(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 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.)
I am a parent who has loved soccer prior to having children. I was saying the same thing to my husband and my boys' coaches recently. How can our children develop creativity with the ball, if both the coach and the parent are constantly telling their child what to do? Give them the skills they need and then let them play!
I think at young ages, especially, that there is too much emphasis on WINNING. It is my opinion that the young ones should be taught the foot skills intensively, and develop passing, and even formation to some extent later (several years later). It is so easy to teach passing and formation (which they are probably doing naturally to some extent), especially when the kids have already played the game for a while. Who cares if they win, as long as they are gaining those skills which will take them farther in the long run, AND are having FUN!
Thanks so much for this article - I'm trying to think of a tactful way I can share it with our teams' coaches and parents.
In addition to being inherently fun to play, soccer offers children a development opportunity that is not available in any other sport and that, if exploited, will be invaluable in adult life, to wit, making decisions and dealing with the consequences of those decisions.
Thank you for your words. I watched a 11 year old boy leave a game today in tears because of what a person on the sideline was screeming at him. I will share this artical with the boy and our team. Thank you again. You may not win every game but you never lose if you aree willing to learn.
Mr. Woitalla, I am happy you wrote this article and hope that many kids (and adults) can read it. I, too, used to coach from the sidelines when my son was in intramural. I stopped when I realized that instead of thinking about the game he was thinking about what I had said which of course impaired his ability to play the game. Coaching from the sidelines was especially rich in my case seeing that I played soccer once a year as a child and knew so little about it. My son has turned into quite a good little player since then which proves that, like quitting smoking, it's never to late to reverse the damage done by excessive sideline coaching.