This is my 30th year coaching youth soccer, currently the coach for the B2013s and Program Director for the Boys 7v7 & 9v9 age groups at LAFC So Cal as well as co-owner of one soccer schools, my passion for teaching the game is greater than ever! I am using my blog to highlight my thoughts and ramblings and hopefully also give some good insights along the way helping support and grow the beautiful game at the grassroots level.
The scenario is set, it’s Saturday morning, the stresses of the long working week still fresh in the memory, two sets of parents, fueled with Starbucks latte’s or a buy one get one free Monster from the gas station, sit along either sideline, ready for the whistle to blow. Already amped a few on each team realize their child is not starting, raising their stress levels just a little more! The whistle blows, the game begins and the volcano of stress erupts! Consistent screaming and barking of cliches that mean nothing and help know one are bellowed from numerous voices wanting to be heard!
Am I over-dramatizing the scenario, maybe, maybe not, but the reality is, on a frequent basis I am witnessing a sideline environment that is not conducive to supporting the young player on their journey of growth and enjoyment.
As all jobs, coaches have many challenges, one of which is creating a sideline on the weekend that is player centered and allows the player to both enjoy and improve! I am certain many other coaches agree with me, when I say the sideline is more out of control than it’s ever been! Young players are being thrown into competitive cauldrons whereby the expectations of the adults are unrealistic. These young athletes are expected to play error free within an environment that, for their young mind, is way too competitive, filled with negativity, noise and advice that means nothing and makes no sense!
“Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together, that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of life, which they are thenceforth to rule” (Thomas Carlyle, 1831)
For this article I will not reference research but simply use my experience and common sense methodology to put forward why ‘silence is golden’ and a better way!
Firstly, do we all agree that the game of soccer is very much player centered, not coach/parent driven! Once the whistle has blown the players are in control of the outcome of the game, and that is the beauty of the game! It’s one of many reasons why players are attracted to the sport in the first place, it’s free flowing and player centered, not coach driven.
The role of the Coach
With the above in mind while we understand that the coach will still play a HUGE role in the competitive game, he/she should be there as support to the players, giving them some reminders/corrections (primarily positionally, off the ball) during the heat of competition, using halftime to truly get some important aspects across to the players. In short a great coach will have the ability to encourage, motivate and support the player/team while keeping a player centered environment his/her primary objective throughout the game. While I am also not perfect, as I grow older and wiser I see the value and positives in striving to create a sideline environment that allows player growth and enjoyment.
The role of the Parent
Let’s just think for a moment about the game. Firstly no situation/moment is ever the same for the player, yes as coaches we try to prepare players for the challenges within the game and help them understand possible solutions, however the picture they see when they receive the ball is never a mirror image of the one before. There are always multiple decisions and thus executions to each moment, both for the player in possession of the ball and player supporting off the ball.
Let’s first take some everyday real life events and imagine them as if it was the soccer sideline environment. You are checking out at Whole Foods, “PUT THE APPLES IN LAST!!” “YOU NEED TO DOUBLE BAG FOR THE FROZEN STUFF” “GO QUICKER!!” You leave WholeFoods and drive to your hair appointment, screaming and mistake scolding, with the odd positive thrown in for good measure, “YOU CUT TOO MUCH OFF THERE!” “THAT’S TO MUCH PRODUCT” “FANTASTIC USE OF THE HAIRDRYER” What about the work environment, how would you react if you had four of your work colleagues screaming advice at you in the office? Could you do your best work? Have you ever taken your child to school, walked them to the classroom, took a seat, noticing that there were six other parents also at class that day, all of you proceeded to shout and scream as the children were taught English, Math, History and Science? I am presuming the answer is a big NO, as that would surely be ludicrous and they could never learn or have enjoyment in that environment! No, you drop them off and trust the teacher to teach them the most important and pertinent tools which are needed in their young lives to help them to succeed as they grow into teenagers and beyond.
It is evident to see, if you were that soccer sideline fanatic we see at the weekends in daily life, While quite comical to imagine, life would be a disaster. So why again do we feel we can act like that at the soccer game?
WHY DO WE SHOW UP AT A YOUTH SOCCER GAME AND CHOOSE TO CREATE CHAOS?
I think by now we all know what chaos is but just to clarify:
- Multiple parents screaming what they believe to be great information to the players
- Continuous joy sticking of the player in possession of the ball
- Mistake scolding players throughout the game
- Negative body language towards player mistakes
- Continuous undermining and questioning of the referee decisions
- Creating a competitive cauldron whereby the game simply becomes a game of transition and size, speed and strength prevail
- Placing way to much emphasis on the result of the game
CAN WE CHANGE AND THE POSITIVE EFFECTS OF CHANGE
Imagine a sideline completely the opposite, calm, relaxed, parents clapping and giving positive reinforcement after a great play. Imagine a sideline where you truly watched and supported the players, imagine actually knowing that everything you witnessed came from the intrinsic motivation of the player to compete at the highest level, to make great decisions and technical executions from the pictures he/she saw, wow, just imagine driving home with one simple statement when your son or daughter got in the car. “I love to watch you play”
What do we think the positive effects from this type of environment would be?
- Better games overall, more possession oriented and less transitional
- Improved decision making and execution due to the changed environment
- Improved leadership – players can be heard and are allowed to lead
- Improved problem solvers on the field
- More referees as a better environment for them
- Improved coaching as we all grow towards a player centered approach
- More enjoyment for the player, decreasing the dropout rate of children in the game
I want to conclude by thanking my current group of parents within my teams as well as the many that have gone before them. I see that they get it and strive to create the best environment for the player on game days. They and I are not perfect, we fall down sometimes and make mistakes but the balance is well in the favor of the player! Thank you
Coach, parent, or both, I hope that this article inspires you to play your role in creating the best sideline environment for the players. Please feel free to comment on my blog about this topic, I am always open to other people’s opinions.