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A Letter to Parents in Youth Soccer: Take a Step Back
As a current youth soccer coach and someone who has competed in every level of the game, from recreational to college to professional competition, I am here to write an open letter begging youth soccer parents to take a giant step back and not ruin the sport for their children.
Youth sports are a great avenue for children to engage in fun competition while learning what it means to collaborate on a team and fall in love with the game. Unfortunately, some parents have polluted the wholesome nature of the sport by turning youth soccer into a pressured nightmare for their kids and sometimes their teammates. Almost as if the parents have attributed a level of their self-worth to how their kids perform at U14 soccer.
Firstly, I'll tell you from my experience that it was beneficial that my parents showed little interest in my soccer career. They wanted me to play the sport I loved, but beyond that, they made no extra attempts to control or critique my performance. It allowed me to form an organic love for the game where I didn't feel as if a portion of my self-worth in my parent's eyes was determined by how many goals I scored that weekend or how many championships I won. It also gave me a pure form of internal motivation, doing it for me, which has proven more impactful than external motivation, doing it for others. I wanted to be good and worked really hard at it because I enjoy competition and self-growth.
Unfortunately, I also saw kids, growing up and now coaching, whose parents meddled far too much in their career in a non-supportive and overly critical manner where the athlete felt they had to be the best every time. Ironically, it was far most often those kids whose parents placed that kind of pressure on them from a young age who ultimately fell out of love with soccer as it became a nightmare of high anxiety and low enjoyment.
Iv’e had kids come up to me expressing their fear and anxiety when a particular parental figure comes to watch, because it means they’ll be yelled out during and after the game. And what do you know? The player always performs like a shell of themselves, terrified of making a mistake in a sport where it is impossible to be perfect. Iv’e seen others burst into tears after making a mistake, dreading the car ride home because they know they’ll be yelled at and put down for their errors.
Some of you reading may not realize it, but you are having that exact impact on your kids, ruining their confidence, enjoyment, and development as athletes.
So I write this letter begging overly involved parents to step back before it is too late for their son or daughter. Let them fall in love with the game themselves. Take them to practice and stay out of it. Don't give feedback outside of encouraging them to work hard and enjoy the sport. Provide an avenue at home for them to get extra practice if they choose to do it, allow them to fall in love with the game on their terms, and hey, if they don't, then so be it. Your child's performance at the local youth soccer game is not an extension of your self-worth, nor should it be their's.
Think of what lessons you're teaching when you yell at the referees or a coach at the game. You are teaching them that it is okay to victimize themselves and pout, scream, and complain when life doesn't go their way rather than picking themselves up and continuing, no matter the circumstances. And if this still doesn't convince you, take it from me when I tell you the best players I played with and coached are most often the ones whose parents take a backseat and let them enjoy the game on their terms.
But honestly, it shouldn't even come down to that for you to understand the importance of positive support in youth sports. At the end of the day, it is all just a game, whether your kid is the best player in the world or the worst. Your child should not feel like their self-worth in your eyes is determined by who they are as an athlete, nor should they fill like a failure for letting you down at the game or practice.
So next time you're at your son or daughter's game or practice and you feel like screaming at them, the coach, referee, or the opposing team, remember what you are doing, you are stripping your child of an opportunity to fall in love with the game and develop their internal motivations for wanting to succeed. It is not about you.
Your self-worth is not determined by how well your kid does in youth sports. Leave them be and let them fall in love like you did, on their terms.
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