Five mistakes soccer parents make with their players

Parents play a critical role in their child’s soccer development, but have you ever really examined whether you’re supporting your player’s development or hindering it? How can you support and encourage your child without getting in the way?

We’ve all seen the extremes: the ranting and raving parent on the sideline, the parent who has their player training seven days a week, year-round, and the parent who doesn’t show up to anything or seem to take an interest in their child’s life on the field.

+READ: Best advice for soccer parents: Keep quiet on the ride home

But the majority of soccer parents fall somewhere in the middle: parents who have good intentions and just want the best for their child. This list is for those parents.

Here are five behaviors I’ve seen from parents that can have a dramatic impact on kids and their soccer development:

1. They don’t encourage their player to make mistakes

It seems contradictory, but yes, we want players to make mistakes…this is how they learn best! With so much focus on mastering skills and winning matches, not enough players put themselves out there to take risks. A wise colleague of mine always tells her players to “Be brave. Make mistakes.”

Most kids want the approval of their parent and coach, and they need to know you encourage this and you will applaud the fact that they tried, even if they fail. Because ultimately, they don’t fail. They learn something from that moment that is invaluable and that will help them grow as a player and as a person.

Instead of the kid who passes the ball all the time because they are afraid to take on a player 1v1, the brave player will learn when it’s best to dribble and when it’s best to pass, without hesitation or fear.

2. They fight battles that aren’t theirs to fight

Have you ever approached a coach about how your kid didn’t get enough playing time? I can tell you right now that this is the conversation every coach hates to have with a parent, and it likely won’t help your child in any way. Instead, encourage your player to take ownership of their game and their development as a player.

Fredericksburg-SW

They should (at a certain age) be the one to approach the coach if they have a question or concern. I promise you this will go over better with the coach, will likely result in more useful information, and it will also teach your child a number of lessons that can be applied to their life on and off the field.

3. They don’t engage their players in the development process

How much do you know about what your player is working on during training? I encourage you to find out! This doesn’t mean calling up the coach or club and asking for their practice plans.

Instead, engage your child in a conversation about skills or ideas that they’re learning and what they find challenging. This can also lead to helping your player set personal goals in their own development.

4. They coach and cheer for the wrong things on game day

We’ve all heard that parent on the sideline scream “Shoot it!” or “Pass it!” Maybe it’s you. It’s natural to want to help your player on the field, but this does not help. This is a parent who is guilty of both No. 1 and No. 3. These directions can cause anxiety for a player already under pressure on the field. In fact, they may even directly contradict what their coach has instructed them to do.

Stafford Revolution 00G Blue U-13s coach Jonita Hooker speaks to one of her players at the 2013 Capital Fall Classic.

+READ: Good job, good effort – really?

Even if you are a USSF A-licensed coach, do not coach on the sidelines unless you are the coach of that particular team. Instead, stick to basic encouragement and cheering. Did you find out (after engaging your kid in the development process) that your child is working on mastering a specific move during training, or building confidence in using their left foot? If you see them do that in a game, go crazy and let them know you saw them try it.

5. They analyze the game with their player afterwards

What is your postgame ritual with your child? Do you start analyzing the game and what your player did right or wrong before you even get in the car? Believe me – your child knows what they did wrong. If they don’t, it’s likely their coach or a teammate has already told them.

The best thing you can say to your player after a game is how much fun you had watching them. If they engage you in a postgame talk, go for it. But instead of a full-game analysis, try picking out some things they did in the game that you know he or she has been working on.

By | December 10, 2014 | 63 Comments | Tags: , , ,

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  1. soccerdad says:

    This is great but does not address the fact that 75% of the ussf licensed “coaches” are terrible and when you engage your child they arent sure what is being worked on or why. When practice is moitored you see canned drills downloaded from the internet with little actual coaching or explanation. Child is confused on the field because there is no coaching. If all kids were being coached by great coaches then I would agree with this 100% but that is not reality. In fact the worst coaches would be the biggest supporters of this because they could continue being terrible and get no push back from the parents who are paying big money for coaching… rememver that before you comment Amen or some other ignorant blindly affirming statement.

    • Martin Wulf says:

      Nor does it address the fact the 99% the kids playing soccer
      are nowhere near as good as their parents think they are, nor ever will be…and of course, this is always the fault of terrible coaching…

      I am not saying bad coaching doesn’t exist nor that we
      shouldn’t seek to improve the coaching in this country; I just don’t think we should do so by encouraging, ignoring or justifying bad parenting….

      Remember your kids JUST want to have fun playing soccer…so
      many parents lose sight of that fact…

      • soccermom#6 says:

        Everyone says kids play sports to have fun. Can someone describe what exactly that means? What is exactly having fun in travel soccer?

        • Martin Wulf says:

          Playing the game…playing good, competitive games… playing good competitive games, minus the drama, the yelling and screaming, the life and death attitude regarding winning, the venom spewed at refs, the undue pressure to play prefect, mistake-free soccer, the blatant treatment of your child’s soccer “career” as an investment that MUST reap future returns…

          All of that is self-centered, entitled parents doing their best to ruin the FUN….and far too often succeeding….

        • JustAParent says:

          Such a broad brush you paint with. My boys would actually tell you that practice/training are fun, overnight trips are fun, playing/training with kids that are not in their schools or part of their regular circle of friends is fun.

          PS, as a parent I am going to bet my kids are not going to be as good or near as good at anything in their life as I think they are but that is why they are my kids and I am their parent. I hope they think the same of me.

        • soccermom#6 says:

          I am agreeing with you. And those coaches who say parents ought not be heavily involved, I say if I don’t stand up for my kids who will? Coaches are human and they do make mistakes. A good one admits. A bad one blames the players and parents.

        • Martin Wulf says:

          It’s not that parents shouldn’t be heavily involved, it’s
          that they would be appropriately involved…parental involvement is critical to a child’s development as a soccer player and a person…

          Unfortunately, “standing up for my kids” all too often
          translates into horrible unsportsmanlike and unnecessary behavior by, I am sure, well-meaning parents…

        • NotSure says:

          Problem #1: You believe you need to stand up for your kids. Silently define what that statement means to you. Almost all of that is negative. Besides, who else will stand up for your kids? Your coach will, if you let him/her. However, if you’re so busy hovering that you never allow someone else to handle it in a manner other than 100% the way you would do it, you will never learn this and certainly never come to appreciate it.

        • Martin Wulf says:

          You are absolutely right…all of that is fun as well…and in no way did I mean to diminish or ignore that fun…I am well aware of off-game enjoyment my children get just by being with their teammates, friends, and hopefully family….

          But with all due respect, I wasn’t painting with a broad brush, I was painting with a specific one…much of fun you refer to can be had independent of the sport in question…the question was why is travel soccer fun, not why is
          travel sports in general fun…why travel soccer is fun has to begin with playing the actual game itself…

          If playing soccer isn’t the primary fun, then that secondary fun, could and probably should be found elsewhere…

        • JustAParent says:

          Why? Training,both on and off the pitch, competing against yourself, teammates as well as other teams happen to be fun to my kids. With some exceptions the games are actually secondary. Ask your kids sometime if they actually hear or more importantly listen to what comes from sidelines, either positive or negative? Laughing at what parents, and sometimes coaches, say is part of their fun.

          The kids themself it appears are never given the benefit of the doubt. Quite honestly no one except the child/parent have any idea of what motivates that child to play soccer, what their goals (whether realistic or as you said in 99% of the time not)..at a certain point to have fun while playing the game becomes a given.

          I agree with your earlier take that competitive games should be part of the fun. Some, to probably stereotype, those with long term goals, tend to find a hard fought loss fun. Others seem to flourish and relish in a landslide win. The appearance is that is fun to them.

          I believe, but honestly don’t know for sure, but I think that was the original point of mom#6 asking for definition of fun. It’s been as different for everyone of my kids so I can only imagine what it is like on an 18 person roster.

          We all learn and evolve hopefully. We make mistakes with the oldest child that we hope we learn from. It takes about three minutes on a sideline of a game to figure out, in most cases, who has their first child on the field and who is down the line.

        • Martin Wulf says:

          I guess when I say “playing soccer” I would include training was well or just kicking the ball against a wall by themselves for that matter…the point being “soccer” is the main aspect and origin of fun being on a soccer team; no kid is going to stick with any sport they are not actually having fun playing…yes, that probably should be a given, but unfortunately it isn’t or is quickly forgotten…to be replaced by winning, being on the “right” team or club, or meeting some developmental benchmark on the all consuming path to “scholarship”…

          Yes, sideline comments and behavior is quite laughable, until isn’t… something that can go so quickly from funny to quite ugly shouldn’t be brushed off so lightly…

    • NotSure says:

      lol @ “canned drills downloaded from the internet”!! Yes, of course, every coach needs to reinvent the wheel. They should never use anything anyone else used before, even if those methods were tested and proved successful numerous times by countless people far smarter than you and I. To be fair, if you are surrounded by bad coaches, you are part of the problem and here’s why: You think every coach is terrible (regardless of whether or not that is accurate since you lack the requisite knowledge to make that assessment) and/or you have not attained the requisite knowledge to be the best coach in the area, training more in your wake, thus alleviating the burden of terrible coaches for all kids in the area and/or you have not moved your kid(s) to clubs where there are better coaches because you lack the interest, inclination, or resources to drive a few more minutes to benefit your kids’ soccer hobby and/or you actually think your kid is good and being held down by terrible coaches when, in reality, your kid is terrible and coaches (regardless of their skill level) can’t do nothing for ya, man.

  2. handsoffmytea says:

    I often liken a kids sporting event to a recital. Imagine your child learning twinkle little star and performing it in front of an audience. Now,insert the audience with soccer parents. Imagine booing the musician,screaming out notes,flying out of their seats on good notes and chastising the teacher for bad notes.right there,while the action is going on. It seems unthinkable. I have had kids in every sport it seems and the most vile parents are soccer parents. Just saw a ref throw out a coach during a u7 game yesterday. Imagine being thrown out of a game for language while you are coaching first graders. People who think this is the “everyone gets a trophy” era have not witnessed childrens soccer. Its the “rip his head off” era. Parents,who kbow the least about the sport have the most to say to players and referees but when it comes to approaching their coaches,it seems they would rather sit on the sidelines and gossip. Articles like this are written for a reason: to keep kids interested in a game that many are leaving by age 12 just to get their parents to treat them right.

  3. Smean Smoyer says:

    With apologies for not already being in step with the spirit of the age governing (youth) sports, are these mistakes absolutes, no matter the coach or circumstance, and no matter the player’s age, sex, experience level, and play/competition ethic? For instance, is #4 inviolable even if the coach doesn’t do any observable coaching during the games, or if the coach’s necessarily divided attention means he won’t catch some coachable moments? What if parents or the league culture is so into building self esteem that coaches don’t dare criticize or correct a player openly?
    I want the world to be as tidy and affirming as the warnings against these “mistakes” aim to make it, but it’s not. Will our kids hearing nothing but our attaboys from the sidelines move the world closer to that ideal? Did kids and teams in bygone years never benefit both immediately and long term (even if we were also embarrassed, but only immediately) from having a parent/friend/sibling/teammate yell the equivalent of “Get the lead out!” or “You’re being flanked!”
    As a young athlete I more often gave it my all and less often committed repeat blunders because someone besides just my coach was paying attention and yelling some combination of encouragements and admonishments. As an old dad who doesn’t relish but still needs folks around who care enough to risk offending me with their (constructive) criticism, am I just glossing over the emotional harm and athletic disservice done to all children by them ever being reproved from the stands? Is any parent who ever barks at his/her own kid automatically offending 21st century parenting sensibilities or even violating an age old rule of love? It feels like that, but I still can’t tell where my conscience and approach may need to be softened versus where our parenting and spectating culture may have gone too soft.

    • Beau says:

      It’s not 21st century. John Wooden, who won his share of basketball games, did very little in-game coaching. He did it in practice.

      • Ed says:

        Wooden also coached college kids.

      • rkmid71 says:

        Wooden was as competitive as anyone… and he heckled opposing players. Read his book.

      • KatrinTulev says:

        I think it’s great you are giving support!
        I’ve just come up with this question about offering guidance from the sidelines because of my sons game and all the instruction he was receiving: coach, parent and three grandparents.
        I see him stop what he’s doing, no longer focusing on the ball, and listen to the instructions.
        Personally, I think the middle of a game is not the time for instruction, only positive reinforcement when the player does what they’ve been working on.
        It’s just not the right time, I think one on one guidance is more productive. Though, I think it’s great my son is supported by so many! I just think instruction from the sidelines takes the phone out of the game and doesn’t allow him to listen to his coach or allow for self instruction. I think it’s akin to work, how would I perform if I had multiple bosses telling me what I should do, or if I had one boss and myself.
        I just am not sure how to share that with my family without hurting their feelings or making them feel like their precense isn’t appreciated…

    • Joe Smoe says:

      Smean Smoyer I agree with you. There is no time like the immediate moment to point out certain issues (not ALL issues). Coaches who do not instruct at all during a game are not coaching. There are coaches who over coach, but there are coaches who should be replaced for not doing enough. On some of the most competitive teams, there are knowledgeable soccer parents on the sidelines talking top players. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it causes problems. I have also been asked by my little MESSI to tell other parents not to talk to them while playing.

      There is a balance between too little and too much. Both are wrong.

      • Martin Wulf says:

        And I never met/seen a parent who could maintain that
        balance…either they say nothing, which you deem wrong….or they yap and scream their fool head off all match, which I deem much worse…balance is a pipedream; something loud mouth, know it all, self-absorbed,entitled parents tell themselves to justify their bad sideline behavior. You should listen to and take to heart what your little Messi is telling you…

      • MM4321 says:

        I have 3 kids who play, and also play “mom soccer” in a ladies’ league. I can tell you, the last thing I want during my games is for a spectator (which is what the parents should be) to be yelling at me in the name of “coaching” or “helping.” I have enough to think about and it does not help! My family comes to my games sometimes and it makes me nervous enough just knowing they are there. If they start telling me what to do, I’d be confused AND mortified.

        Early on I’m sure I was as guilty of anyone of sideline coaching, but playing soccer myself has confirmed that it absolutely, positively is not a good thing. :-)

      • NotSure says:

        Classic parent mentality, that you are the arbiter of what is too little or too much. If you don’t like what the coach is doing, don’t sabotage what they’re doing, ether fire him/her or take your little Messi and find another team. There are plenty out there. It’s a bit ironic, really. If you were more qualified than the coach, meaning you would know enough to have a valid opinion about their coaching methodology, you would also know enough to check yourself about how wrong you are.

    • NotSure says:

      Training is the classroom. Outside practice is homework. The game is the test. Please read the article again because you missed one of the main points. That this mentality is so prevalent, that coaches need to not only catch but address every single coachable moment, is the exact problem. It is not a video game and all that screaming is not helping anyone.

      The best case scenario is that you take agency away from the players, kill their decision making abilities, stunt their creative growth, and prevent them from developing their own sense of ownership of their play. At worst, you do all that AND overload the players with information that forces them to make mistakes and get frustrated enough to quit playing entirely because, no matter what they do, someone is always yelling at them. That’s not much fun. Imagine being on the other side of that–maybe you don’t have to, maybe your work environment is like that. Now imagine that’s how you’re treated when you’re doing something that’s supposed to be fun.

      The other thing is, sometimes, a coach is intentionally not yelling at his/her players. Just a few reasons are:

      -1- S/he wants to see if the player has retained the information given to them previously in training and before the game (see article point #4).

      -2- The player is having a really bad day, maybe even playing hurt, and yelling at a player doing their best (yet continuing to fail) is not helping that player build confidence. Neither does pulling that player out every single time (see article point #1).

      -3- It’s counterproductive. If you’re constantly yelling the entire match, your voice becomes white noise and people tune you out. At the same time, if parents are constantly shouting instructions, you are asking one coach to yell over 20-100 people to give critical, time-sensitive information AND you are expecting your kid to hear that single voice through all of the others, absorb it, and perform it within milliseconds (because, if it wasn’t already too late to start doing it, the coach wouldn’t have needed to say anything at all).

      To be honest, I could go on for a while but can we all just agree that you may or may not be well-meaning but you probably don’t know what you’re talking about and are, objectively, doing everything coaches’ agree is NOT helping anyone involved. Said another way, let me do my job, my way. If you don’t like it, fire me. Until then, quiet down and enjoy the game dad.

    • JohnP says:

      My son, a very good soccer player, just quit the game because he was getting sick of all of the nonsense – especially from the parents who knew nothing about soccer (very, very few do) – but constantly screaming to do this or that. At some point, the fun comes out for the kids and listening to adults criticize, put too much emphasis on winning and generally try to constantly satisfy their own egos – gets old for kids. And, yes, there should be very little coaching in the game situation. Coaching is done in training – the game is the test to see how effective the training is. Screaming instructions at kids during the game does nothing but distract the player.

    • KatrinTulev says:

      As far as your own thoughts on whether we’ve gone to soft as a society… Maybe. Lol.
      Though I still think instruction from the sidelines can be saved for a later time. Kind of like when a kid is drawing, we can encourage the good and possibly ways to improve. Or sometimes just ways to improve if they truly didn’t try. Lol. But, that’s still after… Not during. We wouldn’t tell them while they’re drawing… Color that green, that’s outside the line, that’s missing this or that… Because then we’d be preventing them from getting the chance to experience for themselves and make their own decisions and make their own mistakes and learn from them. More likely they’d quite drawing and just let the parent do it.
      Though too, my son has a good coach, when he was done with his game he said, you kicked it three times, next game kick it ten times.

  4. Smaul Smotter says:

    Thanks and great article – succinct on and point. Especially the cheer part…parents only really say something after something helpful and not during play, as in “good dribbing!” and not “go get that ball”

  5. soccermom#6 says:

    @whereismyweekend: I am not trying to undermine the value of training. Trust me I know its importance. What I am trying to train is a player who works hard in training should be allowed to play to test his/her learning in game situation. You can’t get better sitting on the bench. The only way to get better is playing in games, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. With that I rest my arguments. There is never an ideal situation in the world of sports. A lot of buts and ifs. So better we all take a deep breath and let things play out.

  6. Jim Paglia says:

    As a longtime coach from college D1 to youth, high school and even a stint with a pro team, I look to establish a relationship with the parents and maintain a dialogue throughout a season and often, in the offseason.

    When my own kids played I maintained the standards this article suggests. I left the coaching to their actual coaches, even if I didn’t always agree.

    It’s sad and alarming to me that a parent feels entitled to challenge a coach because they view their child’s soccer as an investment. It points to a parent who is adversarial as opposed to sincerely advocating in partnership with the coach in the best interest of the player. Usually, newer coaches are at the same point in their development as the skill level they are coaching.

  7. Crazy Soccer Parent says:

    According to this article, it seems that regardless of the quality of guidance by the current coaching staff, they are off the hook and not a factor in this formula of mistakes. I mean absolutely no offense to the coaches out there when I say that they are extremely far from being an expert at what they do. Most “coaches” have evolved into their role position that they hold. Usually stemming early on at a pee-wee league and roped into further responsibility. On top of that they hold a full time job, which in most cases is not soccer related and has a family to take care of. Again, I appreciate these unsung and unpaid heroes; however in time the parents will recognize faults and weaknesses in their coaching and this is where they will attempt to correct those issues with dialog, both on and off of the field. The level of unwanted supplemental coaching by the parents will be directly correlated with the perceived competiveness level of the team. Meaning, that parents are more invested at the higher levels and are constantly monitoring their return on investment and are more prone to speak out if they believe that their child is not moving in the right direction.
    The solution would be good communication and plenty of it from all that are involved, without it there will inevitably be a breakdown.

    • Soccer Dad says:

      I tend to agree with this comment in that most of these types of articles act as coaches are perfect and that parents and players should accept everything the coach says without question. Because these articles are written by coaches or technical directors, it serves their interests to believe that the only things parents should do is to write the checks, drive the car and then clap for their child. Because they know their children the best, and also because of the time and money they’re investing, parents should stay involved in their children’s development, and coaches should respect that. Certainly, there are cases of parents stepping over the line, becoming too critical or involved, but then how many coaches are perfect either.

      As for the specifics of this article, as the prior comment suggests, communication is key and at least three of those “mistakes” would be alleviate through good communication between a coach and the team, including the parents.

      • Toni says:

        As a mother myself I appreciate where both above comments are coming from, HOWEVER, both are pointing the finger at the ambiguous idea of coaches not being perfect. News flash, no one is. And while I do agree that the spread-too-thin-parent-coach is often under qualified and in over their head (therefor warranting such encouragement and coaching from the stands), an article like this will likely only be written by those full time professional coaches that devote their life and focus to the subject. No, they still aren’t perfect, but neither am I I my job or you in your job. And I sure as heck don’t deserve nor want someone shouting over my shoulder messing up the progress and hard work I’ve put in all week.

        That being said, if you as parents want the level of coaching that you can rely on and trust, then be willing to pay so that your child can be coached by a full time staff. What is it that they say? … Oh right, you can’t have your cake still, and eat it too.

      • Ken S says:

        I also totally agree with the comment on play time. We joined a club that swelled to 20+ players after being told it would be a smaller team. While the club cash increased, play time went in the other direction. At a young age (under 16 – under 17?) kids shouldn’t be sitting on the bench. If they are interested enough to go to practices and not sit around watching TV instead, they should be in the game, not sitting on a bench. And the damage to talking to your kid after the game causes far less developmental damage that struggling through why a coach decides a few extra bucks is worth permanently damaging your child’s self esteem by sitting him on the bench for more than half a game. Let’s get real here.

        • wheresmyweekend says:

          “permanently damaging your child’s self esteem”…a bit dramatic no? Unless they are the only game in town, go somewhere else. More likely though, if you child is not playing that much, it is because they are not as talented as their teammates or not working as hard in training. Many parents refuse to believe that. If its a competitive squad and your child aspires to play in college – where squads are often 25-30 players – they need to focus on the training part. Most/all coaches will tell you, you get better at training not games…

        • soccermom#6 says:

          Agree. Cash flow is one reason why squad swells to that size. And to the comment by “whereismyweekend” below, wonder if he/she knows enough about the game to say that you learn in training. So most kids be practice players at 15, 16, 17 yrs old? Training is good but different from game situations where split second decisions are made and game intelligence grows only if player plays competitively. No one learns that by just training and sitting on the bench. This example is like going to school to learn but never getting tested on that learning in an exam. So please stop talking rubbish.

        • wheresmyweekend says:

          talking rubbish? its all about touches. how will you be able to make that split second decision if you haven’t tried a similar technique 50 times in training/pick up games. There’s a reason that 3 or 4 to 1 is the preferred training to games ratio.

  8. British trainer in DMV says:

    Perfect “The best thing you can say to your player after a game is how much fun you had watching them. If they engage you in a postgame talk, go for it. But instead of a full-game analysis, try picking out some things they did in the game that you know he or she has been working on.”

  9. Love this, thank you. My thoughts exactly, just put down much more elegant. Thank you again.

  10. Great article. I wrote one similar to this and I think we are on the same page.

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