A Parent's Guide to Game Day and Practice -- from Kaz Tambi

"If there is one single variable I can isolate as a predictor of success (beyond obviously a base level of talent and ability in the child), it is how negative and critical the parents are. The more intrusively involved, the more pressure, and the more critical the parents are, the higher the likelihood the kid will stop enjoying the game, start to fail to perform, burn out, and then quit – exactly what the parents don’t want!"
-- Kazbek Tambi

New Jersey-born Kaz Tambi captained Columbia, won four Ivy League championships, and reached the NCAA Division final four. He made the 1984 U.S. Olympic team and that year debuted, at age 22, for a star-studded New York Cosmos team that included World Cup runner-up Johan Neeskens.

On the eve of his Cosmos debut -- Coach Eddie Firmani had given him advance notice -- Tambi convinced his parents to come to Giants Stadium.

Before that day, Tambi’s parents played no part in his soccer life.

Kaz’s parents were World War II refugees from Russia who both worked second-shift factory jobs as machine operators in New Jersey and worked overtime on weekends when Kaz’s games took place. While not at the factory, they toiled to repair the dilapidated house they bought in Ridgewood after leaving Paterson.

“Setting aside time for my soccer was a luxury they couldn’t afford,” says Tambi, who spent all his free time during his youth playing pickup soccer at a park within bicycle distance, playing on his own; or finding creative ways to get to other settings to watch or play soccer."

Kaz Tambi won four Ivy League titles with Columbia University.

“As important as soccer was to me, they never watched me play or asked about soccer; we never talked about it at all," says Tambi. "Later in life, especially when I became a parent myself, I realized that was not by choice but was out of necessity. The priority for them was to provide for us: put food on the table and clothes on our backs in a livable house in a decent neighborhood. For them, as young immigrants after the war, it was a heroic burden to shoulder, and they have all my respect for succeeding.”

But they did make it to his Cosmos debut.

“I played that game fairly well, I thought, for my first time starting as a pro,” he said. “After the game, I sat down on the couch in the family room relaxing with my parents, feeling happy about the game.

“As we sat on that couch I noticed my mom didn’t look happy. We chatted amiably, but I could tell something was on her mind, and she looked a little stressed. Then I understood why she looked grim. She said that she thought I should be dribbling the ball more, passing less, and pushing up the field faster. I listened quietly and nodded, because I respect and love my mom. But it started dawning on me how lucky I had been all these years.

“I remember saying to myself, as she was telling me where and when to pass the ball -- a ball I’d been kicking very successfully for over a decade completely on my own -- ‘Thank God Mom was not a part of my soccer world growing up, because there is no way I would have gotten here if she were.’”

• • •

Tambi, who practiced law after his playing career in the NASL, ASL and MISL, is the Director of Coaching for the New York City FC Girls Academy. He has been coaching for more than two decades, at the college and youth level, and has served as U.S. U-15 and U-17 girls national team coach, leading the U-17s to a runner-up finish at the 2008 World Cup.

He coached Morgan Brian, Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, Casey Short and Taylor Smith.

Alums from the New York/New Jersey club World Club FC, where he has served as a coach and director, include Alecko Eskandarian, Jason Hernandez, Dilly Duka, Danny Szetela, Yael Averbuch and Amber Brooks.

• • •

Tambi jokes that his mom may have been right about pushing up the field faster.

But he also says:

“Had my parents been overly involved like many parents are today, had they been intruding on my joy for the game with their daily critique of my play (even if they were right), there is no way I would have enjoyed the game as much as I did growing up. ... I learned the game and improved in the best possible way. Through trial and error. Through having the freedom to be creative and make mistakes, and not have to worry about my parents’ approval.”

Tambi, a father of three, appreciates how important the parents’ support is in today’s youth soccer environment. But he also believes that a key ingredient to producing world-class players -- or at least getting the most out of each player’s potential -- is to reduce the adult influence.

“We want the parent’s role only to be supportive and encouraging,” Tambi says about the message sent at NYCFC. “As just one simple example among many, we discourage parents from watching their kids practice up-close on the sidelines, or even in the bleachers.”

Photo courtesy

Kaz Tambi's Practice Advice for Parents:

 If you are watching practice too closely, you will start to see mistakes and problems, and then almost inevitably you will start to talk about them. This often happens on the ride home from practice, when parents too often say negative things like, “you don’t look like you were focused and you need to be more aggressive” or “you’re not trying hard enough.” This changes your role from the supportive and encouraging parent to one who’s negative and critical.

It’s the coach’s job to monitor and correct these things, or sometimes make the judgment to ignore them for the time being, not yours. Sometimes it’s better not to know.

It might be better for you not to know that your child isn’t always attentive to the coach or isn’t always trying as hard as you think he should. Because when you know these things, your disapproval, and the stress it causes you, will inevitably get expressed. Your child needs your support, not your stress.

When you’re too physically prominent when he practices, it distracts your child from his coaches and teammates. Your child should be playing for his coach and his teammates, not for you. If you are too present, it can inhibit the natural growth of important team bonding and relationships: you become the center of gravity, not the team. We have to give our kids the room to develop their own commitment to the team and to soccer from within themselves, and from within the team environment, not imposed by you from the outside. Your child’s commitment will be much more durable if it comes from within himself.

If we make our kids’ activities too central to our adult lives, we are sending them the message that our own happiness is in part contingent on their success. That inverts the natural order of a healthy parent-child relationship, turning it upside down, and the kids can feel the weight of that. Many parents know this deep down inside, but still can’t help themselves from over-identifying with their kids’ soccer success. But they should try hard to resist the urge if they care about that success. Because in my experience, over-the-top parental involvement almost always backfires.

Kaz Tambi's Game Day Advice for Parents:

On the car ride to game: Avoid giving advice or coaching tips to the child relating to the upcoming game. This will only serve to prematurely induce stress and anxiety. Instead, as it is good to stimulate the mental juices prior to a competition (rather than having the child sleeping or vegetating in the car), a parent should engage in a conversation with the child on a topic that the player will enjoy. Or in the alternative, the parent can challenge the child with a verbal quiz or game, which should be fun and again cover a topic of interest for the child.

Never say anything critical about other players in front of your child. It’s all too likely your child will internalize that opinion and express it in one way or another to his teammates, or even to that player directly, and you have thereby set off an ugly sequence of gossip that will inevitably lead back negatively to your kid. It will also negatively affect team bonding, which is critical for team success.

If you are standing with a group of parents and they are criticizing the coach or other players’ play, walk away. It’s a terrible habit, and again, one way or another, your child and his team will eventually be affected by these negative -- and irrelevant -- parental opinions.

Never criticize the refereeing. It’s an awful habit to model for your children. They should be focusing on playing as well and hard as he can, and on having as much fun with their friends as possible. The ref is completely out of the player's control and so your child, and you, should ignore it. Nothing good ever comes from a parent vocally criticizing a referee, so why would you do it?

You have two choices during a game: cheer for the whole team, including but not exclusively for your child. Or stay silent. Never say anything negative out loud during a game, even if you think you’re being helpful or constructive, about your kid, your team (or in fact the other team). No good will ever come of it. Most intelligent parents know this deep down, but too many can’t seem to control themselves. Learn to control yourself.

If you cheer for your kid and his team when they are playing well, you have to be consistent and cheer for them when they are not. If you are obviously silent when you are otherwise typically vocal, your child will hear the silence as the silent critique that it is.

One simple change can go a long way in helping kids (and therefore their parents) have a healthier and more successful athletic experience. After the game, never say anything negative. Be only supportive and encouraging. Let the coaches coach, and the teammates create the team’s soccer norms and expectation for performance – not you.

The car ride home from the game is where parents most often make mistakes. Your child will generally quickly get over what happened in the game and will move on to think about dinner, homework, a playdate, or, alas, a video game. You should move on, too! Be positive and encouraging, and then quickly move on to another subject. Your child will start to dread the ride home, and eventually therefore dread soccer, if they know they will be subjected to a withering critique from you while they are trapped in the back seat. He played the game, you didn’t. Drive the car. Talk about the pizza you’re going to order. Move on.

• • •

Tambi’s advice reminds me of what Ferenc Puskas, the legendary Hungary and Real Madrid forward, once said:

"I am grateful to my father for all the coaching that he did not give me."

12 comments about "A Parent's Guide to Game Day and Practice -- from Kaz Tambi".
  1. Kris Spyrka, March 22, 2018 at 7:11 p.m.

    Hmmm?  Let's see, we ask the parents to be the finaciers, the chauffeurs, the managers and logistics experts, but please don't talk to your kids or the coaching staff.  Doesn't work, but keep dreaming.

  2. Bill Riviere, March 22, 2018 at 7:43 p.m.

    Kris, frankly, your comment is a little over the top and generalized.  I'll bet you are like I used to be--I was overinvolved, giving advice to my kids before and after the game, catching the coach and giving the coach some advice on how to win, criticizing the coach for not playing my kids enough or where "I know" they can play better or help the team more, telling my kids what to do on the field during the game, criticizing the referee (who's responsible for observing the actions of 22 players on a large field) etc. etc.  Got a guilty conscience?  I do.  I spent too many years doing exactly what I just described and wish I hadn't.....

    I think Mike gives the best advice I've heard in a long time on this subject!! It doesn't deserve one iota of criticism.  The great game is about the kids, not the parents.  In one way you are right: we as parents are expected to go with the flow no matter what despite our large investment of time, money and emotion.  But, in the end, it is truly best for our kids and for us to follow Mike's advice.

    I have coached, spent years on the Board of a very successful club and have refereed youth soccer for 21 years. I can't tell you how many times I've heard/seen kids on the field cringe at the sound of a parent yelling from the sideline or even asking other players on their team to switch sides of the field with them so they don't have to listen to their parents telling them what to do. (When I hear this as a center referee, I find a ball-out-of-play moment to turn and tell the parents that there is a rule against coaching from anywhere but the coaches' side and that all I want to hear is positive comments and encouragement.  It works! You know what, many a time I get applause from the parents and a big thank you from players....

    I urge you to reread the article with your kid's best interests in mind.  Think of their reactions when you criticize them or their teammates/coach or yell at them to start hustling on the field of play, or even just telling them to get back a few yards for this goal kick, etc.  If you are telling them what to do or criticising them while driving you don't even see their body language...

    I, for one, look back with regret at the things I used to say to my kids about their playing; please don't be another me!

  3. Wooden Ships, March 22, 2018 at 10:21 p.m.

    Great advice. This is probably the biggest reason our soccer quality-culture hasn’t really improved in half a century.

  4. Ric Fonseca replied, March 22, 2018 at 11:29 p.m.

    Indeed a nice recap and good advice.  BUT.... Why did SA editors include the color photo of a new soccer field located in Oakland, Calif???

  5. Bob Ashpole, March 23, 2018 at 4:58 a.m.

    Never underestimate the ability of adults to suck all the fun out of playing a game.

  6. Kris Spyrka, March 23, 2018 at 10:33 a.m.

    Nice assumptions Bill!  Must have struck a nerve, but reread my criticism, I'm writing this as a coach NOT a parent.  I'm looking at this through a coach's lens!  We do very little as coaches to integrate our parents into the team environment except when it's time to be our sherpas and cut the checks (since we never got out of the pay for play model in this country, we have no right to judge the parents as stringently as the article does).  

    That kid out there, is the most important thing in their lives, period!

    I set expectations with the parents well before the first day of practice, so that I don't have mama or papa bear coming at me; we cover topics outlined in the P1 initaitive and PCA, we talk about coaching with one voice.  That is, we get the parents invested and engaged, we address the mine field before we ever step foot in it.  And I can say, very few coaches carve out the time to do this.  I've seen too many coaches, young and old alike, crash on the rocks because they tried to work in a vacuum.

    I welcome, in fact I encourage the parents to watch during practice, and to cheer during games.  It's typically the coaches who lack confidence in their abilities, or are just "phoning" it in that don't want the parents around.

    Remember, there are as many abusive coaches as parents out there.  Just saw one this weekend verbally abusing his player on the field during a tournament.

  7. Bob Ashpole, March 23, 2018 at 12:45 p.m.

    The biggest problem with parents is ignorance. How to teach, how to motivate, and how to play the sport. The good news is most people have good intentions and ignorance is cureable. 

    I don't know why you were so negative about the article, when the article was only reciting fairly conventional approaches to dealing with parents, and you clearly follow conventional wisdom in dealing parents. If the conventional methods of managing parents did not work, you would not be using them.

    I do understand your responding to Bill. I also did not take you for a coach.  

  8. R2 Dad, March 23, 2018 at 7:42 p.m.

    Great interview--love reading about these pillars in the community that are new to me.

    I would ammend: Never criticize the refereeing. Never criticize the referee/officials....but their calls are fair game. Especially with young players, asking questions about their opinions enables them to learn about the calls, why they might be correct or incorrect--it's a teaching moment that can lead to learning more about the LOTG.

    Of course, belly-aching is more enjoyable, but remember it's not about us parents, it's about your kid learning about the game. Smart players learn the LOTG to become better/craftier players.  What's impressive to me is watching a 10 year old smart enough to take a free kick quickly, or beat an offside trap (or coordinate an offside trap).

  9. frank schoon, March 24, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

    Great advice. Kids in the street soccer days had no parental involvement, becuase parents were to busy trying to earn a living and even when playing club ball very few parents were ever present at the field. As a result it made kids more independent,character wise, and it also it created a hierarchy among the kids as to who leads and choose the teams. Your position in the hierarchy was merit based depending on the how good you were as a player among your peers in street soccer. This hierarchy created ,later on in the kids development, strong characters and personalities  as professionals. With this backround every pro team was usually run by 2or 3 players with leadership qualities. For example, Bayern had Beckenbauer, Muller, Breitner; Ajax, Cruyff, Keizer, Swart ; Real Madrid had DiStefano , Puskas, Kopa. Unfortunately today it is very difficult to find real leaders on the field.
     The hierarchy showed also during the WC'74 the dutch had four dinner tables at which to eat . OnTable one, for example, sat Cruyff, Van Hanegem, Keizer, Jansen, and on table four were the substitutes. 
    I also would recommend for parents not to criticize the coach in front their kid for that can only  breed contempt and doubt and lack of respect.....

  10. Ray Lindenberg , March 26, 2018 at 9:16 a.m.

    Excellent conclusions and recommendations. Kids need to enjoy themselves and not suffer added stress from their parents who, in the American example, more than likely do not have the ability to analyze and recommend the better way their kids should play and train.   

    But the practicality of a hands-off approach to avoid unwelcomed, off-target and stress-inducing input of parents is not realistic. American parents are gonna be there, pressing their parental guidance rights, whether we want them there or not. So do we push-back ... or do we embrace parental involvement? I suggest the latter. If it's not going away, find ways to harness it and use it as a plus. It works handsomely, too.

    The US is not like many other countries, where soccer is the singular past-time and king. Except for some minor pockets and instances, our developing players do not enjoy the peer pressure of a cultural obsession, coupled with constant outstanding demonstrations of quality, inspired soccer at every corner, stadium or game broadcast on TV. We have to play catch-up with our developing soccer nation, very much the way that youth baseball players have to develop through catch-as-catch-can in European countries.

    We have to prepare, instruct, and YES, train parents to be better players'-parents in our diffused focus sporting country. We need to make concerted efforts to have at least one meeting with parents and require that they go through a 'good supportive soccer parent' info session before a season. They need to know the coach's standards, objectives, do's and don'ts. 

    When parents know what to expect, and what is expected of them, they are more enthusiastic, helpful and cooperative, thus making the player's success more attainable and less stressful. Parents need to have their role defined, especially in the earlier age groups. Soccer Moms and Soccer Dads are not going to vanish into the sidelines. The American way is to find a positive way to involve the parents so that they are productive and feel useful. The kids will have plenty of time to street-ball it, through pick-up games, where they’ll more robustly develop their playing instincts. But if an American parent sacrifices his or her time to accompany their child to games and practice, they need better, clearer guidance on their role and how they can be optimally helpful – and they will shine. Try it.

  11. Jeyda Aydin, March 26, 2018 at 9:42 a.m.

    This article and Kaz's advice is very important to making development much better for our players. The issues of the ills of our current youth and full national team programs, the cost to play, what is the best coaching education, high school soccer v. DA ; all pale compared to the issue of the millions of parents who are uneducated on their proper role in youth development, and who unwittingly limit the development of millions of children. If we got this issue right, given the billions of dollars spent on our kids combined with all the resources available to them;  there is no doubt we would start to produce players with mental fortitude, which would then correlate to better players and much better club, college, national and pro teams in this country. 

  12. Nancy Walters, March 26, 2018 at 12:06 p.m.

    Reading Kaz Tambi's article made me think back and reflect on my years of playing at the high school and collegiant level and what impact my parent's had on my success.  My parents were great supporters and attended as many games as possible.  My dad wasn't always able to be there because of his job but my mom made it to almost every match.  I don't recall them ever being critical of my play and if they were, it came out in a positive manner.  I know for a fact they never went as far as to call a coach or contact them to complain about anything.  I think I would have been mortified if they had done that.  I always enjoyed playing sports in my youth and maybe that did have something to do with how my parents supported me but didn't critisize.  As a parent of 3 children that played sports throughout their high school years, I feel I also attended every game possible.  I always tried to be positive in my comments, and I never approached a coach to complain or criticize.  As both a player and parent I've seen the other side of parenting where negativity played a huge role in a player not being successful and giving up on the sport they were playing.  Again, I believe that Mr. Tambi has made a good point and we as parents, should allow our kids to enjoy the game they love to play.

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