The word “soccer” actually comes from England, where the modern version of the game originated.
In England, there were two types of football: rugby football and association football.
The slang term for rugby football was “rugger,” and the slang for association football was “assoc.” The word “assoc” gradually evolved into “soccer,” which was much easier to say.
When association football was introduced to North America, gridiron football (the type played by the NFL and in the Super Bowl) was already well established. To avoid confusion, Americans adopted the British nickname “soccer” for the new sport.
What is soccer?
Soccer is a game. The children are involved in an activity that pits them against an opponent. It is, in most cases, about winning and losing, competition and cooperation. It is also a leisure activity. The children are there because they want to be there. They want to play a game.
children playing footballTo play a game of soccer you first need a ball. Then an opponent. Add a field, a couple of goals across from each other, mix in a few soccer rules and you have a game of 1v1. But this is hard work and you can’t play it for very long. So you get some teammates, and to keep it fair, a few more opponents. With these elements you can play soccer all day.
These are the elements of soccer. They make the game what it is. If you remove a key element such as the ball or opponent it can’t be soccer. Likewise, to change an element too much you can move too far from the game. Playing with two balls or three teams might be fun and a game, but is it soccer? To pass a ball across a grid and run to a corner involves kicking techniques, but is it soccer?
Soccer also involves the element “chaos.” Opponents, team mates and the ball are all moving in different directions. Players, parents and coaches are shouting different instructions and information. Bringing “order out of chaos” is an important skill in learning how to play the game.
A soccer coach coaches soccer, not something else.
If you want to keep your children motivated, interested and wanting to learn you must first understand why they wanted to play soccer in the first place.
Some textbooks suggest that the main reason that children want to play soccer is to learn so-called ‘socialisation skills’ – how to work together in a group, achieve group goals, (e.g. to win as a soccer team), learn sportsmanship and how to deal with success and failure.
Certainly, learning to work together in a group and striving to achieve group goals are potentially important to our children. Learning about and practicing sportsmanship is also a worthwhile goal, as is understanding how to deal with success and failure – winning and losing.
But is this what our children expect to get out of our soccer practices and games?
Numerous research studies over the last 20 years have asked children why they decided to participate in organised sports. Although there is some variation in the ranked order of the reasons that children give, (depending on the particular sport they are playing), the top reasons are very consistent:
Children play soccer because they:
1. Expect to have FUN,
2. Learn SKILLS,
3. Develop FITNESS,
4. And because they enjoy COMPETITION
This last point is interesting because many ‘authorities’ suggest that competition in youth sports is a ‘bad thing’.
In NO CONTEST: The Case Against Competition, for example, author Alfie Kohn insists that competition in sports should be avoided at all costs. Kohn goes on to say that “children, especially, are motivated to see what’s enjoyable about an activity.” Nothing, he says, encourages excellence as much as finding a task fun. Artificial incentives such as trophies, gold stars, and (presumably) the results of assessments can kill what is known as “intrinsic motivation” or internal rewards.
Others, (myself included), believe that competition is good for children if appropriate feedback is provided and equal weight given to the importance of values such as sportsmanship and fair play. In fact, competition teaches young people not only to cope with sport, but also helps them to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life itself.
The studies also reveal that socialisation related reasons are typically near the bottom of the list of reasons children give for playing soccer while sportsmanship comes somewhere in the middle.
It may be a surprise to learn that winning and receiving awards (medals, trophies, etc) do not appear at all among the main reasons.
It would appear that most children want to play soccer so that they can participate in competitive sport (but not necessarily win) and to develop the skills and fitness that will allow them to play and compete as effectively as possible.
We can be sure, however, that all children play soccer because they want to have fun.
I stopped going to soccer because after a while it became like work, no fun…I used to like it…”
Eleven year-old, San Fernando Valley, California, USA
Why is it that some children keep coming to our practices, week in week out, in hot sunshine and in freezing blizzards while up to 25% of children (and they’re often the most talented ones) pack it in after a few weeks or months?A recent study asked almost 700 children who stopped playing organised sport (including football or soccer) what it is was that made them give up. The main reasons the kids gave for quitting were:
- I lost interest,
- The coach treated some children more favourably than others,
- I was not having any fun or
- I developed other non-sport interests.
Of these, only the development of non-sport interests was related to the age of the child. This means that as children get older they are more likely to drop out because they become interested in activities outside of sport.
No surprise there!
Because children rarely drop out for just one specific reason, the study also analysed the ‘reasons behind the reasons’ for dropping out. It found that the primary combination of factors contributing to dropping out was related to the team environment. Specifically, the children felt that:
- Their coaches were not doing a good job,
- There was too much pressure to win and
- The members of the team did not get along well with each other.
The most encouraging finding of all, however, is that in the early age groups the principal reasons for stopping playing soccer are reasons that you can do something about!By understanding how your children think, not putting too much emphasis on competition, giving quality feedback and focusing on FUN your children won’t drop out and may well develop a life long interest in sport – thanks to you!
Now you know why children want to play soccer it might be useful to gain an understanding of how children develop both physically and mentally. That way you’ll be able to plan sessions that are pitched at the right level for your players.
It would also be a good idea to read how to be an effective soccer coach.
Of course, the reasons why children stop playing football vary according to their age when they stop. The most common in my experience are:
- Parental disinterest (or active discouragement) that results in difficulty getting to practice, matches etc. (affects younger children most).
- Not fitting in – this is more common in girls football where the importance of being in the the ‘gang’ becomes important as children get to about ten years old;
- New interests that replace football (other sports usually – golf, tennis etc )
- Joining a peer group that do not play football
…violence is not far away.
The acceptance of body contact and borderline violence seems to be based on the idea that sports is an area of life in which it is permissible to suspend usual moral standards.
Studies show that athletes commonly distinguish between game morality and the morality of everyday life. A college basketball player says, “In sports you can do what you want. In life it is more restricted”. A football player says “The football field is the wrong place to think about ethics”.
Experts express concern about the social implications of this lower moral standard in such an important and influential area. Sports gives us a wealth of metaphors in other activities: the language of sports is often used in discussions of business, politics and war. The influence of this double standard begins at an early age.
Athletes as Role Models
We know from research in psychology that young children tend to model their behaviour and attitudes on those of adults, particularly adults they admire. Athletes (and fathers watching/ playing sports) are role models. Even Presidents admire them. Children watch ice hockey on television. We all know the stale joke “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out”. But how many children, or adults, are aware that a majority of hockey players want to abolish this violence? At annual meetings of the National Hockey Players Association violence has been a major issue, with players asking owners to impose much stiffer penalties (including expulsion).
But Club Owners (sponsors and the media) refuse to discourage the violence, because it attracts spectators who come to see “red ice”. Players who do not participate in the violence endanger their jobs. Most players do not want to see a game where their lives (or others) are in jeopardy. That pressure ultimately comes from owners (sponsors and the media) “who are into making profits”.
But to children it all seems natural. Little does he or she know that the extreme violence he sees often grows more out of the owners’ commercial interests than players’ inclinations.
A child who watches acts of violence committed by thieves, murderers, or sadists in films or on TV knows that society disapproves of these acts. The child who watches sports knows that athletes’ acts of violence are approved of. It makes sense that sports violence would serve as an important role model for children who tend to be well adjusted socially, while illegal violence on the screen would tend to have a greater influence on the behaviour of children who are more psychologically damaged and/or feel more alienated from society.
Sports plays a major role in reinforcing the concern with success, winning, and dominance. On the sports field these goals alone justify illegal and violent acts.
Violence in the Stands
Sports Illustrated took an “unscientific poll of fans” and reported in its August 8, 1988 issue that “everyone who had ever been a spectator at a sporting event of any kind had, at one time or another, experienced the bellowing of obscenities, racial or religious epithets … abusive sexual remarks to women in the vicinity, fistfights between strangers and fistfights between friends”. Increased spectator violence is one more manifestation of the escalation of violence which has taken place in our society in the last 20 years. Violence between athletes can only serve to encourage it.
Youth Sports: “Just Like the Game of Life”
30,000,000 children are involved in youth sports in North America, under the direction of 4.5 million coaches and 1.5 million administrators. When these programs place inordinate emphasis on competition and winning they become detrimental. Most youth sport coaches lack even rudimentary knowledge of the emotional, psychological, social and physical needs of children.
Many athletes report the enormous importance of the coach to a young boy or girl. Players look to their coaches as figures of wisdom and authority. This deep emotional relationship and respect for the coach’s authority facilitates players’ transference of moral responsibility from themselves to the coach. A core idea transmitted by coaches (and fathers) is that “playing the game is just like the game of life. The rules you learn will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.”
Some of the rules that are emphasized sound good – teamwork, sacrifice for the common good, never giving up, giving 110 percent of yourself – and in the hands of sensitive, knowledgeable, well-trained coaches they can be used to teach youth valuable habits. But such coaches are far from the rule. Examples abound of coaches teaching youth the wrong things, in many cases (most?) without even knowing it, to the point of being a serious social problem.
When “60 Minutes” did a program on youth football they found that the emphasis was very much on winning – to the point that it is no longer fun. The emphasis of winning deprives youth of the pleasure of playing the game. The findings of academic researchers confirm “the obsession with winning is far from infrequent in youth sports”. Eventually, integrity takes a backseat to the pragmatic concern of winning games. Players learn that integrity is a rhetorical strategy one should raise only in certain times and places. The adults involved with Little League tend to be oriented toward winning, losing and competition.
Ironically, instead of focusing on enjoying sports, reaping physical benefits, and instilling a lifelong involvement in athletics, too many of our sports programs are geared exclusively toward winning (and coincidentally destroying bodies and missing out on the fun). The obsession with competitiveness and winning is far more pronounced among managers and coaches (and parents) than players. Many coaches think it is correct to use techniques of pushing, yelling, dehumanizing the opposing team, etc. Many coaches also teach players to sacrifice their bodies unnecessarily, hide all feelings of fear and vulnerability (however warranted they may be), to sacrifice the bodies of others, and use sexual slurs .. often to provoke boys to prove their manhood.
What Sports is About
True courage involves taking risks at the right time, in the right place, for the right reason. It is the competitive spirit tempered by empathy, moral concern, and a sense of social responsibility that causes long-lasting excellence and brings benefits to the community at large.
Here is what I learned from a sports psychologist regarding what they look for in an excellent athlete –
- competitiveness – not in the sense of having to win the game at all costs, but in having to win each move or action they make. In other words, a type of striving for continuous improvement – to always do the best you can and doing even better next time. Coincidentally, the sum of a lot of small wins, will probably add up to the big win.
- being a task master – the self discipline to organize and carry on the necessary tasks to get any job done, however long it takes, whatever it takes. This keeps you going, on track, or getting back on track. It means having a goal and not taking your eyes off it until you have obtained it.
- self esteem – having the confidence in yourself that you can do anything you want to. It helps you when you miss a goal because you know you will get it next time, and it keeps you coming back.
We have reached a crisis point today. Contributing to this crisis is TV, which introduces violent athletes as role models to very young children and often focuses attention on the violence in sports. Also, the commercialization of youth sports introduces children to inappropriately competitive sports at an early age. Both as players and as spectators, children are learning all the wrong lessons. What can we do in youth and high school sports to curtail violence, excessive concerns with winning and dominance, and the denigration of women and homosexuals?
- Day care centres and nursery schools are licensed (not to mention the regular school system). There is a problem of accountability of youth sports organizations. It is time for sports organizations, which involve large numbers of school-age children and affect their physical and mental health, to be licensed as well.
- All coaches (and parents) should have training in child development and physiology, and sports philosophy and how to deal with violence in sports. All coaches should have background checks (similar to Block Parents).
- All players, parents and coaches should sign a “contract” agreeing to a code of conduct, what is expected of coaches, players and parents.
- All attempts at injuring other players in order to “take them out” of the game and all borderline violence should be forbidden. Any attempt by a coach to encourage youth to behave in this way should be met with a severe penalty and eventual removal if repeated. There should be no difference between game morality and the morality of everyday life.
- Players who are problematic (i.e. offenders) should not be allowed to play on a team (for suitable time periods). For example, a ‘3 strikes and you are out’ rule.
- All violent, insulting language on the part of the coach and the players, including slurs against women and homosexuals, should be forbidden.
- Friendly, civil relations between teams should be encouraged. All games should start and end with handshakes.
- League injury rates should be provided to players and parents.
- Professional sports organizations must curtail violence. Otherwise, if society has seen fit to regulate cock fights and dog fights to protect animals and the public, so must violence in professional sports be regulated. Employers (Club Owners) should not be allowed to endanger (or bully) employees (players), even if they are paying them millions of dollars, because there is a very large social cost to which they are not contributing.
A major justification for our nation’s enormous investment in competitive sports is that ‘sports build character, teach team effort, and encourage sportsmanship and fair play’. Studies indicate that youth involved in organized sports show less sportsmanship than those who are not involved. One study found that as the children grew older they moved away from placing high value on fairness and fun in participation and began to emphasize skill and victory as the major goals of sport. In several other studies it was found that youth who participated in organized sports valued victory more than non-participants, who placed more emphasis on fairness.
Instead of learning fair play and teamwork, too many of our children are learning winning is everything. It is time to regulate children’s sports so that youth will really learn the pro-social attitudes and values that they are supposed to learn from sports, instead of the obsessive competitiveness, emotional callousness, and disdain for moral scruples that are so often precursors to violence.
“Reduce the Number of Players on the Field”
by Brett Thompson, Director of Coaching and Education, www.osysa.com
This article will tackle the often-debated subject of Organized and Select Soccer for our young players. There has been much heated debate over small sided play / games for younger age children as well as the debate around the country about eliminating select soccer for younger players. The debate over eliminating select soccer is brought up because too much pressure from parents, parental pressure on coaches who are paid to win and coaches who feel they must win to keep their paycheck coming in.
Many players today have been playing select soccer since they were 8 or 9 years old and play as many as 60 games a year. This does not include indoor games, which could add another 20 games per year totaling 80 games per year. The amount of games these young children play is unbelievable when you compare it to professional teams in Europe who play no more than 64 games a year. The professionals also never play more than 2 games per week let alone 5 games in a weekend like some of our players do at tournaments. Where does the player development come from if players are playing 3 games a week? How can teams practice if all they are doing is playing to survive and stay in the division they are in or trying to move up. It becomes human instinct of survival and as a result coaches play to win rather than develop. Over the last 20-30 years the number of players and games those players play has increased dramatically. Even with increasing the number of games in this country, we can still not compare with the rest of the world, especially on the men’s side. On the women’s side we have done quite well over the past decade or so however, there have been many cultural issues that have allowed American women to dominate soccer in the world. In women’s soccer today we can see that the rest of the world is catching up even though they may not have the pure athletes as we do in this country, but they may begin to surpass us technically as well as tactically in the very near future if we are not careful. Our women’s game today is too reliant on athletes rather than soccer players who understand how to solve problems, who know how to bend a ball, who can spin a ball (Put English on it) and players who can not get out of tight spaces.
So why is it that soccer players in Latin America are so good considering they have little to no adult supervision when they are young soccer players playing in the street or park? As one Argentinean professional player said “I think we are too unorganized to be organized”. Players in South America play pick up games on a regular basis without adult intervention as a result, play a craftier style or as my father said to me growing up a “cheeky game”. These players often are better in 1 vs 1 confrontations, able to create space better for themselves and others and most of all have an absolute joy and love for the game. These players learned how to solve the problems presented to them as they came up in games without an adult “Telling” them how to solve it.
Let’s compare soccer to basketball in this country. Today’s basketball player has a basketball hoop in their driveway or one located at the local playground. These players hone their skills in “Pickup Games” without adult intervention and instruction. Players in this environment are free to experiment, take chances, try new moves, fail without retribution form an adult and their role in the game may change many times based on who they are playing with. Just imagine if Michael Jordan, Alan Iverson, Vince Carter and Kevin Garnett had played soccer. These players learned to love and play the game by playing pick up games first before they were thrust into the adult world of athletics.
Soccer in this country has become too organized and structured more “Adult like environment” than a “Child like environment”. Just look at the tournament schedules on the web today; there is a tournament every single weekend within driving distance of an Ohio South city. Players today are being scouted and identified by age 6 and 7. Look at how many parents are paying coaches to train their child who has “Potential”, who can identify a player who is 6 or 7, where do we live in the old East Germany? Players at age 7 and 8 are being pigeon holed into positions and placed with other children of equal athletic ability so they can win. Players may only be moved into different positions in some cases only if the team “”Has a good lead” because the coach does not want to lose and have to face the parent who will move their child to a “Winner”.
Many parents often worry that unless they get their child into select (Competitive) soccer early that they will not succeed. Succeed at what and why do this? Maybe it is because today many parents see the Brass Ring, that college scholarship? Maybe it is the fact that they played at a high level and they feel that their child should get an early start to ensure they will be a better soccer player or athlete than they were?
For our players to grow into soccer players today we must allow them to play different positions allow them to have successes and have failures (without retribution). Player’s grow, mature and comprehend of the game grow at different rates. Their understating of soccer and physical size can change in the span of 6 to 12 months. In is inconceivable to me that a coach or parent would try to identify the player who has potential by the age of 10.
We must change the way we are teaching the game in this country today. We talk a good game about developing players while we spend most of our time finding and identifying those players who may be bigger, stronger and faster so we can turn them into “Elite Athletes” at camps that parents are willing to pay up to $200 a month for 7 year olds. It is my opinion that we need to slow down on putting players into competitive environments too early. Since I arrived last October I have had several conversations with coaches who want me to help them develop a style of play or help with a formation because they are playing 11 vs 11 at aged 9 and they are giving up too many goals. Maybe just maybe the answer is not what formation or style of play they have but maybe the field is too big and it becomes a game of territory or who has the strongest and fastest kids who can kick the ball hard. Every year this country produces a “National Champion” and yet at least on the men’s side we have yet to win a World Cup. Today’s soccer requires an athlete who has the ability to solve problems on their own quickly. We do not need soccer players who play for coaches who treat them as if it is a Nintendo game. We must allow our players to learn the game at the pace that is appropriate to their age and not rush things.
We as adults believe that if we provide a structured environment we can speed up the learning process and we have better soccer players on our hands. We as adults try to put players in our Palm Pilot world while fitting them into what we believe they should do and play rather than understand the game each and every one of them plays and how they play it is nothing but an expression of their personality.
I will leave you with this thought from “Zorba the Greek by Kazantzakis” Readiness:
I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree, just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited a while, but it was taking too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes faster than life. The case opened, the butterfly started crawling out and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its entire whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help with my breath in vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently and unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late, my breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled before it’s time. It struggled desperately for few seconds but later died in the palm of my hand. That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight on my conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.
By Christopher White
This is my first season as a ‘roped-in’ parent acting as assistant to our U7s manager for training sessions. As the manager is required to marshal the players on matchdays, I get the plum job of refereeing the home games. I have no experience of reffing whatsoever, and precious little football playing experience – just lots of watching. I guess that plenty of us ‘assistant managers’ who end up refereeing are in a similar position. We’re not official refs and get no training as such, we’re just left to get on with it as best we can.
I am having fun learning the ropes (4 home games so far and still alive), but it’s quite a steep curve and I gain at least one Invaluable Golden Rule every week – some from watching other refs, some from helpful analysis of my own ‘performances’ offered by courteous members of the public. Some of these may seem obvious to experienced ex-players, but I am the original lowest common denominator and my greenness may prove useful in establishing a base level for an advice section for amateur reffing dads.
I know the basic rules, but I would love to find out the basic responsibilities of a ref at this level, plus it seems there’s even more to it than that…..
Things I’ve learned already:
Get the team to club together for a stopwatch with nice big controls that work for cold fingers. NEVER trust your wristwatch. (Yes, I ended up giving a game-levelling home pen in the second minute of unintentional extra time. The away manager had TWO stopwatches going. Great.)
Brief the managers on EXACTLY on what you expect from them (e.g.. ‘You guys call the touch decisions but leave the fouls to me’, or “I don’t usually give a foul for a backpass to the goalie at this level, is that OK with you?’ etc.
MAKE A POINT of introducing yourself to the away manager as early as possible. Ask if he has any tearaways on his team that need watching. He’ll say “All of ’em”. (Correct).
It’s polite to the visitors to stay away from your team huddle at half-time. Find something else to do. Watch the birds or try a few car doors or something.
NEVER discuss decisions. ALWAYS thank the away management afterwards. BIG smiles all the time for the kids.
CHECK the pitch carefully before the game for dog mess (have some nappy bags or a shovel handy) or anything else that might hurt the kids. This also gives you something to do that’s a polite distance away from your home team while the pre-match chat and warm-up is on.
FOULS: As far as I can tell, at U7/ U9 level, fouls are usually down to poor technique or over-enthusiasm, not nastiness. So don’t just whistle/yell at offenders from a distance. If a player does something daft, like leaping into a tackle backwards (very common it seems), nip over, bend down to their eye level to get their attention and quickly and quietly explain exactly what they did wrong. Then tell them they’re a good lad/girl – big thumbs-up and a big smile. This takes about ten seconds and they’re much less likely to repeat dangerous play.
Refs run backwards a lot on the telly – park refs check their mirrors first to make sure there isn’t a kid in the way.
Oh yeah and finally, ask the away manager if any of the kids on their team are called Rhett, or anything else that sounds like ‘Ref’ or you’ll be driven up the wall thinking it’s you being screamed at to GET BACK or WAKE UP or KEEP MOVING or whatever if little Rhett’s having a mare…..