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Five Mistakes Soccer Parents Make With Their Players

Five mistakes soccer parents make with their players

Published on SoccerWire.com 
Jul 10, 2019



Parents play a critical role in their child’s soccer development, but have you ever really examined whether you’re supporting your player’s development or hindering it? How can you support and encourage your child without getting in the way?

We’ve all seen the extremes: the ranting and raving parent on the sideline, the parent who has their player training seven days a week, year-round, and the parent who doesn’t show up to anything or seem to take an interest in their child’s life on the field.

But the majority of soccer parents fall somewhere in the middle: parents who have good intentions and just want the best for their child. This list is for those parents.

Here are five behaviors I’ve seen from parents that can have a dramatic impact on kids and their soccer development:

1. They don’t encourage their player to make mistakes

It seems contradictory, but yes, we want players to make mistakes…this is how they learn best! With so much focus on mastering skills and winning matches, not enough players put themselves out there to take risks. A wise colleague of mine always tells her players to “Be brave. Make mistakes.”

Most kids want the approval of their parent and coach, and they need to know you encourage this and you will applaud the fact that they tried, even if they fail. Because ultimately, they don’t fail. They learn something from that moment that is invaluable and that will help them grow as a player and as a person.

Instead of the kid who passes the ball all the time because they are afraid to take on a player 1v1, the brave player will learn when it’s best to dribble and when it’s best to pass, without hesitation or fear.

2. They fight battles that aren’t theirs to fight

Have you ever approached a coach about how your kid didn’t get enough playing time? I can tell you right now that this is the conversation every coach hates to have with a parent, and it likely won’t help your child in any way. Instead, encourage your player to take ownership of their game and their development as a player.

They should (at a certain age) be the one to approach the coach if they have a question or concern. I promise you this will go over better with the coach, will likely result in more useful information, and it will also teach your child a number of lessons that can be applied to their life on and off the field.

3. They don’t engage their players in the development process

How much do you know about what your player is working on during training? I encourage you to find out! This doesn’t mean calling up the coach or club and asking for their practice plans.

Instead, engage your child in a conversation about skills or ideas that they’re learning and what they find challenging. This can also lead to helping your player set personal goals in their own development.

4. They coach and cheer for the wrong things on game day

We’ve all heard that parent on the sideline scream “Shoot it!” or “Pass it!” Maybe it’s you. It’s natural to want to help your player on the field, but this does not help. This is a parent who is guilty of both No. 1 and No. 3. These directions can cause anxiety for a player already under pressure on the field. In fact, they may even directly contradict what their coach has instructed them to do.

Even if you are a USSF A-licensed coach, do not coach on the sidelines unless you are the coach of that particular team. Instead, stick to basic encouragement and cheering. Did you find out (after engaging your kid in the development process) that your child is working on mastering a specific move during training, or building confidence in using their left foot? If you see them do that in a game, go crazy and let them know you saw them try it.

5. They analyze the game with their player afterwards

What is your postgame ritual with your child? Do you start analyzing the game and what your player did right or wrong before you even get in the car? Believe me – your child knows what they did wrong. If they don’t, it’s likely their coach or a teammate has already told them.

The best thing you can say to your player after a game is how much fun you had watching them. If they engage you in a postgame talk, go for it. But instead of a full-game analysis, try picking out some things they did in the game that you know he or she has been working on.

Parents Corner

Tryouts: Coping with Cuts
Published in Youth Soccer Insider - February 7th, 2013

By Tony DiCicco

The most difficult part of coaching isn't dealing with losses, it's cutting or rejecting people from the team. It's not just a simple matter of reducing numbers, it's a matter of making decisions that in essence short-circuit the dreams of players. I don't think there's any coach, either at the professional level or the youth recreational league in a small town, who doesn't feel the pain of not choosing someone or cutting someone from the team. 
Sometimes young athletes put themselves in situations where they say, “If I don’t make it today, I have no chance of ever reaching my goals.” That’s not true and it’s up to parents and coaches to deliver that message strongly and consistently. 
Getting cut and having to rebound from disappointment is part of what some great athletes have had to deal with. 
When I was cutting players from the national teams, it wasn’t because they were bad players. In fact, they were often very good players. I frequently had to make choices because I felt there were two or three players who were better for a particular position or role on the team. Coaches have to make decisions and players and parents have to understand that putting together a team is a game of numbers, of roles, of needs and responsibilities. 
When someone doesn’t make the squad, initially they feel hurt or even angry. It’s regrettable, but understandable. Some players who are cut will use it as a source of motivation for continued practice to get good enough to eventually be on that team. Others will shy away from further evaluation and tryouts because it was such a belittling and scary experience for them. 
What I’d like to stress is that being cut from a team is not the end of the world, and it’s not, although it may seem like it at the time, a personal attack. If parents can somehow make their children understand this fact, then it will allow them to move forward – and maybe next time they will make the team.
                                                                 * * *
As tough as it may be for a coach to cut a player from the team, it’s a lot tougher on that player and her parents. There’s no getting around the embarrassment, the emptiness, the rejection.
The best thing I can suggest to parents is to offer unwavering love and unconditional support. It may seem like it to your child, but the world hasn’t ended and it’s up to the parents to keep the sport experience in proper perspective. 
If parents get upset, it will be projected onto the child, only making matters worse. 
What isn’t constructive is making excuses for your child by saying it was a political decision or that the coach made a poor decision (which might even be the case). If you make excuses, you’re only teaching your child to deflect responsibility and discount the value of merit. 
What you have to remember is that for the most part, coaches really do try to get it right. If there are 20 players on a team, odds are that practically every coach will agree on the first 10 players for the team. And most coaches will agree that the next five should be on the team. But probably more coaches will disagree on the last five players chosen. 
Coaches have an image of what they want their team to be, and they’re looking for players who can help them attain that image. 
As a parent, you must show love and support for your child, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into judging and criticizing the coach’s decision. If you do, everyone’s a loser. 

(Tony DiCicco has coached all ages but is best known for guiding the U.S. women to the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal, the 1999 Women's World Cup title and the 2008 U-20 World Cup crown. DiCicco, the founder and director of SoccerPlus Camps, coached the WPS’s Boston Breakers in 2009-11.) 

An Open Letter to My Dad, who Makes Me Want to Quit Soccer

The Changing the Game Project has published an anonymous open letter written by a youth soccer player to his father, who he says is beginning to make him hate playing soccer, due to the father's sideline behavior....

An Open Letter to My Dad, who Makes Me Want to Quit Sports

/ / PARENTINGPROBLEMS IN YOUTH SPORTS



















Dear Dad,

I was afraid to say this to your face after the game today, but I was thinking that maybe you could stop coming to my games for a while. It doesn’t seem that fun for you anyway, and I know it’s not fun for me when you are there. I used to love when you watched my play when I was younger, but now, I wish you weren’t there. I think I am starting to hate playing soccer. I might quit. I bet you are wondering why.

I heard you in the stands today during my soccer game. I was going to say I heard you cheering, but that wasn’t really what you were doing. You were coaching. You were yelling about the other team, the other coaches, and at the officials. I also heard you yelling at me every time I got the ball.

I believe you think you are helping, but you are not. You are confusing me.

It’s confusing when you coach me from the sideline. When I play soccer, I feel like I have to make so many decisions at a time. Should I dribble or pass? Should I cross or shoot? Should I step up or stay back? Where are my teammates? Where are the defenders? I am trying to figure all these things out while out of breath, and fighting off defenders. With all this going on, you want me to listen to you, too? It seems no matter what I do, whether good or bad, you continue to yell at me. It is impossible to listen to you and play the game at the same time.

It is confusing when you and the coach shout instructions at the same time. I can’t listen to both of you. Many times the things you say contradict what the coach teaches me at practice. My coach is trying to get me to pass it out of the back, but you keep yelling at me to kick it long. My coach encourages me to dribble past players, but you tell me to get rid of it when I try to dribble. My coach tells me to pass the ball to feet, but you tell me to kick it over the top and our forwards will chase it down. I either get yelled at by my coach, or by you. To make matters worse, sometimes the other parents join in and yell, too! I am so stressed out there. It’s not a very good feeling.

It’s confusing to me when you yell at the officials, especially since you teach me to respect teachers, coaches and my elders. Dad, some of these referees are kids that go to my school. I see them at lunch and in the halls and I am so embarrassed. Would you yell at me like that if I was a new referee? Even when the officials are right, and you are standing 50 yards away, you yell at them. I wish you would just let the game play out and let me and my coach handle what is going on.  

It’s confusing when you are still upset about the loss hours after a game. How long is it appropriate to be sad and angry? I mean, I am the one who played, right? We are supposed to win some and lose some if we play good teams, right? We got beat, but now we have to move on and get ready for the next game. I am not sure how staying angry will help me get better for the next game. I certainly don’t feel like learning much immediately after a loss. The best thing you can do after a game is tell me you are proud of me for competing, and showing good sportsmanship, and that you love to watch me play. What are we going to eat is helpful too. But that’s all. I can get better next practice.

It’s confusing when you talk badly about my coach in front of me. You tell me to respect my coach and listen to what he says, but then I hear you and other parents say he doesn’t know what he is doing. My friends say that their dads tell them not to listen to the coach, and they don’t know who to listen to anymore. No wonder our coach gets so frustrated with us.

baseball kid tunes parents out

It’s confusing when you talk badly about my teammates in front of me. I know some of my teammates aren’t as fast, or as strong, or don’t kick as well, but they are my friends, Dad. In school, they teach me that I should treat everyone with respect, but then you disrespect my teammates right in front of me. I wish you would try to see the good in my friends instead of pointing out their faults.

It’s confusing when you yell and scream at mistakes and act like playing soccer is an easy thing to do. I am not sure if you remember what it was like to be a player. Do you remember what it was like to be going through a growth spurt, and feeling awkward when you try to run and jump (never mind the sore knees)?  Do you remember how hard it was to learn to trap or pass a soccer ball, or for that matter hit a baseball, or catch a fly ball? Sometimes you try your very best, and still get it wrong. It doesn’t help or make me feel any better about my mistake when you yell at me for it, or tell me to “get my head in the game.” What does that mean, anyway? You yell things and most of the time I have no idea what you are talking about.

Dad, I don’t want to tell you how to parent or anything, but sometimes I feel like your love is conditional upon how the game goes.

When we win, everything is great, but whenever we lose, or I have a bad game, it seems like you hate me. I wish I was riding home with someone else, and not you.  I think it’s because you keep talking about the game when I don’t want to. You go over every mistake. Even when we win, all I hear about is what went wrong. If you talked about the game at dinner, or the next morning, it would be fine, but please, not on the car ride home.

I certainly appreciate all the time and money you spend to let me play. But sometimes it feels like we are out there playing just to entertain the adults. We just want to play. And we want you to watch if you can do so without yelling at the refs, screaming at other parents, and coaching from the stands.

Could you do that for me dad? Could you just come, watch the game quietly, and then not talk about it on the ride home? If you can, I would love for you to come.

But if you can’t, I would prefer if you just dropped me off and let me play.   

Dad, I love sports, I love my team, and I love my teammates. I want to play with these guys forever, but not if it makes you hate me and angry at me all the time. Not if it makes me feel worse about myself. 

Please let me know what you decide. I love you.

Your son,

Bobby, #10
(Every once in a while, we get an email or a post from a young athlete who has struggled with parental behavior in sports. These letters are heartbreaking, and very personal, so we do not republish them. This letter from “Bobby” is a compilation of the various stories we have heard from kids, not an actual letter we received. It is, however, an accurate reflection of the things we hear and see everyday on our sidelines. We ask all parents to please read this with your son or daughter, and share it with other parents you know. Ask your kids how they want you to act, how you can cheer in a helpful way, and when is a good time to talk about the game. When you ask, please listen to and respect their answer. And if you want a great blueprint on how to be mindful when it comes to your kid’s sports, check out this great new book by Dr Jerry Lynch called Let Them PlayIt is a wonderful addition to our parenting library.)

Tough Conversations

WHAT MY PARENTS MADE ME DO WHEN I WANTED TO QUIT THE TEAM

When I was a freshman in high school, my basketball team was small.  In fact, it was so small that we didn’t have a freshmen or JV team.  My coach was tough.  He had high expectations and conducted physically and mentally demanding practices.  I suited varsity, but only got in the last minute or two (if we were winning by enough).  Essentially, I only had the opportunity to play in practice.  However, I battled, knowing that next year could be my year.

Best advice to give kids when they want to quit a team

The beginning of my sophomore year was different.  It was a huge disappointment for me.  I still found myself sitting on the bench, going in the last minute or so when my team was up big.  The basketball season is a grind, and I don’t care what anybody says, winter sports (basketball and wresting) are the most challenging.  The weather is cold, it gets dark at 4:30, it’s long, there are 3-4 games a week at times… it’s exhausting.  The weak will not survive, and at that time, I was weak.  I begged my parents to let me quit.

They didn’t say no, but they gave me a condition.  I could quit, IF I approached my coach and asked him about my role, and what I could do to get better.

Approach Coach P? To me, this was an absolute nightmare.  I didn’t sleep that night.  The entire school day, I didn’t hear a single word my teachers said, because I was so focused on how and when I would approach him.  I decided in math class that I would do it after practice that night.

Practice flew by.  It always seems like when you are dreading something, time races to the moment.  I took my practice shoes off, put on my sweats, and walked across the gym to what felt like my execution.

Coach was sitting in his office, already creating a scouting report for the next game.  I asked if I could talk to him, and as soon as I sat down, I started sobbing. I was thinking, “OHMYGOD OHMYGOD EMMA STOP CRYING,” but I couldn’t.  My disappointment and self-doubt all exploded into a disastrous ball of emotion.  So here I was, bawling in front of the man I feared most in this cold dark world… and I mean bawling, and do you know what he did?  Coach gave me a huge hug.

He let me talk (at least through my sobs), and then he let me listen.  He was honest.  He told me that I wasn’t ready.  I was too weak to be on the floor when it mattered the most, I didn’t work hard enough in the offseason, but he told me that I had potential, and asked me to stick with it.

I am honestly crying as I write this, thinking about how grateful I am for that moment with him, and for the guidance from my parents.  I finished the season, despite a lack of playing time, and worked hard that summer. The next year, I played in every single game.  I was awarded Honorable Mention All-Conference, and our team made it to the substate regional final, where I had 15 rebounds against IKM-Manning.

The following year, I was a senior captain and starter.  After the best athletic season I have ever participated in , my team made it to the first state tournament since the 1960s. I was again an All-Conference selection, and was invited to play at the Iowa All-Star Basketball game in Cedar Rapids.  My senior year laid the foundation for a 2010 team that would win its first state title.

What would have happened if my parents sent Coach P an email demanding to know why I wasn’t playing?  What would have happened if they let me quit without having a conversation with him?  My parents have taught me more things than I could ever count, but one of the most important things was to fight my own battles, and never give up.

They could have badmouthed my coach in the stands, wrote terrible things about him on social media, or encouraged me to quit.  I know this because as a coach, I get a lot of this every single season.  I have even had parents take a picture of me, and post it on facebook with some very nasty comments.  I have also had to ask my parents to escort me out of one of my games, because I had parents waiting to confront me in the lobby.  However, my parents didn’t make this about themselves; they made it about the relationship between my coach and me.

To this day, Coach P has been one of the most impacting people in my life.  Finding the courage to approach him, and having the ability to trust his honesty led me down one of the greatest paths in high school.  Now as a high school coach myself, basketball continues to be one of the biggest pieces of my life.

I urge all parents to encourage your children to fight their own battles.  Have your kids come talk to me, but also make sure they are open to my honesty.  I am not going to tell your child she deserves to play if she doesn’t.  Coach P did not lie to me.  He told me I wasn’t good enough to play yet, and I accepted that.  In fact, I felt that he respected me enough to be honest with me.  It motivated me, and I worked harder, until it paid off.

Emma Bireline is 27 years old and teaches high school English and language arts at Atlantic High School, in Atlantic, IA. She is the head varsity volleyball coach, and assistant basketball coach for the Atlantic Trojans.

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