by Gary Williamson, NTSSA State Coach, reproduced by permission of the North Texas Soccer Organisation
I often hear the comment “Oh well it’s just a game!”
Playing on a soccer team can be an important experience in your child’s life. Participation can help your child physically and personally. However, placing your child on a soccer team does not guarantee a beneficial experience.
As a parent you can help your child have a positive experience in playing soccer.
The type of support you give your child can make soccer fun and rewarding or the cause of anxiety and stress. You can motivate your child and help to develop a healthy, positive self-image.
Here are some suggestions:
Children play soccer to have fun.
They also play to learn and improve their skills, to enjoy exciting times, to be with friends, and to stay in shape. In order to maintain or improve your child’s motivation for playing soccer, find out why they like to participate and support their reasons for playing.
Success in Soccer is more than just winning.
Young children equate winning with success and losing with failure. If children win a game, they feel good or worthy. If they lose they feel incompetent or unworthy. This attitude toward winning can be discouraging to children, unless they are always winning. One of your most important roles, therefore, is to help your child keep winning in proper perspective. Try to redefine success in terms of the actual performance or how well your child and the team played. Focussing on the performance rather than the outcome helps keep the game in perspective.
Your child may also need guidance in how to deal with success. I n winning, two things can happen. Long run success may come to easily that the competitive game loses its challenge. Your child may become complacent and/or arrogant. Conversely the pressure to win may result in a lack of motivation if your child dreads playing in fear of failure. Your child may not be able to perform well and may want to quit. Give encouragement and positive support if this is the case. It is important that you assist your child in understanding their contribution to the team’s overall performance
Winning is fun
Your child needs to know that striving to win is important. Being successful in soccer also means making improvements and striving to do one’s best. You can help develop this winning attitude in your child by encouraging maximum effort during practices and games, rewarding their improvements in mastering skills, and supporting your child to try their best. The will to win is important but the will to prepare to win is of greater value.
Losing is inevitable if your child plays soccer.
Your child must learn to accept themselves after a loss, this is an important part of participation in the game. Instead of finding excuses it is important for your child to understand the reasons why the team lost. Such reasons may include superior competition, too many mistakes, poor preparation to compete at this level, or maybe the players have a poor attitude. Whatever the reasons your child needs to regroup. Focus on better preparation physically and mentally for training and the next game so he/she can do better next time. This is a valuable lesson.
Realistic goals will help your child.
Compare current performances with past performances to determine whether your child has been successful. Your child must experience success at a level that demands his/her best effort. When your child’s skill level improves they realize that effort equals success, and will feel a sense of accomplishment.
Encourage skill improvements, good plays, and good behaviour.
Remember to praise effort—not just good performance—this will motivate your child to try hard. The best way to encourage is by praising or with physical response: a pat on the back, thumbs up, or smile. Try to avoid giving money or other material rewards, which may turn play into work and have a negative effect.
Mistakes are part of learning the game of soccer
Your child will make plenty of them. When your child makes a mistake, they know. They do not need reminding by you. That’s when they need your encouragement: “Great try!” “Good run!” “You’ll get it next time!” “Super game!”. You cannot play the game for your child. Let them make decisions and learn through trial and error. Be patient and assist. If your child displays continual frustration, you can help by giving ideas, or practicing with your child on his/her skills to correct mistakes.
Avoid criticizing and punishing your child for mistakes
If you do your child may fear failure. In turn this could lead to stress and worry about not performing well and to dread the possible disapproval of parents, coaches, and teammates. Never be negative to someone else’s child. It hurts the child and parents. It also creates unwanted tension. Negative criticism hinders rather than improves performance for the individual and the team.
Fulfil your responsibility
As the number and variety of soccer teams flourish, it becomes increasingly necessary for you to investigate the suitability of the different programs for your child. You have the right and responsibility to ask questions before allowing your child to participate on a soccer team. Seek to find a compatible match between the philosophy of the program and the reason why your child wants to participate in soccer.
Words of caution
- Identifying with your child is perfectly natural
You want your child to be successful. Be careful not to live out your own dreams through your child. Seeing a child’s performance in sports as a reflection of one’s self-worth and success can result in parents setting unrealistically high goals for their child. This can place pressure to perform beyond their capability, a major cause for stress in soccer for children.
- Be a good role model
Be mindful of your behaviour at games. You expect your son or daughter to show good sportsmanship and self-control. As the parent you need to exhibit appropriate behaviour yourself, no matter how frustrating it may be to see a poor call or bad play.
- Let the coach….COACH
During games and practices, leave the coaching to the coach. It confuses players when they receive instructions from more than one source. Your child has the ball, their mind is racing, here comes a defender or two, a split second decision is necessary. Then suddenly from the sidelines: “Shoot!”, “Pass!”, “Cross!”, “Kick it!”
“Hustle!”. Confused your child hesitates and is stripped of the ball. Then we hear from the sidelines: “Why didn’t you shoot?”. Children go out on the field to do their best, and they expect their parents to do the same.
Many of the adult leaders are unpaid volunteers. As a parent, you should be realistic in your expectations. However, the adult leaders that your child is associated with should possess some basic characteristics, which are favourable to the development of young people. Adults you would like to see your child imitate.
Avoid punishing your child when their team loses. If you do, losses are viewed as personal failures, a blow to their self worth. Teach your child how to cope with failure. Help your child to understand that no one does everything well. Show your child that failure presents a challenge and provides an opportunity to learn. Allow your child “space” to do things alone. This may require more patience on your part, but it will pay off in the long run. Respect your child’s feelings and thoughts.
You must be sensitive to your growing child as they develop physically, mentally and socially. You must realize that your child is not a miniature adult, and they have a right to play in an environment that is developmentally appropriate to their age and ability.
It’s Just A Game!
There is no guarantee that soccer can instil self-discipline or build character. There are plenty of good lessons mixed with soccer instruction and participation. Experiencing “the game” is of greater value than cheap trophies. Success comes from self-discipline, perseverance, paying the price, and playing within the rules. Adversity builds resilience. Teamwork brings rewards. Unique individual talents and achievements are also highly valued. As a parent I hope you are teaching your child more than just the ability to run faster or kick the ball harder or winning the game at all costs.
Playing the game of soccer is fun, but there are times when we must ask, at what cost? Do you want to win so badly that your family turns out to be the losers? If recreational soccer adds to the stress it should relieve because you focus on the score, the game has become more important than the children who play it.
For example, when the youth coach defeated their arch rivals at the local league game, it cost them one red card and five yellows. Moreover, one player was “taken-out” (injured for the season), and three players will miss the next game through injury. All this in addition to the referee’s report of unsporting behaviour and verbal abuse by players and adults who constantly berated the opposition and officials during the game.
After the game one of the parents congratulated the coach on his victory, and the coach replied, “Another such victory, and we are ruined.”