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For Kids Only ...
by Mike Woitalla, September 5th, 2013 12:10AM

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TAGS:  youth boys, youth girls

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(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've 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 Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper, and More Than Goals with Claudio Reyna. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)



12 comments
  1. Kent James
    commented on: September 5, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.
    Okay, I'll admit it. I'm an adult and I read the column anyway. I certainly agree with it, but you probably should have included something like: "Try to respect the referees. They will certainly miss things, and make calls that you don't agree with, but, like you, they are doing the best they can. And you will have more fun by focusing on the things you can control (the ball) than the things you can't (the decisions of the referee). Besides, the game is no fun when everyone is screaming at the referee, and, as you probably understand, being screamed at does not usually help the referee do a better job."

  1. barbara jesberger-mcintosh
    commented on: September 5, 2013 at 12:40 p.m.
    What a great article!!! I loved it. So true every sentence that was written. I hope that some of these crazy parents wake up!!! Thank you for a wonderful insight and observation of some rude and destructive behavior that turns our kids away from soccer!!!!

  1. James Madison
    commented on: September 5, 2013 at 5:10 p.m.
    Bravo, Mike! Better the children tell their parents to stop distracting them than coaches. I confess that my recovery as a "shoutaholic" began when my U-16 captain came up to me during a half-time interval and said to my face, "Coach, if you would shout less, we would play better."

  1. 0 M
    commented on: September 5, 2013 at 6:12 p.m.
    Confusing message. Organized games are not a kid's playtime. They are a time for formal learning to take place. Pickup games and other unorganized games are a time for informal learning. Please do not confuse the two. Both are important.

  1. David V
    commented on: September 7, 2013 at 12:13 a.m.
    We need the Coaches to.... help us out. I can't tell you how many parents coach from the sidelines and they coach not only their kids but other kids... I'm quiet so my kids get the bad coaching from parents that think they know what they're talking about. We need coaches to tell the ENTIRE team's families not to coach their kids or other kids from the sidelines... and to only shout encouragement such as "great turn", "way to be strong", "win it"... I can't tell you how many times I hear them say to pass, pass, pass, or to shoot, when all it does is hinder the kids

  1. Lona K
    commented on: September 7, 2013 at 7:55 a.m.
    Mike, I have been saying this for the past 30 years about coaching during the week and on game day its like taking a test. Also, the US develops very few creative players because coaches train players like robots. I like you as a child played games without parental oversight. Today, a child will not go to the park or a neighbors yard and play a pick up game. They don't master creativity.

  1. c p
    commented on: September 9, 2013 at 11:25 a.m.
    While I understand where Mr Woitalla is coming from, I also feel this is a very one-sided view of what really goes on. There is a HUGE difference between screaming negative criticism at the children....vs......taking an active approach in your children's learning......in school, life lessons or 'street smarts' if you will, and yes, sports! Personally, I find nothing wrong with reminding my child to 'spread out' or 'kick it to the side' in between cheers of encouragement for BOTH teams.....as we do teach our kids good sportsmanship as well:) Like I said, I DO understand the point of this article, and yes, this IS for the kids to have a great recreational experience....at the the same time....I don't like the idea of allowing the 'extremists'....(yelling, discouraging the kids, arguing with the refs/coaches).....represent all enthusiastic, involved parents....and take away our basic parenting rights.

  1. Brian Something
    commented on: September 10, 2013 at 11:39 a.m.
    The subtitle of this article could easily be: dear adults, act like adults.

  1. Brian Something
    commented on: September 10, 2013 at 11:40 a.m.
    CP-The problem is that parents who are too active prevent their child from learning things on his/her own. Then the child isn’t actually learning a skill set. The child is learning how to follow instructions. The age group I coach most often is 11-13 yo and far too often, I see players who will beat a defender and then slow down and have no idea what to do. This is because in all their training prior, mommy/daddy/coachy would tell them what to do after they beat a defender so they never figured these things out themselves. And I make a point of not barking out step-by-step instructions DURING the situation. Overactive parents/coaches can harm learning, whether it be academic or sporting or musical if they are not careful. As an earlier commenter pointed out, you can help a kid with his homework (again help, not do it for him), but you can’t help him on a test. Practices (both formal and informal) are homework. Games are tests.

  1. Brian Something
    commented on: September 10, 2013 at 11:43 a.m.
    And I've often seen kids actually stop in the middle of a game to argue with a parent/coach barking instructions at him or bellowing "Why did you do/not do that?". Instruction is important but the timing of that instruction is just as important. Bad timing can make things worse, just like bad content or tone.

  1. Erin Silks
    commented on: September 21, 2013 at 6:53 p.m.
    This is excellent, thank you! With the young kids I coach, I am trying to develop confidence on the ball and it's hard for kids to take someone on and keep the ball at their feet when their parents are yelling at them to clear it or shoot it. If they can be given the room to take chances and try new things, it will only help them as soccer players in the long run. The kids have a coach who can give them any direction they need - sometimes trying to coach this style parents think that we're not doing our job and they need to help out, but they're really usually confusing the kids and muddying the message. We aren't tell them to shoot or pass for a reason - we want them to decide on their own. It's terribly tempting for parents to fill in that "silence" with their own commands... but if you resist and let the kids learn, you'll be rewarded down the road. By all means be involved - cheer! We want enthusiastic, involved parents. Just not parents who are coaching from the sideline :) Your kids need your support more than anything. They really do.

  1. Erin Silks
    commented on: September 21, 2013 at 6:55 p.m.
    OM - it's the coach's job to do the teaching. So while formal games aren't playtime, they're also much more effective as a learning tool when the coach does the coaching and the parents do the cheering. If the coach *isn't* doing the coaching and the kids aren't getting anything out of games, that's another issue entirely :)


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