I’ve seen players as young as eight or nine claiming corners or throw ins when they know they touched the ball last, feigning injury to get a free kick and handling the ball like miniature Thierry Henrys.
Youth football coaches falsify birth certificates, encourage their players to pull and push at corners to stop attackers getting to the ball, condone diving and teach their players that “it’s only a foul if the ref spots it”.
And referees who blatantly favour one team over the other are, sadly, commonplace.Â
The “win at all costs” culture that pervades youth football, encouraged by the lack of effective penalties for cheating and supported by the cynical attitude of mega-rich pro players and their managers, means that you are bound to meet teams which cheat.
But what should you do about it?
Games in which one team is obviously cheating, whether it be by deliberately fouling your players, “bad mouthing” them or claiming that they are being fouled, can easily get out of control. Emotions run high â€“ both on the pitch and on the touchline â€“ but you must remain calm.
Confronting the other coach/manager while the game is in progress is pointless and will add to the tension. So if you feel you have to speak to the other team’s officials, do it after the game and out of earshot of the players and their parents.
Don’t allow your players to cheat back
Whatever you do, don’t allow your players to fight fire with fire.
Children have an acute sense of fair play and you may be confronted with a set of outraged players at half time complaining that their shirts are being tugged, the other team are pinching them (that happened to one of my teams!) or the referee is biased.
That’s when you have to set an example. By all means recognise your players concerns but don’t criticise the match official, the other players or anyone else. If your players are angry, try to channel their emotions into playing harder and faster but don’t allow them to descend to their opponent’s level.
Set the standards
Cheating doesn’t come naturally to young football players â€“ they watch respected professional players getting away with breaking the rules and think: “If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me”.
Then they try their new “skills” in training, usually in the end-of-session scrimmage.
That’s when you have to step in and make it clear to your players that you will not tolerate any form of cheating, either in training or in a match.
If you see shirt tugging, etc. in training, stop the game. In matches, sub a player who tries to gain an unfair advantage and explain that: “We don’t do that sort of thing”.
Take a hard line, never accept anything less than complete honesty from your players (or yourself) and never turn a blind eye.
For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.