fast, there are few set plays and there are very few stoppages.

I have attended many Atlanta United games and because I don't hold season tickets, I have bought tickets that put me in different sections of the stadium. Of all the games I attended, I only once heard the same behavior from the crowd (who were critical of the referee, coaches and players) that I hear regularly from my parents and coaches on the sideline of recreational games.

The urge to do something at a game to help your child or your child's team can be difficult to control. It is easy to see the whole field when you are on the sideline and you don't have to interact with the ball, your teammates or the other team. For a player, that can be overwhelming. For you, it can be frustrating. You have no control over the situation. This is when the battle with your inner voice occurs.

It is screaming at you "don't just sit there, do something." If you see the coach yelling at the players, then it seems OK for you to do the same. Regardless of the sport, referees are an easy target. If you can't yell at the kids, then you can help the referee do a better job. For years, I watched  my father yell at the TV screen as our beloved Dolphins played on Sunday afternoons. I even remember thinking that the way I sat on a chair while watching the game could influence the outcome. In all of these examples of "doing something," what was accomplished was nothing or was not positive.

If you have read any of my articles on coaching, then you know one of the most effective things you can do as a coach is to set yourself some goals during the game. Share the goals with your players (i.e. beat players by dribbling 3 times during the game) and then observe whether they reach their in-game goals. It allows you to focus on one of your training priorities and keeps you from being the play by play commentator or the color commentator.

Parents on the opposite sideline can use a similar technique. Try to see the whole field and don't get caught up in the moment. Watch your child and see how they are doing compared to earlier in the season or even last year. Nobody says you have to be silent, you can cheer on the efforts of your child, your team or the game itself.

Give the space to the kids to be kids and enjoy seeing it unfold in front of you. You probably paid big money to get these front row seats, why not sit back and enjoy the time. You aren't working, you are spending time with your family and you get to see your child run around and play. What could be better than that?

Don't spoil it by trying to get your kid on the U10 national team through your efforts on the sideline. It's never going to happen and in the meantime, you may have lost a chance to enjoy the experience just a little bit more.


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