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For Kids Only ...
by Mike Woitalla, September 2nd, 2011 3:09AM
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TAGS:  youth boys, youth girls


(With fall soccer starting around the country, the Youth Soccer Insider republishes this article, which first appeared in September 2009.)

This column is for the kids. Adults can stop reading now.

By Mike Woitalla

Dear Soccer-Playing Children of America,

The fall season is underway and I'm hoping you're having a great time. I'm hoping that you're playing soccer more than you have to stand in line and do drills.

I hope you're falling in love with the soccer ball and keep it with you as much as you can. Juggling it. Kicking it against a wall. Dribbling it around in your backyard.

And I especially hope that your parents aren't screaming at you during your soccer games.

I worry that you probably do get yelled at, because that's what I see at almost all the youth soccer games I go to. Hopefully you just ignore it. But I don't blame you if it bothers you.

No one enjoys getting screamed at. Sure, if you start crossing the street on a red light or throw a toy at your little sister or brother, your parents are justified in raising their voices. But they shouldn't scream at you while you're playing a game.

If they do, it doesn't mean they're bad people. But, unfortunately, sports does something to adults that makes them behave in ways they usually wouldn't.

You may have noticed this if you watched sports on TV. A coach, for example, dresses up in a fancy suit and throws tantrums like a 3-year-old.

Get adults around sports and all of a sudden they forget the same manners they try to teach you. In a way, sports are like driving. A grown-up gets behind the wheel and all of a sudden forgets you're not supposed to pick your nose in public.

And when grown-ups go watch their children play soccer, they, for some reason, think it's OK to scream like maniacs. Perhaps they don't realize what they're doing. Like the nose-pickers on the freeway who think they've suddenly gone invisible.

I hope you're able to block out all the sideline noise. But maybe you do hear their shouts. Telling you when to shoot the ball, when to pass it. Ignore all that!

You need to dribble the ball. Try to dribble past players. If you're dribbling too much, your teammates will let you know. And they'll help you make the decision of when to pass and when to dribble.

You decide when to shoot. When you're dribbling toward the goal and the goalkeeper is 20 yards away, and the adults are screaming at you to shoot, don't pay attention. Because if you get closer to the goal, it will be harder for the goalkeeper to stop your shot.

One of the really cool things about my job is that I get to interview the best coaches in America. And you know what the national team coaches tell me? They say young players are far more likely to become great players if they're allowed to make their own decisions when they play soccer.

They say that coaches should coach at practice, and when it's game time, it's time for the children to figure things out on their own. It's like at school. The teachers help you learn. Your parents may help you with homework. But when you get a test, you're on your own.

That's just an analogy. I'm not saying soccer is school! Soccer is your playtime.

I hope you have lots of playtime, on the soccer field and elsewhere. But I bet that you don't have as much time playing without adults around as we did when we were children.

When we were kids we had summer days when we would leave the house in the morning, be only with other children all day, then see our parents when we got back in the late afternoon.

Things have changed. The reasons adults are much more involved in your activities than they were when they were children are complicated, and a result of your parents' good intentions.

But sometimes we adults forget how important it is for you to play without us interfering. We love watching you play, especially on the soccer field, because it is such a wonderful sport. But we need to be reminded that it's your playtime.

You should decide. Ignore the shouts if you can. But don't be afraid to say, "I'm trying my best. Please, don't scream at me."

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at

  1. cony konstin
    commented on: September 2, 2011 at noon
    HI Mike I love your message. Let The Children Play. It is also a wonderful Santana song.
  1. Rick Figueiredo
    commented on: September 2, 2011 at 12:12 p.m.
    Great article Mike.
  1. David Hardt
    commented on: September 2, 2011 at 1:11 p.m.
    My mantra about youth soccer has been, since running a small youth club in Wisconsin for 10 years, "the trouble with youth soccer is the adults."
  1. Ya Cony
    commented on: September 2, 2011 at 6:08 p.m.
    Parents are not the great Satan. My experience while attending many hundreds of games and practices at the elite, ODP and high school levels is that perhaps 10 percent of the parents behave badly. Most parents sacrifice a great deal of time, energy and money helping their kids play soccer. Most teach their kids many lessons about time management, nutrition, working hard to achieve life goals, and how to deal with triumph and disappointment. Lacking dense population centers with long cultural histories of soccer, U.S. youth soccer desperately needs its parents. I would put the percentage of youth and high school soccer coaches who behave inappropriately much higher than the parents. I’ve seen far too many coaches teaching kids to win at the expense of player development and health, to scream at the referees and opposing team, and to value brute strength and speed over soccer skills. Further, I’ve seen far too few coaches improve their coaching skills by getting coaching licenses, reading books, watching other coaches and teams, or by just thoughtfully considering what’s best for their kids and the game of soccer. Does Coach Woitalla deserve this comment for his article? Probably not. Does the U.S. youth soccer establishment? Absolutely. Youth soccer and ODP need to get past blaming players’ parents for all the wrongs.
  1. cony konstin
    commented on: September 3, 2011 at 2:41 a.m.
    Ya Cony---There is a place where heaven and earth meet. It is call Tahuichi. No parents and very little coaching. It is a sanctuary where kids can just play till their hearts are content. This is the environment that kids need. The adults just get in the way and usually ruin everything. Without Tahuichi I would have nothing. That is what a good friend of mine told me once. He was 100% right. Every time I go back I now that I am going back to shangrili. Soccer in America is a Hobby a nice thing to do. Just let the children play. Haven't we ruin enough things for them.
  1. Oz LatinAmerican
    commented on: September 5, 2011 at 9:11 p.m.
    Adults should not yell at kids and tell them what to do, they can't listen to you anyway.When I used to play, our coach used to tell us what to do before the game, explain everything to us, and when then the game starts we couldn't remember anything. Just because the game changed from what we were supposed to be doing, than you just act from your instinct.
  1. Jon Doar
    commented on: September 30, 2011 at 3:15 p.m.
    Yes to all the above. Great article too. I am from the UK now in the USA and it's interesting to see how most kids in the UK get so much more time for 'street games'. Once the players can calmly and fairly police their own games - for the pure pleasure of playing - the real player development starts - all by itself! Ya Cony - you are right. Parents do need to be recognized as the facilitators they are. Parent doesn't like coach, kid don't play soccer. Simple. The parents have to be involved. But whose game is it? Not the ref's, not the parents or the coaches. The game belongs to the players. Their play is a response to what the see and feel out on the field. The coach's job is to hone and refine skills and focus BEFORE games. Games belong to players. With younger players, it sure helps to keep them focused, but beyond a few simple reminders, instructions and chastising have no place in their games - except in moderation between the players. It is a team sport after all. My 9 year old son might as well be pulled off the field as soon as people start yelling. He doesn't know who is yelling at who, and within a short time, he disconnects from the game and it's a downward spiral from then.

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