The Parent Trap - Burnaby Girls Soccer Club

The Parent Trap - Burnaby Girls Soccer Club
The Parent Trap
by Rick Gruneau
No I don’t mean the movie with Hayley Mills, nor the more recent remake with Lindsey Lohan. I'm referring to
youth soccer. Anyone who has ever spent any time in youth soccer has seen parents who have fallen into the
trap. We've seen the dads and mom’s who constantly complain aloud to anyone who'll listen that the coach is
playing the wrong formation, doesn't have the right players in the right positions, or isn't training the team
properly.
We've seen the negative parents who think their child can do no wrong, but can find fault with many of the other
players on the team and are happy to share their discontent with other parents who become allies in negativity.
The soccer parent trap also includes the sideline screamers and armchair referees; the parents who think their
son or daughter is going to be the next Freddy Adu or Kara Lang and insinuate themselves into every club, team,
or soccer school in order to promote their child’s interests over anything else; the parents who get so overinvolved with their child’s soccer that they can’t bear to leave them on their own for a moment, even to the point
of sitting on the sidelines in practices, watching and judging every drill and small-sided game like they were
watching the World Cup.
Finally, the parent trap includes those parents who make the car ride home after every youth soccer game into
an opportunity to analyze and re-analyze every mistake their child made in the game. No wonder that in a
national survey of former young athletes in the United States a very high percentage of the respondents
highlighted ‘the ride home’ as one of their most negative memories of their youth sport experience. Of course,
there are thousands of parents who don’t fall into the trap parents who manage to love the game and to support
their child’s team, club, and soccer development, but in a balanced way. I say balanced because these parents
have been able to maintain a sense of proportion about their child’s involvement in soccer. They are serious
about their child’s involvement in youth soccer without taking themselves too seriously.
They know, in the end, that soccer is just a game, and that the vast majority of players will not end up on national
teams, or in professional careers. These parents have learned to love the game for its own sake and to promote
it as a life activity that may be enjoyed at almost any age level. They¹ve learned that disciplined achievement,
even at the highest levels, always has to be balanced with an emphasis on fun, personal empowerment, and
learning life skills. If this balance isn't there, youth sport just becomes another zone of stress and oppression
something to dread or to escape rather than something to embrace with passion and commitment. There is no
guaranteed formula to insure that well-meaning soccer parents will be able to avoid the parent trap.
But, based on my experience, and for what its worth, here are some ideas that might help.
1. Don't rush your son or daughter into the game before they are ready. You will hear people say that if
your child isn’t on a ‘development’ team by, say, U10 their soccer career is over. That's nonsense. Take
them out, kick a ball around a bit with them, and then let them watch their friends play on the
neighbourhood team. It’s the friendships that matter most early on. When they say they want to give it a
go. Sign them up. But, don¹t feel the need to rush things.
2. Talk to your son or daughter¹s coach about maintaining a sense of proportion about the importance of
youth games. A good coach will be happy to discuss his or her philosophy with you. All youth coaches at
the youngest levels should be striving to create a positive environment with a balanced emphasis on fun
and skill acquisition. If the coach is a screamer, talk to him or her about it early on, in a non-threatening
way. If the coach isn¹t interested in what you have to say, move your child to a more positive
atmosphere.
3. As your child moves up the age ladder, remember to keep a balanced view of how children develop at
different rates. It sometimes happens that the big early developer who scores 50 goals in a soccer
season is not even one of the top 10 players on select teams in the late high school years. In too many
instances when other children begin to catch up to these U12 or U13 ‘stars,’ the former stars lose their
interest and drop out of the game. So if your U9 or U10 son or daughter is ripping up the local circuit,
don’t lose your sense of proportion about it all. Your child may well go on to develop into a great player.
But a lot of young stars don’t develop. So keep things in perspective.
4. If you get your child on a team with committed coaches and a positive environment that builds
players‘confidence, don’t undermine their good work by criticizing your child’s weaknesses all the time:
‘Sally, you just have to learn to be more aggressive!! Try harder!!’ Instead, praise your child’s strengths
and accomplishments and let the coach quietly work on improving the weaknesses.
5. Remember that one of the most important life lessons your child can learn in sport is to work hard to
contribute to and belong to something bigger than himself or herself. Teach your child to be a team
player and to respect his or her team-mates. Under no circumstances should you ever say something
like: ‘Well, if it wasn't for your scoring your team would be hopeless. Your defence is a joke. Really, you
are the whole team.’ After the U.S. women’s national team won the 1999 world cup, Mia Hamm was
quoted as telling her team-mates that she didn’t become the player she was until she learned that she
was playing FOR her team-mates more than for herself. More youth players and parents, especially at
higher levels, should learn that lesson.
6. As your child moves up in soccer levels, remember that individual, career-oriented, objectives always
have to be balanced against team commitment. At the high school ages it is very common for players to
jump from one select team to another, looking for the best coaching, the most successful program, and
the team that will best prepare the player for selection to provincial teams or to university soccer
programs. Sometimes, a player needs to move to take his or her game to the highest level. That is how
soccer works. But, there is also too much of jumping from team to team in youth soccer, as select team
coaches and ambitious parents quietly work to build super teams at the highest levels. If your child is on
a successful high level team, with good coaching, and strong friendships, think very seriously before
moving your child from this environment. Ask yourself what lessons your child will learn from the move?
What will be gained? What will be lost?
7. Work hard to model the kind of behaviours you would expect for your own child. For example, you can't
expect your child to learn much about sportsmanship if you can't control your own temper on the
sidelines. Similarly, if all you do is slag the coaches, or the other players in your child's presence, what
lessons are you teaching? Instead, make an effort to teach your child the value of respect: respect for
team-mates, for coaches, for referees, and for opponents.
8. You can start an argument on a street corner in Europe or South America in a heartbeat by making a
tactical observation about a coach, or about a team’s favourite formation, system or style of play. In Sao
Paulo just try to say something publically like: ‘Brazilian soccer is too undisciplined. With your skill if you
Brazilians played a much more disciplined or organized style, you'd win everything all the time.’ Or stand
up in a group of Manchester United fans and say something like: ‘Our team has really gone down hill
since we gave up Beckham and started playing that damn 4-4-1-1 system.’ My point is that every coach
has an idea about a preferred playing style, formation and system. As a parent or fan, you might not like
his or her choices. But, remember how hard it is to get a consensus on this kind of thing at any level of
soccer. Someone, somewhere, will always take issue with any decision a coach makes. On high level
teams, if a coach teaches zonal defending, some parents will believe the team would do better with a
manmarking system. If the coach teaches man-marking defence, some parents will think that coach is
doing the players a disservice by not teaching the principles of zonal defending. When it comes to
soccer playing styles, formations and systems, the best thing a parent can do is to respect the time and
effort put in by the coach. If you have reservations, pass them on in a constructive way and let the coach
get on with coaching. If you are absolutely convinced the issue is a major problem, be quiet about it over
the course of the season and move on to another team for the following year. But, if nothing ever seems
good enough, ask yourself if the issue lies more with you than with your child ¹s coaches.
9. Because soccer games usually end up in a situation where there is a winner and a loser, all coaches,
players and parents have to confront problems arising from winning and losing. It is no fun to play on a
team that never wins. On these teams, losing becomes a cancer: players get discouraged, parents get
grumpy and critical, and coaches get depressed. And, sometimes, on these teams the need to win gets
so strong that the weaker players start to see less and less playing time. Something similar can even
happen on successful high level youth select teams, where the need to win against good competition
makes coaches and parents tend to emphasize winning over player development. As a parent you
should take the position that from the beginning of organized soccer to at least grade 8 or 9 the major
emphasis for teams should be on player development. That means that players and teams should be
playing at the level that is best for development and where everyone gets played fairly. The best level is
the level where a team wins enough to feel good about itself, but also loses a fair share of games by
challenging itself to play better teams. As a parent don’t get too caught up in the soccer 'status' game...If
your child is likely to be the weakest player on an A level team, consider a B level team where your child
might get more playing time, have more fun, and develop faster. If your child ¹s team is winning all their
games by a huge margin talk to the coach about having the team move up a level. If moving up a level is
not a possibility, talk to the coach and to the other parents about using tournaments as a way to play
higher level teams. While it isn't healthy for a team to lose all the time, it is also not healthy to win all the
time either. Just remember to try to keep your child's team's record in perspective, and remember that in
youth soccer player development should be a greater priority than a team's win-loss record.
10. Think to the future as a way of maintaining perspective and keeping your feet on the ground about your
child's youth soccer experiences. For many players organized competitive soccer will end in the high
school years as other interests develop. For the majority of those who play organized soccer through
high school, U18 will be the end of the line until some return to recreational play later in life. A small
number of players will move on to College and University teams, or to under 21 teams or to women’s
premiere teams, and will continue to play at a high level. In girls’ soccer, especially, University soccer is
the pinnacle of the game for all but a tiny handful of athletes. And, even then, at 21 or 22 years of age,
after 4 years of play, it is over. Knowing that to be the case, ask yourself what you want your son or
daughter to get out of his or her playing days. Be honest. Now, having thought ahead, rethink your
actions and behaviours in the present in respect to your son or daughter's current team. In the end, at 30
years of age, your child will not likely remember if they won or lost a league cup at U14. What they'll
remember, hopefully, is the fun, the friendships, and the trips, as well as the life lessons learned about
setting goals collectively and trying to achieve them, being a part of something larger than yourself, the
challenges of discipline and training, and the values of fitness and healthy lifestyles. As a parent if you
can keep your focus on these things you are unlikely to fall into the soccer parent trap.
Rick Gruneau has coached athletes and teams in 3 different sports at the provincial championship level or
higher. He is also a Simon Fraser University professor who has written several books in the history, sociology
and psychology of sport. Rick has nearly 10 years of experience as a youth soccer coach, with 4 different teams,
both boys and girls. His teams have often been league winners, cup champions and provincial medalists. He
was the West Vancouver Soccer Club’s ‘Coach of the Year’ in 2002-2003.
All rights reserved.
Article Courtesy PlaySOCCER Magazine,
Special Parent's Guide to Soccer Edition 2005.
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