The role of the parent in the youth soccer experience is a very important one. Just like coaches, parents must constantly be looking to learn how to better help their children in the development process. One thing that coaches learn as they become more experienced is knowing how to act during certain key moments – maybe it’s not giving a child a coaching point right after he’s been corrected twice in a row, or perhaps it’s forgoing the post-match talk after a tough loss.
The same goes for parents. Parents must learn to recognize key moments and the appropriate responses to help their children successfully grow as young people and players. These moments could be learning opportunities for the child, or simply times that the bond between parent and child can grow stronger – either way, here are nine moments that, if handled well, could lead to soccer-parenting greatness:
1. The Referee Makes a Bad Call
Without a doubt: had the referee made the right decision, our team’s fate would have dramatically changed. Now our children are going to be so upset after losing the game, and it wasn’t even their fault! Relax. It’s not the end of the world. If we get upset at the referee (and express it), what are we teaching our children? To blame others for our fate? To make excuses for shortcomings instead of learning to deal with adversity? To disrespect authority? That mistakes are unacceptable (because the poor call was very likely a mistake, not an intentional “blowing” of the game)? By yelling at and/or blaming refs, we are teaching our children all those things. So don’t do it. Stay quiet and only focus on what we/our kids can control to overcome such circumstances.
2. The Opposition is Disrespectful
Maybe an opposing parent made a snarky comment, or perhaps a player on the other team did or said something absurd. Especially if it is directed at our own child, we have the strongest inclination to speak up about it, perhaps retaliate. Don’t. Again, keep it in perspective: why did this person behave this way? Because they have no other means (or can’t think of one) to try and “win.” We must be the bigger people, and teach our kids to brush off that kind of nonsense.
3. Our Child Appears Hurt
Especially at the really young ages, we feel compelled to rush over and take care of our children if they go down. Next time this happens, if urged to take action, don’t. Wait a moment. Even if the child crying, wait to see how the coach handles it. Likely the child is just scared and needs to be calmed down, or there is minor pain that will soon go away. By letting someone else handle it, we allow our children to learn to overcome such situations more independently, rather than always relying on us as parents.
4. Our Child Forgets Equipment
What a great learning opportunity about responsibility! And yes, even a 5-year old can learn it. If our children are leaving the house or heading to the field from the car but do not have all the necessary equipment, we mustn’t simply grab it for them. Instead, we can ask questions like “do you have everything?” and perhaps go over a checklist with them (in question form). Or if needed (if they’re a bit older), bite our tongues and don’t say a word, then let them realize their forgetfulness upon arrival – they’ll have to go back to get their equipment and might miss out. It’s a tough lesson, but one that will never be forgotten – we just can’t say “I told you…” or anything like that afterward. Just encourage the lesson. If we don’t do this, all our children will learn is that a mysterious equipment fairy always makes their stuff magically appear where and when they need it.
5. Informally Playing with Our Children
Whenever we play in the backyard or at the park with our children, sometimes we get the urge to correct or coach what they’re doing. Forget about it. Unless a child specifically says “I want to go practice and work on xyz,” don’t coach or correct when informally playing. Just let the child have some fun hanging out and playing with mom or dad. The bond created is priceless, and it also grows a love for the game (and prevents resentment toward the sport and/or parents).
6. The Car Ride Home
The number one most dreaded moment for kids – as admitted by them in multiple studies. Don’t say anything on the ride home from a game (or practice). It’s over, so it’s time to move on. Nothing is accomplished by rehashing all the events or what could have gone differently. Trust me.
7. Our Child Doesn’t See Something on the Field
Maybe he’s not getting back on defense and there’s a man right in front of goal. Maybe he has a teammate who is wide open and he doesn’t see him. As parents, who can see the whole field and are cognitively more advanced, we are often compelled to “help” our children by “reminding” them of what to do. Instead, we should watch in silence. If we give out directions, we are either a distraction from playing, or we are acting as their brains. Our children do not learn if we just give them the answers. Not to mention that it is possible that coach gave them specific instructions, and our orders contradict those. And best yet, if we stay silent during these moments, our children might surprise us and do something brilliant – possibly something we didn’t even think of!
8. Our Child Makes a Mistake
Nothing feels worse to a child than blowing a big opportunity (like a wide open net) then hearing everyone on the sideline yell “aww!” really loudly, followed by a glance over at dad who put his hands over his face… She knows she missed a big moment. Instead of “rubbing it in” (even if not purposely), keep the head up, stay positive, and help her brush it off – maybe a smile and a “thumbs up” or clap.
9. Our Child Does Not Execute on an Idea
Sometimes (who am I kidding – all the time) children makes mistakes when playing. Sometimes, they have a great idea, but simply miskick the ball or trip over it. Instead of being distraught, correcting it, or even “brushing it off,” cheer loudly and proudly for it! “What a stellar idea! Try it again!” The fact that they recognized the thought and that it was appropriate for the moment needs to be praised, and praising it will help build resiliency and encourage them to want to be better.
So next time we’re out on the field or watching our children at play, let’s do our best to recognize these key moments and become great at handling them. If we do this, we will see our children develop into better people and players down the road.