Commentary

Six Reasons Parents Should Not Watch Practice

By Skye Eddy Bruce

The idea for this article struck me as I sat in my car after dropping off a carpool of girls to practice last week. I was scheduled to drive the carpool both ways and it made sense to stay at the fields for practice as the fields were 30 minutes from my house.

As I sat in my car at the sports complex that includes 12 turf fields -- I was witness to a long stream of players and parents marching off to training. It is a big complex and I understood that parents of the young players wanted to be sure their child made it to the proper field, so an escort to training was in order.

However, when I started noticing parents walking with older players, and parents carrying blankets to keep warm and one even carrying a portable heater -- it struck me that many of these parents were planning on hanging out on the sidelines for practice.

I know how rewarding it can be to watch your child practice and improve. As I watched from my car, the anticipation and excitement of many of the fast-walking parents as they herded their players along was nearly palpable, as I have felt it before.

Up until this year, for the past three years, I had attended just about every single one of my daughter’s practices. I wasn’t on the sidelines watching, I was on an adjacent field coaching and only periodically involved with her training. While my attention was obviously on the players I was working with, I couldn’t help but steal a glance in the direction of my daughter at a water break and I will even admit a time or two when the water break was extended for an extra 30 seconds or so, in order for me to watch her on the ball.

I loved watching her practice.

I loved watching her practice because of how it made me feel … Never really taking into account how my presence in her team environment made her feel.

Now, after 6 months of not being at the fields for her practices, I clearly see the benefits of my distance.

Six Reasons Parents Should NOT Watch Practice
1. A parent’s role is their child’s sports endeavor is to be supportive and encouraging. When parents watch practices -- it leads to comments outside of this role. We find ourselves saying things such as “You should pay better attention to the coaches when they are talking” or “You kept passing to the other team, you need to be more focused” or “I sure wish you would try harder.”

When we watch practices, we open the door to talking about a part of their sports endeavor we should not be talking about.

2. Sometimes it’s better not to know. It’s better not to know if our child isn’t paying attention, or if our child is struggling with the speed of play and giving the ball away, or if our child is not working as hard as we know they can. It’s better not to know because when we do know these things, the stress creeps in.

What our child needs to receive from us is our support, not our stress.

They need to know that we believe in their ability to be their best. When our child feels our stress, they hear “You should have done better” instead of “I believe in your ability to be your best.”

3. When we watch practices, there is a clear shift in the dynamic between our child and their team and coach. After all, as parents, we are the most authoritative figure in our child’s life. Naturally, they will feel different when we are watching practices. We limit our child’s ability to be a teammate when we insert ourselves into their team dynamic, even if it is from the bleachers or from a distance.

4. Being a teammate is an honor and a responsibility. Our children must learn to play for their teammates and their coach, not for us. When we are in attendance, they are naturally playing for us -- to show off to us, to win our approval. We need to allow our children to concentrate not on winning our approval, rather on winning the approval of their teammates and coaches through their personal level of commitment.

5. Our children’s commitment to their team needs to be a decision they make, it can’t be anything we try to facilitate. If we are involved in this decision, our children will eventually burn out or lose interest. If we want to support our children as they develop an identity as an athlete and team member, we must allow their commitment to their team to come from within them. When we are too involved, we hamper this development.

6. Parents should have better things to do than watching practice. If we put our children front and center in our lives, to the point that we are bringing heaters out to training so we can stay warm and watch, like I witnessed the other night, we are putting too much pressure on the them. We are quietly telling them that our happiness, in some way, depends on their performance.

That’s too much pressure.

Our happiness should depend on us -- on the walk or run we could take, on the book we could read, on the other things we could accomplish in the hour and a half of their training.

When the girls got back into the car the other night I announced my idea for this article and was met with a resounding “That’s a great idea!” I found this quick response interesting because while the girls in the carpool have parents that may watch the last 10 minutes of training before picking them up (I do this as well), their parents are certainly not watching for the duration of the training.

Interestingly, what the girls then mentioned were the players they have played with over the years who had parents who attended training regularly. They were keenly aware of the parents who came to training, even mentioning a few of them by name. They said they felt sorry for those players.

“Why do you feel sorry for them?” I asked.

“They must have felt so much pressure” was the response.

I suppose I wouldn’t want my boss going with me on all of my appointments with clients, or the coaching director watching every single one of my training sessions.

I am sure you wouldn’t either.

(Skye Eddy Bruce is the founder of SoccerParenting.com, where this article first appeared. She is a Richmond Strikers SC coach and Executive Board member. Eddy Bruce played college ball at UMass and George Mason, starting in goal when the Patriots finished NCAA Division I runner-up to North Carolina in 1993. She has USSF “B” license and National Goalkeeping License.)

18 comments about "Six Reasons Parents Should Not Watch Practice ".
  1. R2 Dad, February 17, 2015 at 11:14 p.m.

    Genius! Must-read for every new U8 parent.

  2. Tony Pizzaro replied, August 14, 2015 at 3:19 p.m.

    I feel it is a delicate and important topic. Myself, I've coached all of my kids, in their early stages and they are all exceptional players on their collective teams. With 4 obviously you can't watch all of them, but when I'm at the field I'm generally try to work with one of my others to kill time. If I don't catch a majority of the practice my kids get bothered by that. I'm hard on my kids and don't hold back or enable them. I always try to put a positive with a negative. But, I feel it's important to see there strength and weakness while in practice because this is what your going to see on the field. Understand there are a lot of bad coaches out there and unfortunately some kids don't get a choice on who they play for. I think us as parents have to respect coaches wishes at all times when you choose to put them on a team or ask for your card back and move on. I've seen many of the coaches classes and read quite a bit a material that I agree and mostly disagree with. Each and every kid is different in a unique way. So, they all need to be dealt with in that way. A coaches job many times is to understand that, but is overlooked. Jimmy might be able to take constructive criticism but, Rick cannot in front of his peers. That being said must parents do not realize the harm of there actions can cause with not only there kids, but there fellow parent alignment by not following the wishes a a good coach. Negativity, brings negativity. Be positive were all on the same team, it's about the kids.

    The main problem I have is that I wonder how many of these doctors and psychologist ever played a competitive sport. Most of the conclusions are based on test of questionnaires that don't show the complete picture. I'm 49 and played at a pretty high level in my youth, I feel I had some of the best coaches out there at the time in college and the Majors and let me tell you they held nothing back and didn't care how they said it. The funny thing is we enjoyed playing more then without all this organizational stuff going on. Times have changed, but the sport remains the same. They turned street soccer into futsol and have another avenue to make money from. My final take is, if you don't have parent eyes, which is tuff to find, and your kid is developing properly, why change what's working. On the other hand, if you find yourself constantly looking for another team or program and your child seems to just be a miss consistently, well you should be looking in the mirror instead.

    One more important thing I would like to add. We should really take a good look at our actions as parents because as its said, the reaction follows and it can have a altered destiny that will effect there outcome in life at times, not only in sports, but for life. Maybe good, maybe bad, you be the judge....

  3. GA Soccer Forum, February 18, 2015 at 9:14 a.m.

    agree and disagree. main reason i disagree is the kids have 5 hours of practice a week and typically one 60 minute game a week. in that 60 minute game some kids will play 30 minutes others 60. its often more rewarding watching your kid train vs play for 30 minutes against a disappointing side because your team isn't challenged. and most importantly for the younger ages its about training vs games. why is ok to watch games then??

    agree though, that parents should keep a distance. stay off the field, and watch from a distance. get some exercise and pause to watch to some moments and then exercise some more.

    the point you are trying to make is don't sit there with a heater watching 5 hours a practice then when your kid gets in the car rip him to death!
    every kid, every player makes mistakes on the field.

    i think there is nothing wrong with parents watching all practices from a distance. if thats what they want to do, and they aren't over bearing and remain positive with their children.

    they grow up fast and before your know it they go from u8 to u18, there is nothing wrong with parents trying to enjoy that.

  4. Brent Crossland, February 18, 2015 at 11:12 a.m.

    GA -- To me the message is much more fundamental. Let your child live their own life. Kids need to be free to make their own mistakes, their own friends, have their own problems, find their own solutions. This is definitely a "phased in" approach but on the field, playing a game, supervised by a qualified adult is the most risk free environment you have to start this. (And I am not a coach!)

  5. John Roode, February 18, 2015 at 11:20 a.m.

    OUtstanding! You've nailed it! Too much involvement in a child's development can lead to some serious issues down the road. I coached for nearly 20 years in a select and highly competitive program... and I learned one thing. Many parents won't let their children fail. They will either blame the problem on a teamate or the coach... It's never their child's problem. This does two things. The child never learns how to be held accountable for their actions or their situation. The child never learns how to deal with and come back from adversity... 2 MAJOR character traits necessary to navigating life.

  6. C Stephans, February 18, 2015 at 11:20 a.m.

    This is an interesting and well-written article. The author makes good points that are worthy of consideration by all parents.

    I wonder how this works best for the many parents who are coach and parent. A good follow up would be addressing the tension in that situation. Thanks,

  7. Robert Robertson, February 18, 2015 at 11:54 a.m.

    Disagree. I basically, attended every practice for my daughters soccer career at the club level. I do think it makes a difference on how parents approach it. Giving instructions to the child after (or in a truely horrible situation during practice))is generally not good. But trying to get a sense of where your child stands and what type of additional training they need is useful. Also, making friends with the other parents on the team is important which can often be done easier at a practice on the sidelines than on game days. Lastly, we traveled an hour in each direction so going home was not particularly an option. Maybe over the course of U11 to u18 I may have made an error or 2 but in general it was the only way to learn. Note: I never played soccer so I had a lot to take in.

  8. Dan Woog, February 18, 2015 at 12:37 p.m.

    Fantastic insights. Send this to every coaching director and club president in the country!

  9. Will G, February 18, 2015 at 12:37 p.m.

    The premise is spot on but I can't say I agree with the entire message.

    I will specifically speak toward the U13 level and below. The only way to see how your kid is performing is in practice. If you watch them train (and aren't biased) you can get a better understanding why some kids get more playing time than others.

    Also, I want to know what the coach is teaching. I will evaluate a coach and their ability much more intensely in a practice environment versus a game environment. By never watching a practice session you could one day be caught wondering, "Why are these kids so far behind others."

  10. Gio Gonzalez, February 18, 2015 at 2:34 p.m.

    I completely agree with the post from Robert Robertson. I would also add that if a parent is also a soccer player with a lot of knowledge of the game, it will benefit your kid to watch his practices and games- his/her coach cannot (even if he is extremely diligent) watch how every single player plays during a practice or game. Watching your kid play, (if you're experienced in soccer), you will see things that will absolutely improve your kid's game. My son is now U16 and plays DAP soccer and is one of the top players on his team- I have been watching his practices and games since U6 and he and I are a team- he appreciates all the feedback I give him (although not always) and I strongly feel he would not be where he is today if it wasn't for me giving him things to work on to improve his game.

  11. Paul O'Brien-Kinsey, February 18, 2015 at 4:32 p.m.

    Totally Disagree with Ms. Bruce and her point. Having been a soccer parent, and now a soccer grandparent also a soccer player in my youth in Wales, and having played overseas while in the Marine Corps, I believe that as a soccer family we need to be involved in all aspects, whether that be volunteering at snack bars, traveling to distant tournaments, watching practice, meeting other parents,understanding our children's moods and attitudes, are all part of what a soccer family does.
    I think she's wrong.

  12. Shawn Johnson, February 19, 2015 at 7:22 a.m.

    I see where this article is coming from, and I have learned a lot about how to be a better soccer parent by reading the articles on this site. However, every situation is different. In my case, we are stuck in a pretty poorly run program with subpar coaching. More than anything, when I occasionally am able to make it to a practice for my U9 girl, I'm making sure the coach isn't yelling at and berating the girls.

  13. GA Soccer Forum, February 19, 2015 at 8:59 a.m.

    I guess someone now needs to right the 6 reason you should watch your kids practice!

  14. I w Nowozeniuk, February 19, 2015 at 11:17 a.m.

    Perhaps parents should watch practice and get more educated about the nuances of the game; that is, if the coach(es) are professional.

  15. ROBERT BOND, February 19, 2015 at 1:40 p.m.

    Kid may get hurt-need immediate medevac.......to help kid where coach is asking work.......walk while at practice, 1hr drive & nowhere i want to go...too much pressure part of wimping of america culture.......to work out later with things i see need help...of course, being in Fussball almost 60 years,have many different views.........mostly just stay where i can kick balls back in when needed, so valuable practice time not wasted chasing them by team.....just remember to STFU...

  16. Kent James, February 21, 2015 at 1:04 p.m.

    While I appreciate the tone and direction of the article, I think the more important question is not whether to watch or not, but if you watch, how you do it. Parents who make it a point to intently watch every minute of every practice need to give their kid some space (and probably get a life, but that may be harsh..). But sometimes logistics dictate that you're going to be at the field during practice, and why not watch a bit? As other posters have pointed out, you need to be at a distance so the kids don't feel like they're being watched, but if you know soccer, practice is a much better environment to witness the expertise (or lack thereof) of the coach, and if you don't know soccer, you can learn. I do think by making it a point that watching practice is not your highest priority (by reading a book, or exercising on your own while you're there, e.g.) you're sending your child the appropriate message; "I'm here, but this is your time to do something you enjoy, not your time to perform for me."

  17. James Madison, February 28, 2015 at 6:34 p.m.

    Parents do not need to "see how their children are performing" in training. All they need to do is see how they perform in matches. They do not watch their children in classrooms. All they see are the test scores. Training sessions are like classrooms, only less so; they are (or should be) playtime. Matches are the tests (only less so; they too should be play time. The job of the children is school; anything else is recreation (or should be)). Parents should think about meeting with their children's coach from time to time just as they have meetings with their children's teacher.

  18. Charlie Klimkowski, June 4, 2017 at 1:44 a.m.

    I absolutely understand the angle of this article. But, I think it is pointing out the symptom and not the cause. The problem isn't practice, the problem is the parent! Parents need to be educated on how to best help their young soccer players develop as a player and develop passion for the game. Bad soccer parents are bad at practice, games, and to and from soccer in the car.
    Parents just don't understand the game is way more complex than it looks. I have a site dedicated to helping parents in youth soccer. It's www.soccerhotspot.com
    I hope you will check it out! Thanks again for the thought provoking article!

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