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The Player-Parent Disconnect

There is a question that I ask every time I work with a team or group of parents at a club. The responses to this question are very telling. When I ask this question, the concept seems so obvious that the parents can’t believe that they didn’t think of it before, yet the vast majority of them haven’t.

The question I ask parents is “Have you ever asked your child why they play soccer?”

Usually when I ask this question, the room is met with silence. I can see parents looking back into their memories, considering if this question has even occurred to them throughout their child’s youth soccer experience.

Even though we care about our children and want them to enjoy their experience, we often assume what is important to them and why they play, instead of actually asking them.

What is even more telling about this exercise is that when parents/coaches do ask their children, they are often surprised by the answers.

More often than not, if I ask children and adults separately why the kids play soccer, the answers do not match. This creates a problem because we as adults often focus on or worry about things that ultimately are not important to our children. This is what often causes our children to feel anxiety, pressure, or burnout, and these negative emotions often lead our children to quit the game.

When I ask kids and parents separately about the most important parts of playing soccer, the answers are also incredibly different. Some of the most common answers I hear from parents are:

  1. Winning

  2. Playing with their friends

  3. Getting Exercise

  4. Keeping out of trouble

  5. Achieving higher success through the sport (i.e. making high school or college team)

The answers that kids most often give are entirely different. According to a study by George Washington University, the number one reason why kids play is because it’s FUN. Furthermore, the top three ways that children define fun is:

  1. Being a good sport

  2. Trying hard

  3. Positive coaching

Winning is not even close to the top of this list.

We as adults often neglect to understand what motivates our children. We emphasize and give feedback based on criteria that simply doesn’t matter to our kids. We get emotionally distraught about things that, in the end, do not matter to the people that the experience is truly about.

Whenever I meet parents and coaches who change their approach and ask their children why they play soccer and what it is about soccer that is most important to them, I have seen a shift in the perspective of the adults. This, in turn, results in a more enjoyable and effective experience for the kids. It is our responsibility as parents and coaches to reflect on the answers to these questions and use them as the guiding principles behind all the decisions that we make throughout our child’s youth soccer experience.

So, if you haven’t already, ask your children why they play soccer and keep the answers on the front of your mind as you go forth with your children in their soccer journey.


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