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The Car Ride Home (Take it Easy)

Original article posted December 28th, 2012 by Mike Slatton; updated October 26, 2019

Helping or Hurting?

For young athletes, the car ride home can be the worst part of a game.  Depending on how long the drive is, every short-coming, failure and missed opportunity of the entire game will be rehashed.  Compound that by 12 to 30 games a year, multiplied by ten years and that can turn into a lifetime of therapy and dad issues.

For 15 years, before I ever coached my own children, I coached other people’s kids.  Occasionally, before practice or after, I’d have a conversation with a parent about their son’s performance on the field at the previous game or two. We’d talk about their weaknesses and strengths, and consider activities that could help them improve. I never thought much of those conversations, as I always assumed that the parent was speaking for the child.

Beyond practice and games, I never considered my players lives away from the field; their home lives, their relationships with their parents or what the parents wanted for their kid’s future.  I only had one parent-child perspective, and that was from my own childhood, which was rank with poverty and low-esteem.  For the most part, I believed that the kids I coached were happy, healthy and lucky. When I had my own children though, I gained a new perspective.

My Daughter

When my daughter was 5, she began playing organized soccer.  On her own, she learned that she could score goals by staying out of the pack and being patient – calculating.  At that point, I saw her potential, and wanted to nurture it.  I began coaching her team the next season.  We talked about soccer all the time.  Over the years she had the best accessories and went to the best soccer camps.  I coached her all the time: On the way to practice, at practice and on the way home.  I held her to a higher standard.  I would explain to her how she needed to be an example for the other players on her team.  On the way to games, I’d give her tips;  During the game I would yell instructions;  After the game… after the game on the car ride home, I would break down everything that went wrong and tell her what she should have done.

In 6 years (age 11) she could score a hat-trick without breaking a sweat.  2 years after that (13), she quit soccer all together.

The Internal Struggle

My entire childhood, I believed that success and greatness was available to everyone, but me.  I was a horrible student and was constantly in trouble in school. I knew deep in my soul that I was PREdestined for a life of failure.  After I moved out of my mother’s house though, I began soul searching. In that search, I learned that I had been brainwashed for failure by my own mother who had been in a deep depression that went back decades to her early childhood.  My own depression wasn’t necessarily her fault, but once I understood WHY I felt the way I did, I was able to redirect my energy in a positive manner.

When I was in my middle 20’s, I began studying “potential”. I theorized that everyone is born with potential, but few actually realize it, nurture it and fulfill it (read more: Understanding Potential).  I recalled my own childhood and reflected on the discrepancies between opportunities I was given, and the opportunities given to kids of wealthier parents. I come from a long line of poor, single mothers.  I was raised by my mother with no influence from my father, and she was raised by her mother who was a pregnant teenager of a bi-racial baby(European & native American) in the 1940’s who was married 9 different times. To make it even worse, my great-grandmother (mother of the pregnant teenager) was obsessively religious.   Depression and failure was our family tradition, which brings me to my point:

The child-within-the-game is merely a vehicle carrying personal issues that may go back generations.  Relative to their memories, the parent is also a child.  They may be struggling with their past and trying to recreate circumstances in their own child’s life in order to take another path – make a better decision that could change the course of history.  My conversations with my daughter, on the way home from the game, was rooted in the life my mother lived; who’s life is rooted in her mother’s, etc.  Events in my mother’s childhood influenced her decision-making on my childhood activities and life priorities, which now influence my decisions for my daughter – and sons.

Soccer Parent TunnelWhat We Really Want

A parent wants more for their child than they had, but their decisions for their child(ren) are actually based on decisions that their own parents made for them 20, 30, or 40 years earlier.  When you consider the family tree, that means that the conversation in the car may be nearly a century in the making.

Our kids have as much potential for greatness as anyone else, and none of us wants to be the reason they quit the game.  To insure we don’t burn out our children out on soccer the way I did my daughter, we should just keep our mouths shut.

Your child’s interest in the game can be easily changed by YOUR behavior, but their improvement is 100% on THEIR terms.  If you’re interested in soccer, then they will be interested in soccer.  If you’re ENJOYING the game, then they will enjoy the game.

Their happiness is a direct reflection of your happiness.

How to Give Game Day Feedback

Hint: DON’T

Criticism hurts more than it helps.  A player’s interest in improving is determined by their general interest in the sport.  Providing feedback of any kind, is unnecessary.  I once had a theory that video was a great way to show strengths and weaknesses, because that’s what professional coaches and trainers did.  However, even professional development has evolved.  Professional coaches and trainers have found that watching individual game day video was unnecessary, because the exact situations that occurred on the field would probably NEVER happen again, in the same, exact way.  Therefore, the only video worth watching is macro level, which sows the entire field, used by the coach to see what individual players might be doing “off the ball“, related to the overall strategic plan.

How to Develop a Better Soccer Player

Want to know how to develop a better soccer player?  Read this article:


Mike Slatton is a nationally licensed soccer coach and the father of two young soccer players and one young adult soccer player.

About Author

Mike Slatton is a 2nd generation American youth soccer coach since 1984, and the son of one of the nation's first female licensed youth soccer coaches (Anita Slatton, 1979). He's also a professional soccer scout, a player since 1977, and the father of three adult and teenage children who all play or have played the game. "My job as a youth soccer coach is to develop detail oriented problem solvers who can react quickly under pressure. This relates to life - not just soccer."


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