Earlier this week, I wrote about how coaches can help their players by staying silent. This post explains why and how parents ought to use the same strategy.
It’s been said by many experts: The parents’ role in youth sports is to support their child in their child’s experience.
What does this actually mean? It means allowing our children to own the experience and doing what we need to do in order to allow them to have the most successful experience possible. To put it even more simply: Don’t interfere.
The more that adults are present while children are playing, the less it becomes about the children, and the more it becomes about the adults. There’s already a coach. It’s the coach’s job to ensure safety and facilitate practices and games. It’s the parents’ job to allow the coach to do this. If we have coaches and parents getting involved while the kids are playing, we now have more adults involved than children, and the experience is no longer in full control of the players.
Why do parents often feel compelled to speak to their children while they play? For the best reason: They love them. It is our natural inclination to step in when we feel that we can help our children. We also love to encourage them and watch them play, so we enjoy cheering for them. But here’s the truth: Our kids don’t need our help.
Kids love to play, and they love to do their best. They don’t need any help doing this. They also know what they are supposed to be doing on the field. And in the case that they forget, there is someone who’s already been designated to remind them: the coach.
As parents, we are very emotionally involved in our children’s experience, which is a great thing. It means we love our kids and want the best for them. Two of the most common emotions we feel are excitement and anxiety. With these emotions comes our need to express them. We get excited, so we cheer and shout for our kids to help get them excited. We get anxious, so we cheer and direct our kids to help them do their best and feel at ease.
These reactions are more damaging than helpful. Children don’t need help getting excited and motivated to play. As parents, simply being there is enough to show them that we love and support them. Anything more than that, and we begin to take over the experience. Children also rarely get nervous. I’ve seen so many parents get nervous when it’s their child’s turn to play goalkeeper. They are afraid of them getting scored on and feeling like they failed. Because of this, many parents will overcompensate and try to “help” their child in that role by giving directions or an overload of encouragement. Kids can sense the anxiety from adults, and it gets transferred to them. 95% of the time, the child playing goalkeeper volunteered for it, is excited about it, and feels no anxiety nor negative feelings when scored on. It’s important that, as adults, we realize that the emotions and thoughts we have are rarely the same emotions and thoughts the kids have.
When we speak out too much as parents, we often act as one of two things: A distraction or their brains.
By shouting out to our children while they are trying to play, we can easily distract them. They are already trying to focus on running, controlling a ball, avoiding defenders, and listening/remembering coach’s instructions. That’s a lot to handle. If parents start to shout their names and other words, kids become distracted and lose focus. They have to now focus on running, controlling a ball, avoiding defenders, listening/remembering coach’s instructions, and all the instructions and cheers coming from the 20 parents on the sideline. Talk about overwhelming.
We also can act as our children’s brains. If we are giving them instructions, our children are not making any decisions for themselves. They will never learn this way. Would we give our children the answers to their math test? Of course not. It’s the same thing during a game. The game is the test after practice. It’s the children’s opportunity to show everything they’ve learned and apply practice to a real life situation. If adults are telling them everything to do, they’ll never fully understand how to play. Give them a chance to show what they know. I bet they’ll surprise you.
What’s even worse about this, is that parents don’t know the whole story. We don’t know what the team talked about before the game, at half time, or during practice. We don’t know what specific instructions the coach gave. Maybe to us it seems like Stevie should run to the right side of the field, but coach told him to stand where he is. Maybe to us it seems like Samantha should pass the ball to Suzie instead of losing the ball while attempting a new move, but coach told them to practice the scissors any chance they got, and this was a perfect time to try it. Since we don’t know all the information as parents, we need to silently watch and observe, enjoying our children’s attempts to do their best. If we are truly concerned about the decisions our children are making, we can ask the coach – or better yet, ask our children – what they’ve been learning and focusing on.
Here’s a quick story: Once upon a time, I was coaching a group of 4-year olds. We were playing a spirited game of Sharks and Minnows (“minnows” have a soccer ball and try to get to the opposite side while “sharks” – who don’t have a ball – try to steal the balls). Most parents were on the sideline watching and chatting with one another. At one point, a father notices his son does not have a soccer ball and begins to shout to him to go get his ball! The child ignores him initially and continues to play. As the father continues to insist, his son finally stops right in the middle of his pursuit of a minnow, turns around to face his dad, and begins to cry while shouting “But I’m a shark!” This child knew exactly what he was supposed to do and was doing his best. His father, who was not part of the activity, interferes and gives wrong information. The result: a disgruntled child who no longer wants to play the game and sits out for the next 10 minutes of practice.
Remember: it’s the role of the parent to be the support system for the child. Our children love to tell us all about their experiences. If they did well, they want to tell us all about it. If they struggled, they need us to be the person they can talk to about it. It’s important that they have someone unassociated with the game in whom they can confide. The more parents get involved in the soccer aspect of their child’s experience, the more they become directly associated with it, and the less their children can come to them for support. This is a major reason why being the actual coach of our children is so difficult.
How Parents Can Best Support Their Children
Observe and stay quiet. Allow the kids to own the experience and showcase what they can do. Cheer loudly and proudly after a play happens. Learn what the team is focusing on and cheer for attempts at those things – not just for goals. Speak to your child after the game by simply saying “I love watching you play.” If your child wants to talk about the game or practice, allow them to speak and tell you their point of view – ask questions about their thoughts and feelings; do not tell them yours.
As parents, we can best serve our kids by staying silent more often and only saying a few, powerful words after our kids are finished playing.