Your heart is beating like a hummingbirds’ wings and you are certain the parent sitting next to you can hear it pounding.
It’s 25 minutes into the game and your child hasn’t played.
You are watching the bench relentlessly – barely noticing the game happening in front of you. You are waiting anxiously – hoping the coach will turn their head…lean forward…look over towards your child…say something – the result being your child rising off the bench to warm up.
“P-L-E-A-S-E,” you are screaming in your head…
”JUST PUT THEM INTO THE GAME!”
The stress is mounting deep in your chest.
WHILE THIS SCENARIO MAY HAPPEN NOW AND THEN, maybe in the most competitive games of the season, or maybe because your child missed a practice or had a disciplinary issue – IF YOU CHILD IS UNDER 14, IT SHOULD NOT BE HAPPENING ON A REGULAR BASIS.
When your child does not get adequate playing time in a game there are two primary results:
- Lack of Development
Lack of Development
There is no way your child will develop to their potential if not given the opportunity to perform regularly in games during these important developmental years. A game situation is where the highest level of decisions are required. As Terry Foley, of FC Virgini and one of the most winning coaches in youth soccer put it in a recent SoccerParenting.com interview:
You have to play. You can’t develop unless you play the game…I played a (ECNL) game recently when the first sub from the other team was in the 39th minute of a 45 minute half. So what development are those kids getting? I honestly believe a player cannot develop to their full potential unless they actually play. You can do all the training you like and train against your teammates and you can make training competitive but at the end of the day it’s not as competitive as when you step across the white lines and there is an opponent that you don’t know that wants to beat you just as badly as you want to beat them.”
It does not matter what level your child is playing, whether it be on a U.S. Developmental Academy Team, an ECNL Team, a US Club or USYS Team or a recreation team– if they are not getting an opportunity to play enough in games they will begin to lack confidence. A well-sited study by Hayes et all (2009) found that, as we can assume empirically – when an athlete is experiencing a low level of confidence the result is underperformance. Once kids finally do get in the game, they underperform because they are so nervous and feel as though they have something to prove. Or, worse yet, they are insecure and feel as though they don’t belong.
This is NOT an article about building resiliency. Of course, if your child doesn’t play a lot in a game or two, then the appropriate parental response to your child is something like: “Well, you need to work harder in training.”
This is an article for the parents who have kids who are regularly, over the course of an entire season, not playing more than a half of a game.
To be clear: If your child is being coachable, is attending every training session and doing their best and being a supportive teammate – It’s not your child’s fault.
After all, we can’t blame our kids for being too small, or not being technical enough, or for not having the decision-making they need to play at the team’s level. If they are under the age of 14 and they are not getting to play in at least half of the game, there are two groups of people to blame:
- Youth Parents Everywhere
- The Coaches
Youth Parents Everywhere Are to Blame
We need to get real here.
It’s the SAD TRUTH that club teams are forced to win games because if they don’t, some parents will pull their kids off the team the next time there are tryouts and jump ship to a different team or club. This is a phenomenon that is experienced across all of youth sports – and it’s time for parents to wake up and make better decisions.
The only way this phenomenon will cease is if parents band together around a Coach They Trust and commit to staying with them through the ups and downs.
We need to allow Coaches We Trust the opportunity to select players to a team who have developmental potential – players who maybe are late growing and small, or in the middle of growing a ton and are awkward, or players who have had little technical training and need to learn. If a Coach We Trust sees enough potential in a player to bring them onto the team, then parents must trust the coach and welcome this player to the field – keeping the long-term growth of the team, and the long term athletic development of your children, in mind.
Parents must rally other parents to not focus on winning, but instead, on development.
I will admit to times myself when I have found myself thinking stressful thoughts at the entrance of a player into a game knowing there will be a drop off. Of course it is a fleeting thought, but when I think it, I am a parent who is more concerned with winning than in the development of the player.
Parents, once you find a Coach You Trust, BE COMMITTED TO THEM.
The Coaches Are to Blame
The coach made a commitment to your child when they selected them onto the team. If they are not willing to put your child into the game for at least half of it, they are not living up to their commitment to develop them. Maybe the coach made a mistake during try-outs and it turns out your child is not as skillful as they need to be, or maybe your child doesn’t have the physicality they need, or is growing so fast they are clumsy, or maybe your child doesn’t have the tactical awareness they need.
Really – it doesn’t matter at all what the reason is….
If your child is going to training and doing their best, if your child is attending all the games and fulfilling their commitment to the team – the coach should be fulfilling their commitment to them – to develop them.
How in the world can a coach claim they are earnestly concerned with the development of the players if they are not willing to play all of them for at least half of just about every game?
How can a coach claim they are earnestly concerned with the development of the players if they are propelling them into a mental situation where they are likely to be stressed and nervous and lacking in confidence and therefore will underperform?
Coaches – if you make a commitment to a player by inviting them onto your team, HONOR YOUR COMMITMENT!
Meghan Klingenberg, U.S. Women’s National Team starting left back and her mom have this memory of when Megan was only 6!
“I’ll never forget, [other players] were dribbling the ball around players, putting balls in the back of the net, they were fabulous,” her mother, Kristen Klingenberg, said. “Meghan’s out there, and she had no idea what she was doing.”
Even Klingenberg’s 6-year-old teammates noticed. One time, when she was called off the bench to go into a game, she overheard a teammate protest to the coach, “Oh man, don’t put Meghan in. We’ll lose!”
At least the coach put her in! Imagine what would have been lost if he hadn’t played her enough and she’d grown too frustrated or if her mom had let her stop playing when she was upset about her teammates comments?
If your child is under 14 years old and they are playing less than half the game in MOST games – you need to have an honest and open conversation with the coach.
As a parent you can’t let the thrill of the fact that your child made a top team or is playing for one of the “best” coaches in the area get in the way of your perspective and ability to make a rational decision about what is ultimately best for them. If your child isn’t getting the opportunity to develop in a game-realistic training environment – they are not developing enough. If your child isn’t working with a Coach You Trust (one that believes in development over winning) – they are not in the right environment.
Your child may be better off playing on the second team based on their mentality and athletic potential or playing for a coach that is not the “best” because they win, but rather is the “best” because they are committed to developing the players – ALL the players – on the team.