It is sometimes scary how quickly the feelings of frustration and disappointment can surface and how much we, as parents, are affected by our child’s performance.
Your child loves soccer. They work really hard. They are devoted and passionate about the game.
So why when you show up to their game is the kid you see on the field playing poorly and not putting in the effort or concentration you think is up to their potential?
We have all been there.
Your gut instinct is to scream “encouragement” from the sidelines or pull your child off the field. You want to somehow get a message to them that will help. There is much you want to say about their performance.
It is understandable and normal to feel angst and disappointment watching your child play less than their best on the field. It is impossible to ignore these feelings because they are real and relevant, but parents need to do everything possible to prevent their disappointment from spilling over onto their young soccer player.
It is important to find a way to vent your frustration separate from your child.
Magic Question: What should parents say in this situation to make it better?
Magic Answer: Nothing about their performance!
Saying nothing about their performance at times like these can be a whole lot more challenging for parents than saying something. Saying nothing means refraining from critiquing your child’s performance or coaching in any manner.
Instead parents should simply say things like “I love watching you play,” “I am proud of you” or simply asking, “Did you have fun?”
Parents can make things worse by judging, criticizing, and showing disappointment during this vulnerable time after a game. When parents point out what their child did wrong and how they could do better, the intention is to be helpful, but such judgment and correction only puts undue pressure on these young athletes.
Every child is different, but the majority of youth soccer players would rather their parents say nothing after a game than be judgmental. In an informal poll of Elite soccer players ranging in age from 8 to 16, these players agreed that hearing from their parents after playing poorly only made things worse.
The consensus of the 8 to 16 year olds was that they are much more responsive to what the coach has to say and they don’t appreciate their parents’ involvement.
One player said that she doesn’t want to hear that she played badly and additionally she certainly didn’t want to hear that she played well if she didn’t. These young athletes all agreed that their future performance was most dependent on their own thoughts and motivation as well as encouragement from their coaches and not on post-game parental coaching.
A quick analogy:
Imagine being an author and experiencing writer’s block. Imagine having respected adults standing over your desk yelling things like “write,” “hurry up,” “try harder.” Their remarks would certainly be counterproductive. And their disappointment and critique after your empty work session would be unwelcome and ineffective.
Parents ultimately can’t control how their child performs on the soccer field.
The good news is that parents can control their own behavior.
The ways in which parents act and what the say will largely influence their child’s attitude and focus.
Let your child set the tone when they walk off the field. Listen, empathize, and support. Do not address any poor performance, especially not at this moment. Doing so will inevitably result in hurt feelings and no positive change on the field. Remember simply saying “I love watching you play” is positive, honest, powerful, and much, much more effective.