It’s okay to want your kids to have a good experience playing soccer

When we sign our kids up for any sport or activity, we inevitably have some expectations that they will get reasonably good coaching and fair treatment. However, nothing can be guaranteed when it comes to coaching and instruction. Especially if we consider that so many community coaches are simply volunteers.

Is it reasonable for us as parents to have expectations? And if yes, then what sorts of expectations are reasonable?

The soccer team without passion

I was recently talking with a soccer mom whose son plays on a competitive team for 11-year-olds. Apparently, the season was not going very well. The team was winning some games and losing some, but that wasn’t really her concern. It was the general unease that had settled over the team.

Together with other parents they discussed little things that concerned them. Simple little things like the fact that the kids weren’t playing with all-out energy, that they were showing less enthusiasm than in the past, and that the other teams seemed to be improving faster. “I don’t care that they lose, but I do care that they don’t seem to learn much,” she told me.

First in the ‘Parent expectations in soccer’ series

This four-part series details what parents can do to ensure that their kids are having a good experience in soccer.

Next in the series:
Why you should focus on what your child wants from playing soccer, not what you want as a parent
How to determine if your child is having fun, and if they are developing skills
How to communicate appropriately with coaches

As she mentioned, many of the parents recognized that things were not going great, but none of the parents were prepared to say anything. Instead, they seemed to have simply written off the season.

The question arose for this mom: Was it fair for the parents to expect more for the kids? Was it fair for parents to make greater demands of the coaches?

Parents murmuring on the sidelines

If you have kids in organized competitive sport, you might have lived something similar to this situation. Seasons when there’s some “unease” amongst the parents.

Most parents in this situation are respectful of the coaches, but their comments start to reveal their worries that the kids’ experience is not totally what it could be.

Most often, parents choose to say nothing. If it’s not a critical situation like coaches being bulliesacting inappropriately, or otherwise abusing their power, parents will resign themselves to the idea that it’s not worth creating conflict or controversy. This is when you start to hear comments such as “It will be better next season”, or the proverbial “It’s only a game…”.

These comments quiet the conversation for a while, but don’t satisfy anyone. More importantly, nothing gets better for the kids.

It’s okay to want a better experience for your child

In a time when parents acting poorly is frequently featured in the media, one fact remains: the great majority of parents respect their children’s coaches. Given that most coaches are volunteers, parents are acutely aware that they give their time freely and truly want to do what’s best for kids.

This causes a great conflict for parents. By raising the issue that your child is not having a great experience, you are basically implying that you are not happy with the coaching and that’s a very difficult position to be in.

But parents are right to want things to improve for their kids. The challenge is that they don’t have the knowledge or the right words to initiate a constructive conversation amongst themselves, never mind with the coaches.

As a long-time coach to kids and Olympians alike, I can tell you that coaches know when there’s “uneasiness” around the team. It’s an uncomfortable situation to be in, and like parents, coaches often don’t have the tools or words to make things better.

Three steps you can follow

If things aren’t going totally right, there are three things you can do:

  1. Focus on what your child wants from playing sports, not on what you want as a parent
  2. Ensure that your child is having fun and developing skills
  3. Communicate appropriately with the coaches

By taking these steps, parents can initiate constructive and respectful discussions that will lead to improving the experience not only for the kids, but for everyone involved, including the coaches.

In part two of this series: Why it’s so important to focus on your child’s needs, not your own.

4 responses to “It’s okay to want your kids to have a good experience playing soccer

  1. I am looking for advice on where children fit in who are not as coordinated or athletically gifted as other players in their team (under 10s) and how to approach feeling as though they are not a valued member of them team. My son is playing his first year of club sport. He is loving the season and is trying his best to come to terms with learning a new skill set, following coaching strategy and building his stamina. Yet when asking coaching staff how I could help him, their reply was very disheartening and there was five or six negatives listed with no positives. I would love to see them give him ONE strategy to work on a week that was doable. He cannot become a new person between Wednesday training and Saturday mornings game. I don’t want him to become aware of this attitude towards him and lose that enjoyment.

    1. Hi Olivia. It is disappointing that your son’s coaches can’t give him some positive skills to work on. In this case, there is no magic formula, but for you to go to the coaches and (unless you have already done so) explain to them that your son is highly motivated and that you would appreciate if they could take a minute and share with your son one or two positive and simple suggestions on what he could improve upon.
      You should also share with your son’s coaches that your boy is motivated, driven and loves to play soccer. And that at 10 he is at an age where he can rapidly improve his skills if he puts his mind to it. From the coaches perspective, their focus should be to help your son develop his skills and GROW HIS LOVE of the game. They should do everything in they power to help your son become a “soccer player for life”.

  2. It’s now important to do some shopping when you register for soccer of any sort.

    Does the club you’re registering with have a player development program and if so, is it backed up by a Coach Development program?

    Often times you get what you pay for in soccer, like elsewhere in life!
    Development costs money – even with the generously free info on the OSA website – a club needs to have someone qualified to interpret, instruct and INSPIRE volunteers!

    If your sports club does not subscribe to a LTAD/LTPD program and actively have programs designed to use it, you probably shouldn’t expect development – but you sure CAN step-up and help inspire the coach and players to have fun!

    1. Agreed with you Jenn and that’s the exact topic of the third article in this series of 4 article.

      One thing that is clear for kids: DEVELOPMENT = FUN. Bottom line when kids are engaged in a good program where they learn new and age-appropriate skills, they enjoy themselves.

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