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.


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. Christen says:

    I enjoyed this article. – has a lot of great points. I wish I woul have read this article a year ago! Really liked the first; be brave , take a chance. My daughter plays so much by the rules & master skills she doesn’t take a chance. I don’t pick at her – like the article stated “they already know what they’ve done. I just want her to take a chance. How do I say that to her. I don’t want to become one of those soccer parents who coach from the side lines. My daughter would & has the skills to play during her college years. She plays it’s safe (to a point) Her words ” I don’t want to be a ball hog or a showboat.
    Sorry for ALL the babble!

  2. Gem says:

    RE: #4 They coach and cheer for the wrong things on game day

    My child who just turned 10 has been involved in team sports like baseball, basketball, and soccer since he was seven. Based on my experience and observation, baseball and basketball coaches are more involved during practice and games. These coaches teach the fundamentals and we see a lot of improvement in our child at the end of each season. Basketball coaches give instructions during games and why they should pass and why they should block. Baseball coaches have miraculously improved the hitting and catching skills of my child. They shout instructions on why they have to throw to first base or what to do when someone is stealing the base. None of my child’s basketball and baseball coaches had asked parents to stop shouting instructions to their child.

    Soccer coaches are another breed. I think that soccer coaches are the only coaches that don’t coach during the game, or minimally if they do. And they are the only ones adamant on asking the parents not to shout instructions to the kids. I think this is why it is more obvious that parents are coaching on the sidelines. I’ve talked to parents from other organizations and they also have issues with soccer coaches. Soccer is the only sport that we pay a lot of money on because the coaches are supposedly trained and licensed. Unfortunately, I think soccer coaches don’t have as much dedication and commitment to the development of the child. Maybe they think just because they practiced kicking and passing during practice, that the kids would automatically pass to an open team mate during the game. Maybe they think that the child who has been caught offside several times would remember that he was offside during the game. The kids are bunched together and are out of position but the coach does not automatically shout instructions. Maybe the soccer coaches think that the kids should have learned everything during practice. As a parent, I prefer that the soccer coaches continue their coaching/teaching during the game. I think soccer coaches should actively coach during the games maybe until the kids are 12 years old or whatever age they become independent thinkers. They are athletic and have skills but they need coaching during games.

    Luckily, I have not seen any ranting and raving parents on the sidelines in any of the games we have attended. I’ve heard a lot of shoot it or pass it from parents. I don’t see anything wrong with it because I think the soccer coach is not coaching. I see a lot more frustrated soccer parents, including myself, who see slow improvement in soccer.

  3. John Deever says:

    Loved #5. In my limited training as a youth coach, one thing I took away was NCITC: “No Coaching in the Car.” For most youth players, when the game is over, it’s time for ice cream or goofing off, or whatever else. YOU can think about the game in the car — but keep your mouth shut about it. The kid is over it. For me, anyway, this rule is harder to follow both as a coach and a parent than it seems. Our club tries to practice at all times the mantra, “I love watching you play.”

  4. YouthSoccerEvolution says:

    Great article, I would add that especially in the US, the parent has the biggest impact on the player’s development, not the coach. The player must first learn to love the game, that starts with a good environment at home.

  5. Holtb80 says:

    As a player through college nothing annoyed me more than my mom just saying you did great and good job. When I probably played one of my worst games or knew I wasn’t on top of things. The above is geared towards the kids who need to be handled with baby gloves. The kids who want to go on and succeed, at least in the sport of soccer, need to know what was wrong and what was right. You cannot get by on “good job”. Parents of a kid wanting to play higher than rec league need to know the dynamics of the game and work on them with their children, not pat them on the back for showing up.

  6. John Picou says:

    I need to remember #4 & 5. switching from the Coaching sideline to the parent sideline I is something i need to remember. I heard some coach somewhere say “I did all my talking and teaching at practice. This is time for them to play.”, good advice for a coach and even better for a parent. games are about fun. #realitycheck

  7. NotSure says:

    Wow. Wish I had seen this before typing the exact same thing long form. Could’ve saved some time. lol

  8. Bob woodward says:

    Love this article

  9. VA-703 says:

    The phasing out of kids in soccer is the same as any other sport. Its a pyramid. The bottom is always full of kids at the younger ages. As you funnel your way to the top, the space gets smaller and smaller.

    So why at U12 does it start taking effect in large numbers… Because its the middle of the pyramid. The space is starting to compress and there isn’t room for a lot of kids who are not playing at a certain level. Also, kids are turning into teenagers and their priorities change. So kids leaving their selected sport at this age is not surprising. Attributing this phenomenon to parents talking on the sidelines…doubt it…although some kids do leave their sports because of parent pressures. I understand the point.

    In respect to parents talking on the sideline, I agree with most points. However, I don’t like seeing a coach of younger players (up to U10 or so) standing quietly on the sidelines as their team performs poorly due to a lack of guidance. The coaches position of “Let them figure it out” is hard to grasp. In what other sport do they do this? What exactly do you want them to learn and figure out?

    Some say its a disservice to the kids for parents to “coach” from the sideline. I agree that negative vibes sent towards your kids during a game will always have an undesired effect. However, its also a disservice to the kids when the coach fails to guide his players during a game. Young kids learn in practice and in games…take advantage of this…its makes the kids better.

    Long story short, younger kids do not have the same cognitive skills as older kids. Even some kids of the same age are on different learning curves.

    Coaches need to coach and parents need to watch….but when the coaches don’t coach, some parents are going to talk.

    At the older age group, kids know what they are doing…so less coaching and parent talking occurs.

    We need to get away from this “Let the kids figure it out” mentality at the younger ages. Its counter-productive. Lets make a deal…you coach my kid and I’ll shut up…ok

    • soccermom#6 says:

      I like your sentiments. On the other hand, all it takes for the coach is to send an email to parents on what he focused in that week’s training and what he is expecting his/her players to do on the field, win or lose that would be great. One of my daughter’s coaches used to do that. Parents just shut up and watched kids perform on the pitch. Then you know Coach is actually interested in teaching and is also communicating with parents. Parents get all antsy when Coaches act all distant etc. Parents are the ones making the commitments so some respect is warranted.

      • NotSure says:

        If by distant, you mean, not hand-holding parents as much as they hand-hold their children, then yes, I agree with you. I have another revolutionary idea: why not have a conversation with your child or, better yet, attend training yourself and take some notes? Respect is earned so stop acting like someone owes you a weekly report and put in the effort to know what your kid is learning and doing (especially if you are paying exorbitant club fees).

    • Martin Wulf says:

      First, yes, parental coaching from the sidelines is merely one
      overt and obvious symptom of the underlying problem of undue parental pressure…

      When you say “teams performing poorly due to a lack of
      guidance”…do you mean losing? I find most parents define performing well or poorly based on the scoreboard…kick the ball long and run fast is “great” coaching to win U-little games…it’s also terrible coaching for actually developing good soccer players… many parents (not necessarily you) love this kind of coaching, because you know, it wins games, and winning games is what it’s all about…coaches at this level should be more trainer then actual coach; and the good one are…(traditionally defined) trainers care about developing good players; coaches care about winning and trophies….and so do most parents…

      Soccer is not a coach’s game…it is a player’s games…at any
      level, once the ball is kicked off, the coach has little impact on the outcome…a sign of good coaching is actually understanding this and not trying to micromanage their players on the pitch…which many parents incorrectly view as “not coaching”…

      I would love to believe this is primarily a coaching problem,
      but I don’t…good coach, bad coach, or indifferent….Parents who want to sideline coach their kids will always find or make-up an excuse to do so…

      • VA-703 says:

        Every sport is a “players game”. I challenge you to name one that isn’t. Yet, only in soccer is it believed that coaching during a game is a bad idea. Who came up with this concept? Its wrong on so many levels.

        Soccer is a easy sport. Its not as sophisticated as people will have you believe. All sports rely on INDIVIDUAL technical abilities and team tactical ability to achieve their purpose…which is to score.

        I don’t come from a soccer background. However, I’m knowledgeable enough to know a few things about younger age groups:

        #1: “Kickball”. You would be hard pressed to find ANYONE who advocates “kickball” in soccer. I presume by “Kickball” you are referring to kicking the ball with no real direction or purpose.

        Let me ask you this…have you ever witnessed a 10 year old quarterback throwing the ball in the opposite direction of the receiver over and over again, game after game, and not be corrected by the coach? The answer is probably no!

        Or have you ever witnessed a 10 year old baseball pitcher throw the ball into the outfield when the runner is going to 1st base, over and over again, game after game, and not be corrected by the coach? The answer is probably No!.

        Now, Have you ever seen a 10 year old soccer player kick the ball aimless into open space, over and over, game after game, and not be corrected by the coach? The answer is probably Yes!

        Now which scenario benefits the development of the kid?

        Now back to the matter at hand…..I agree that parents “instructing from the sidelines” is not a good thing….but some parents are going to do it especially if the coach is sitting there looking at his/her iphone and not engaged in the game because he/she has been instructed by his/her technical staff to watch and not coach.

        Again…I’m only referring to the younger age groups.

        • Martin Wulf says:

          Football is a coach’s game….with every single snap of the ball, the coach calls the play, sets lineups and formations …and when that isn’t enough to direct the flow of the game to his will, he actually stops the game (calls a timeout) in order to make darn sure his players know exactly what he wants and expects them to do…

          Football coaches interact with and effect the game constantly…this is universal, from PeeWee
          to the Pros…most football players don’t have to “think” beyond their limited and specific task or role…this isn’t to say football players are dumb, just that they don’t have to be football smart…that is what their coach is for…I am not saying football players can’t be football smart, just that it isn’t, in most cases, a pressing requirement…

          On the other hand, the flow and pace of soccer simply does not allow coaches to effectively or practically affect what is occurring on the field during the game. And attempting to do so is little more than window dressing; it’s for show, it’s glorified cheerleading…or in all too many cases, it’s for their ego…real coaching in soccer is done between games…

          Unlike football, all soccer players have to be soccer smart…soccer players have know what to do, at all times, whatever the situation, wherever they find themselves on the field, without the benefit of a coach telling, reminding or scripting everything out for them….the earlier players are taught this, and their parents understand this, the better off everyone is…

          No, Kickball is not aimlessly kicking the ball around with no purpose…Kickball is the specific tactic of kicking the ball long and hard toward your opponents goal with hope/intent that one of your players, using nothing but their speed, will track down the ball, bypassing all defenders, and score an easy 1v1 goal against the GK….this tactic can be highly effective in younger age groups at winning game and making parents happy…unfortunately is does very little to developed skilled and fundamentally sound soccer players…

          Your examples are not equivalent. Yes, I have seen young soccer players panic with the ball under their feet only to kick it away rather aimlessly…just as I have seen young QBs under pressure overthrow receivers…just as I have seen young baseball players struggle to accurately throw to first base…NONE of those issues are correctable in game! No amount of “instructing from the sidelines,” whether from coaches or parents, is going fix those problems, immediately, in the moment. None of those issues should warrant a parent yelling at their kids the equivalency of “YOU’RE MY KID, DO BETTER!”…. unfortunately, I
          see and hear it all the time…

        • VA-703 says:

          In the spirit of keeping an open mind, I agree with you Martin on your points that coaching soccer is different because of its fluidness. The remote controlling of an entire team in nearly impossible to accomplish under those circumstances…nor is it beneficial to the development of their decision making. The same for parents giving direction to their kid from the sidelines. In soccer, the kids must learn to make the decision on their own, without external input.

          With that said, I still feel that there is virtually no “education” going on between the coach and the kids. In order for a kid to truly develop mentally, its more important for them to know why then how.

          Coaches may teach their kids to pass, but rarely (again at the younger age) why they should pass and to whom they should pass to under certain circumstances.

          So, yes…soccer is fluid. So it must be taught in that context. Kids need to be put under scenarios based training in practice and given options to make decisions…and then corrected if need be. That’s how learning is truly done.

          Now, back to the subject at hand. I believe parents should be involved. However, I believe the involvement should take place at home in their backyard. Parents should help their child on their shortcomings…but on their own personal time.

          If parents don’t want to do this but still want to scream instructions on the sideline…well then they should scream at themselves for waiting to long.

          Here is a simple formula: Its the coaches job to teach, its the kids responsibility to learn, and its the parents responsibility to hold both accountable…..but then again, some parents don’t know how to make the right “decision” under pressure themselves. That’s why they scream.

        • Martin Wulf says:

          We are going have to agree to disagree on this point…at the youth levels, the how (skills) is far more important than the why (tactical understanding/awareness)…lacking tactic awareness can much more easily be made up for as they get older…lost ball time (touches), can never really be made up… knowing what to do is pointless if you lack the ball skills to execute that knowledge…

          Youth coaches (u10 and under) who takes valuable practice time teaching tactics, scenarios or set piece formations in lieu of skills drills, is failing his players…ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh…taking a few minutes to introduce such concepts is fine…but taking major practice time to work on something like corner kicks??? Biggest disservice and waste of time ever….

          Take two hypothetical freshmen soccer players. Player A has outstanding ball skills, but only so-so tactical understanding. Player B has so-so ball skills, but outstanding tactical understanding. Which one do you think makes the varsity squad? Which one do you think that High School coach is more excited to have? Which one do you think is more likely to be All-State and lead his team to victories and titles? I don’t know about you, but I am putting my money on Player A….and so would most coaches…Player B will have a much more difficult time taking his game to the next level then Player A…

          The teenage years is the right time to start formal tactical training, not U-littles…if they have any aptitude/love for the sport they will informally/naturally pickup much of what they need to know anyway; they will, undoubtedly, figure it out …what they didn’t, is easily filled in later…

        • Dutch Gillespie says:

          Sorry but you are wrong on this one MW at least at the ages this pertains 2. Kids need fuidance on the field from their coach. I coach a u11 competitive team and you still have to remind defenders not to turn the ball to the middle and to get their heads up and switch the ball. As far as coaches not being needed i make decisions all the time as to what formations to implement and who goes in what spot according to the flow of the game and what is needed to help my team to win and play soccer not kickball. Not having a big head at all but most parents do not know formations or what a triangle is.

          Each kid after i pull them off get told what they did right and wrong so they know for the next time they get subbed in and can effectively go out and perform said task. Parents are useful in helping with this as long as you tell them not to yell anything related to the gameplay or juat to reinforced what they hear you telling a certain child to do.

          Gameplay largly relies on my players but there are gametime calls that i have to make and enforce and things that are changed on the fly.

          I think each situation is unique and having played all sports except water polo and field hockey i can tell you the coach in soccer has more influence on the gameplay during the game than almost any other sport including football. If player line up incorrectly in football you cant correct them once they are set or its a penalty you can change the play and stuff like that but you do that in soccer as well by moving positions or changing formations. So really they are pretty close but i can get my players atgention easier in soccer than i can in football because there are no helmets blocking my voice.

        • MW says:

          I never said youth soccer coaches were unimportant or not needed…they are greatly needed to teach skills and fundamentals; they are not so needed to treat their players as chess pieces to be moved around a chessboard…employing and relaying too much on tactics to win games is not good youth soccer coaching imho…

          Reminding a kid who normally keeps his head, but occasionally doesn’t it, is fine…however, no amount of coaching during a game to a child who constantly keeps his head down is going to fix the problem in-game… reinforcing the normally good during a game is great; correcting the fundamentally bad, virtually impossible in-game…only in practice/training will that hope to happen…

          Teaching young defenders to never, never turn the ball to the middle is quite common, almost universal. It is tactic to minimize mistakes and help win games. Unfortunately, it also stunts thinking, field vision, and creatively…(i.e. player development)…I would agree taking the ball to the middle is usually a bad idea, but sometimes it’s the best and only place to take the ball, and players need to learn and see why that is in both cases…and not simply and unthinkingly follow a rule to always to do X with the ball. It is rule players will eventually have to unlearn…

          Picking the “perfect” formation and ordering players to switch the field or push up on defense, etc. aren’t nearly as important or impactful as many coach think….not to say YS coaches shouldn’t be doing these things
          (they certainly should), just don’t try and convince me or yourself, you’re the Bill Belichick of youth soccer…

        • elvis says:

          “you still have to remind defenders not to turn the ball to the middle”

          You sound like a typical joy sticking coach. Let the kids make their own decisions where and when to play the ball. Playing the ball toward the middle may be a good option, depending on what the player sees at any given moment. The turnovers I see in these scenarios are usually the result of a poor pass, poor (or no) communication or poor ball control. It’s not because playing the ball “in the middle” was a poor decision.

          “and to get their heads up and switch the ball”

          Be a teacher, not a teller. Telling a kid to “get his head up” during a game does nothing but distract him. Telling kids to switch the field during a game is not teaching them to recognize situations in which switching the field may be a good choice. Teach them, in training sessions, to recognize scenarios in which a switch might be appropriate, and how to execute the switch. And focus on the process, not the outcome.

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