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Success in Soccer Starts with Being Better Humans

Consider the following circumstance:

You are in your car, steadily driving down the road, following the flow of traffic. You pass a couple lights, maybe take a turn or two heading toward your destination. Then suddenly, a car ferociously speeds up and gets right behind you until they finally get a chance to swerve around and speed off.

In moments like this, many of us react angrily. Some of us might even yell at the driver and question their driving abilities. We act as though, in that moment, that driver is our ultimate enemy.

There are other times, of course, where we are that impatient driver. We are the ones in a hurry – perhaps for a legitimate reason – and now we are getting angry with those who are driving at the speed limit and impeding our ability to immediately pass. In this instance, the other drivers on the road are again the bad drivers, but this time because they are forcing us to go slow.

How is it that in these two scenarios, the bad driver in one is the fast person, yet the bad driver in the other is the slow person? In each of these scenarios, we are the good and correct driver. The other people are driving poorly – regardless of the situation.

Seeing the Other Side

As the steady driver, how often do we consider the life situation of the speedy driver? What if they have an emergency, or are running late to one of the most important events of their week/month/year/life?

As the hurried driver, don’t we wish that everyone else realized how important it was for us to get to our destination faster? Doesn’t it seem reasonable for us to drive impatiently when it’s our emergency or important life event?

As people, we tend to just see things from our own perspective. We often fail to see the other person’s side, even if it is similar to a situation that we have been in. As the steady driver, we just assume that the speedy driver is a bad person. But when we are the person in a hurry, it totally changes our viewpoint. We often fail to consider the idea that someone else might have a different (yet reasonable) outlook, and instead of recognizing that, we just get angry.

In each of the above situations, we are only basing “good driving” on our own current situation, not the entire picture.

Relation to Youth Soccer

In my time as a coach, mentor, and consultant for many youth soccer clubs, I have seen similar situations occur.

For example, a coach has an idea or philosophy that he/she wants to implement, and as a result, a parent instantly becomes upset without properly confronting the coach to learn about his/her objective in a healthy, conversational manner.

The same goes for coaches who get upset about parents questioning their decisions. If we haven’t communicated our objectives and intentions, how could the parents possibly know why we made our decisions? Isn’t it fair that they want to ensure that their child is receiving the best experience possible?

The Reason for Conflict

The more I work with various coaches, parents, and directors, the more I realize that these conflicts occur as a result of under-developed interpersonal skills.

As coaches, when we are in regular conflict with others in youth soccer, it is often because we need to improve our human skills, not just our coaching skills. Our ability to communicate, empathize, and cultivate relationships with others has nothing to do with soccer, yet it is the key to creating and maintaining a positive soccer environment.

In the situations explained above, the key reason for conflict is only seeing things from our own point of view and an inability or unwillingness to see other people’s perspectives. In our interactions with others, we often let our own egos or self-interests get in the way of seeing the big picture. When it comes to our interactions with people in youth soccer, it is important for us – before reacting negatively and making conclusions or assumptions – to stop and think about what the other side might be thinking when they bring up a point or become upset.

If we can clearly communicate our point of view, and ask others about theirs, then we will more likely have positive, productive interactions and relationships. Ultimately, it’s interpersonal human skills that help us better prevent and overcome conflicts.

In everything we do as coaches, we are utilizing our interpersonal skills – or lack thereof. When coaching the team at training, we are interacting with our human players and coaching staff. When planning, preparing, and scheduling, we are interacting with our human directors and administrative staff. When communicating news, updates, and justifying decisions, we are interacting with our team’s human parents.

The same goes for parents: deciding on the club/team for our child, communicating with our child before/after/during play, or questioning a coach’s decision are all interpersonal interactions.

It is important for all of us to regularly self-reflect and try to continuously improve these critical human skills. Some of these include:

  • Interpersonal communication (verbal, nonverbal, and written)

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Self-awareness

  • Perception of situations/environment

  • Planning

It’s a lack of proficiency in a combination of these skills that deters us from having successful relationships and deters a team’s success. To create and maintain a positive soccer environment, we all need to be aware of and improve these skills – coaches, players, parents, and all who are involved in the youth soccer experience.


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