There is one universal thing that all parents want for their kids: happiness. Parents just want their kids to be happy.
Among team sports parents, it’s a common misconception that winning equals happiness, because when our kids lose, they leave the field unhappy. However, that’s not necessarily true; Kids can feel pretty good after they lose, too. Here’s why:
WINNABLE vs CRITICAL MOMENTS
For every team sport athlete, each game represents opportunities for “Winnable Moments“. The majority of team sport athletes can’t remember specific games they won or lost throughout their lives, because winning and losing are outside the control of the individual. An individual has INFLUENCE over the team, but no absolute control.
Winning in team sports is a collective effort, and individual athletes can only control their own individual efforts. Therefore, sports memories usually consist of specific events or snippets of action that happened during games. Winning or losing really isn’t important to the individual athlete, as long as they get to accomplish what they wanted to during the game.
Examples of winnable moments are:
- Scoring their first goal
- Scoring a game winning goal
- Executing an awesome slide-tackle
- Connecting on their first bicycle kick or header goal
- How their coach made them feel after a game (approval, compliments)
The other side of winnable moments are Critical Moments.
Whether the team wins or loses, if an athlete sits the bench the entire game, they’ll be unhappy. If their team wins a championship, but an athlete sat the bench the entire game, they’ll leave the game feeling unaccomplished and unfulfilled, feeling that they didn’t contribute anything to it. It’s an empty championship, for them. Many of these feelings are filed away as critical moments.
Examples of critical moments are:
- How the coach made them feel when their team lost a game
- How their teammates made them feel when they failed to make an important save
- How their coach made them feel when they missed an easy goal
- Missing a goal
- Quitting the team
- Making one of their teammates feel bad when they made a mistake in a game
Many youth coaches are the first, last and primary influencer of how your child will perceive athletic competition, and how they will define relationships with their teammates.
US Soccer requires that every youth practice session operate in 4 stages, which include a technical warm-up (with a ball), an expanded exercise that builds on the technical warm up, a skill drill that builds on the expanded exercise, and a final game simulation (scrimmage) at full-field (or as near as possible), to reinforce everything which was just taught. However, many coaches go “off-script” and run the kids without the ball, “punish” players with calisthenics or long-distance running (without the ball), or run “toe-tapping” drills that have no obvious applications to game situations. Then practice ends, leaving the kids tired, degraded and unfulfilled, and telling their parents that they “hate soccer“.
If your coach approaches youth soccer likes it’s their J-O-B to win games, then they’re doing it WRONG. In fact, they’re taking on responsibility that is WAY outside their control, and placing pressure on kids that is detrimental to their psyche.
The overwhelming majority of youth coaches have less than 10 years experience coaching children, and only started coaching when their own children started playing the game. Nearly 100% of those coaches will also QUIT when their kids age out of the system, thereby continuing a cycle that sees no real end to it.
While many of these same coaches feel comfortable recognizing what a player is doing wrong, most of them lack the communication and education skills to teach them what is right. This of course leads to a very negative and degrading environment for most children – including the coach’s kid.
No wonder they “hate soccer.”
When you tell a child they’re wrong all the time, but never reinforce positive actions or praise them, you destroy their confidence. For most players with 8 or more years of playing experience, the only difference between an ‘A’ team player or a ‘B’ team player is CONFIDENCE. This is usually the result of coaching without providing BALANCED FEEDBACK to the athletes.
To compound the issues that most young athletes face, lower tier teams are usually assigned lesser experienced coaches, who continue the cycle of esteem destruction.
Listen to your coach talk to the kids, and if you hear things like “What are you doing!?”, “Don’t let them score in the first 5 minutes” or “I need you to score”, you’ve been set up for failure with a coach who has NO CLUE what he’s doing. Statements like this do nothing more than undermine the team and sabotage their chemistry, destroying individual player confidence, pitting players against each other, and destroying player’s confidence in their teammates. (Read more about youth soccer coach behavior here – https://soccermommanual.com/coaching-from-the-bench-what-crosses-the-line/)
WINNING DOES NOT EQUAL HAPPINESS
Athletic competitions are not like business, where everyone can find a niche in which to be successful. In any athletic competition, there are just two entities playing for the prize and only ONE can be the winner. Even if both teams are exceptional, only one can win, so there’s a 50% chance that your child’s team will lose.
Making winning games the ONLY metric of measuring success, is just setting your child up to feel like a FAILURE – sooner or later.
To compound things, in every competitive league, there will ALWAYS be just one team that is ranked first and one team that is ranked LAST, and if you’re child’s team is in that last place, berating players and requiring them to accept nothing short of winning will just make things worse.
Now, many youth coaches will justify (and parents will concur) their actions as necessary to “toughen up” the kids (“… it’s a dog eat dog world, out there”), but how many adults would tolerate their boss or supervisor standing over them and telling them everything they’re doing is WRONG, with no indication as to what RIGHT looks like?
Well, that’s what most youth coaches do. They spend a lot of time telling their players that what they did was wrong, with no indication of what is RIGHT. This destroys player confidence.
As parents, we have an obligation to keep things in perspective for the kids and their coaches, and to ensure that the game remains a positive activity for everyone involved. After all, it’s a pay-for-play system, and we’re the payers. (Read more about the Pay for Play Paradox here – https://soccermommanual.com/the-pay-for-play-paradox/)
Winning doesn’t equal happiness and losing doesn’t create disappointment. Those emotions are 100% influenced by the people that surround you… or your child. If your child suddenly hates the game of soccer, then you need to look at the coach, as it’s the coach who sets the tone for every interaction with the game, and every interaction between your child and their teammates.
LONG-TERM vs SHORT-TERM
Let’s be honest – NO PARENT wants their child to feel that they are limited in what they can accomplish in the world. So why – in the most fragile times of their lives – would you put them in a situation where an adult they barely know would berate them to tears and ridicule them to suicide?
Athletic participation by young men has proven to be detrimental in relationship building with other young men, and the primary cause of emotional disorders later in life. It doesn’t have to be, though.
If your child is under 18 years old, everything they do in sports is developmental. Every practice and every game is responsible for developing the player they will be when they are 18, 19 or 20 years old. It is also developing the kind of person they will be.
YIN & YANG
Good coaching requires balanced feedback. Kids need to be ENCOURAGED to take risk. They shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes; Mistakes are how you learn. If everyone lived their lives with a grown man standing over them ridiculing and questioning every decision they made – at the instant they made it – there would be no combustion engines, space travel, USA, central A/C, ceramic tile, or Internet. However, that’s what youth soccer has become.
Good coaching also requires patience and REAL EDUCATION of the game. It can’t be a series of mindless drills that don’t keep the kids engaged, or – even worse – an environment of continuous criticism, without any positive input.
So why is all of this important? Because, we all play for Team USA.
Youth sports are the developing ground for our national athletes, and we CLEARLY don’t have the best-of-the-best representing our nation on soccer’s world stage.
Now, OBVIOUSLY not everyone can play for the national team, and with only about 1,500 professional soccer player spots available for men and about 300 for women, not all of our kids can even play pro. However, we will never win a World Cup without first raising the overall level of development in our youth leagues. The only way to do that is to develop ALL of our players (physically AND mentally), thereby raising the overall level of competition.
The only way to do THAT is to raise our expectations as to what GOOD COACHING looks like, and THAT, of course, starts with the people who actually finance youth soccer – PARENTS.
Mike Slatton is a nationally certified youth soccer coach and goalkeeper coach who’s been coaching youth soccer for 30 years. He’s also a professional soccer scout (PFSA, Sports Management World Wide), the inventor of Keeper Balm goalie glove restorer, and the Chief Editor of the Soccer Mom Manual.
His articles and videos have appeared on ESPN Outside the Lines & CBS This Morning, and have been referenced by dozens of news outlets and bloggers worldwide.