As a relatively new parent I now have first-hand knowledge that the theory of parenting is much easier than the daily test of living it out - soccer parenting adds an extra twist to an already complex job.
In my last blog article I spoke about the importance of parents leaving the coaching and scoreboard to the players and coaches, instead they should focus on embracing all the opportunities for life lessons that a youth soccer experience presents - handling win/losses, bad referee calls, tough opposition, disagreement with a teammate, injury, reduced playing time, personality difference with the coach etc.
Taking your hands off the coaching and results is not easy. As parents we want to advocate and speak up for our children, we want to help their journey to be as easy as possible - short term it may help, longer term it actually stifles their development. You’ve got to be intentional about letting go of the coaching and worrying about the scoreboard, or else the emotions of the game will suck you back in. There will be times you will want to speak out but the goal is to learn to bite your tongue - instead you should be on the lookout for all the amazing teachable moments that youth soccer gifts. Again, there is always a time and place to address concerns - it is certainly not before or after a game when emotions can be high.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
In order to support your child in maximizing their potential on and off the soccer field, as a parent you need to get to know your player - your child. Sure you “know” them - but do you really know them and their evolving personality and mindset? Do you know how they view themselves - their fears, their doubts? Do you understand their personality - whether they respond to a direct approach, or if they need a gentler style? Are they vocal or do you need to work to really find out what they are thinking? How do they respond to different situations, their ideas, thoughts, opinions? Do they still enjoy soccer - or are they just playing so not to disappoint you? Lots of questions.
Each of you will have questions that are personal to your family situation. Let me be clear here: being a soccer parent is different from being an everyday parent. Being part of a team brings with it different expectations, pressures and experiences for every player. Youth soccer, whether in a recreation or an elite program, can often add stress to a young person’s world. Scorelines, standings, screaming parents on the touchlines, increasing levels of schoolwork, weekend travel, tournaments, other interests, burnout, falling out of love with the game - these are all things that as parents we need to be in tune with and appreciate how they can affect each individual.
Being a pre-teen and teenager is tough. At this stage in their lives there is a lot going on - they are developing emotionally, cognitively and physically at speed. Not to mention hormones. Players change - in order to fully support them we need to try and understand them. Don’t assume you know your child from a conversation you had with them when they were 5 years old. Modern culture can shape a young players mind and thoughts very quickly. We need to constantly check-in with them to better support them.
Here are 7 areas that will help us to better understand our players:
- Learn to just listen - avoid the urge to give your opinion every time. Ask questions and listen. You will learn a lot.
- Be a safe place to share - let them realize you are not going to judge or convince them they are wrong.
- Love Unconditionally regardless of athletic skill or performance
- Avoid non-teachable moments - learn to discern when to deliver a life lesson and when to not say anything.
- Encourage - increase your ratio of praise to correction to at least 7:1. Be positive.
- Stop living your own soccer career through your children - you know who you are.
- Make the experience fun - if it stops being fun they WILL quit.
Take time to regularly check-in with them away from the field. Is the only time you spend with your son or daughter around soccer, whether games or practice? There is no substitute for spending time with them in order to get to know them. I encourage you to be intentional about making time to hang out away from soccer. Sometimes steer the conversation towards something other than soccer.
As a coach for over 19 years I can always tell the players who have a parent or caregiver who is supportive - they play with a freedom and a joy that is self-evident. They enjoy practice and games, free from the fear of making mistakes or the feeling that every aspect of their game will be critiqued. Know that being supportive doesn’t mean you have to make every game - you can help them just as much away from the field.
Your child’s soccer playing experience will end sooner than you think. Let’s make sure that we make it as memorable and as fun as we can. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be competitive or we don’t strive to win. Soccer can be competitive and fun at the same time. Some of us need to clean the lens through which we see youth soccer. Embrace your role as a soccer parent and all the teachable moments that the game produces. Let the players play and the coaches coach. You will quickly see your child start to flourish on and off the field.