Adults need to trust kids more. Period.
In terms of youth soccer, this goes for both coaches and parents. It is easy to say that we trust our kids, and in fact, parents and coaches will often vocalize that they do. But their actions don’t show it.
When we show and demonstrate – with our actions – that we trust our children, it empowers our youth players to excel and truly play at their best.
I often hear coaches and parents telling their kids that they trust them to play well, but when we are constantly telling them what to do and influencing their play, we are showing them that we do not trust their decisions. If at every moment, we are telling them where to run/pass/move or to pay attention, we are showing them that we don’t trust their ability to do their job during the game. It shows them that we don’t trust their ability to do the right thing.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t ever intervene, because everyone needs a reminder and help every so often. But we need to be aware of the frequency at which we are dictating what our players and children do. If we find ourselves “joy-sticking” and controlling every moment and decision, then we are taking away the power and ability of our children to perform on their own.
Furthermore, if we trust in ourselves as coaches or as parents that we’ve taught our kids the right things and instilled in them the correct knowledge, then we should be able to trust them out on the field. We shouldn’t need to intervene constantly.
For example, as coaches, if we’ve done our job correctly in practice and have taught our players how to move the ball from the back half of the field to the attacking half, then we should trust our players to do it right in the game. Even if it is not successful every time, it doesn’t mean the players aren’t learning or trying to do the right thing. We need to trust them to do it better the next attempt.
The same goes for parents. If we feel the need to remind our children before or during a game to do their best or work hard, then we must not be doing our best at teaching them the value of hard work throughout our everyday lives. We are not going to make a positive difference in the moments right before a match if we are lecturing our children about how to perform during the game because, in reality, it is what we teach on an everyday basis that makes the most difference in our children’s strong work ethic. In fact, telling this to our children before a game can imply that they would not work their hardest if we didn't say anything. Do we truly not trust our kids to try their best?
If we teach the right things on a day-to-day basis, then we should be able to trust our kids. It will motivate and empower them to be their best.
Recently, I was at a futsal tournament where the culture of the event was very laid back. The tournament was meant to be less formal than typical youth soccer competitions. It wasn’t officially sanctioned, and kids could make teams with any players they wanted – it was just for fun!
In the game before the playoff round started, I heard a mother call over to her son, who was playing around and relaxing with his friends. She told him that his next game was a playoff game, and that if they lost, they’d be out of the tournament. She then further urged that he must work hard and play his hardest or his team would be out.
I could see in the child’s reaction that he and I were thinking very similarly: “Are you implying that I haven’t been playing my hardest this entire time?” or “Why did you interrupt me from playing with my friends to tell me something that I already know?”
As well-intentioned that I believe the mother was, her actions show her child that she doesn’t trust that he is going to do his best or that he can be in control of his fate as a player in this tournament.
Whenever I’ve seen coaches and parents trust their players to do the right thing – even if the adults aren’t fully confident that the players are ready for the challenge – I’ve seen that players will often surprise us in the right way.
As the adults, it is important that we put our nerves and anxiety aside and trust the kids to do the right things. They will indeed surprise us by doing them more often than we expect.
Going forward, we as parents and coaches need to be more mindful of how we are micromanaging our players prior to or during games, and instead, step back and trust them more.