I am the father of three: a son (age eleven) and two daughters (ages nine and six). In the last decade, I have coached (or co-coached) ten soccer teams, four baseball teams and two basketball teams. As both a parent and a coach I would like to provide some advice to other parents of young athletes
Sports should be fun, if you young child doesn’t like one sport try something else
I spent years as a competitive soccer player. It was expected that my kids would play soccer and each of my kids started soccer by age 5. My son initially liked soccer then as he grew he became less enamored by the sport. By age 8 he simply wasn’t having fun. I had watched a lot of soccer-mad friends force their kids to play soccer and realized that doing so wasn’t the right idea. Instead we looked for something else and discovered basketball which my my son loves. So now he is a basketball player. He is getting a great team experience, getting regular exercise and most importantly is enjoying it.
Forcing your child to play a sport because you love it will only hurt their development and harm your relationship. Sports have to be fun for young kids and if you want them to enjoy being active keep looking until you find an activity your child will enjoy. Of my three kids, only one still plays soccer. That is not a bad thing. I still love soccer but am learning to love basketball and more importantly, I get to watch my son do something he likes. I get to see him thrive in a team situation and I don’t have to fight to get him ready for practice. It is a win-win scenario.
Please, please don’t offer your child rewards for individual accomplishments in team sports
If there is one thing that absolutely destroys a child as a team player it is parents giving out awards for personal accomplishments in a team game. One year I had a player, one of the most-skilled on the team, whose parents gave her gifts for scoring goals. What did this do? It taught her to be selfish on the field; to look for personal opportunities over team opportunities and turned her into a frustrating teammate. In the opposition’s end she would always try to beat every player to get a shot on net. If the option was take a bad shot or pass to an open team-mate, she always took the shot. When it was her turn to play defense she would abandon her position to attack and leave the back-field undefended.
This one choice by these parents turned a great little player into a coach’s nightmare. Other parents called them on it but they didn’t care, they wanted their daughter to be a star and thought this was how you achieved that goal. The problem is soccer is a team sport and sometimes in team sports you have sublimate personal achievements for the good of the team. If you are going to reward your child do it for team achievements or for good efforts. Even better, let them learn to love the sport without bribery.
Parents, I have never seen a coach get angry when you take the time to control your child at a sports practice.
For the last six years I have been coaching a lot of younger children. These children are usually accompanied by their parents as they are too young to be left unaccompanied.
What I can never understand is when a parent just sits back and watches as their child misbehaves and disrupts a practice. The coach is there to teach skills, not to be the parent. If your child is misbehaving in a practice, call them aside and get them under control. It will help the coach and be appreciated by all the other parents as well. Sure for older kids the coach may want to deal with discipline on their own, but when a six-year-old is losing it during a practice rest assured the coach WANTS your help. Take your child aside and do what it takes to calm them down then send them back in to play. Everyone will be happier for your efforts.
At the park you are your child’s parent first and a sports fan second
In my years of coaching one common cause for concern is the parent who misbehaves. Remember you are their parent first and a sports fan second.
Don’t be the parent who yells at kids in under-eight (U8) soccer. This is U8 soccer, not the pro leagues. Let your child play, make mistakes, and have fun. A bad game in U8 has never cost a child a university scholarship, so relax and watch the kids play. Most importantly, regardless of the outcome, if your child played hard then give them a hug and some praise and they will be the better person for it.
Similarly, the referee in your child’s sporting event is almost certainly also learning their craft. Professional referees don’t officiate U9 soccer. These young referees are needed if you want your kid to be able to play. These young referees will make mistakes and your job as a parent is to accept that fact and live with it. Teach your child to respect the referee, especially when they think the referee made a bad decision. Learning how to play through adversity builds character and learning how to accept a “bad” decision will help them deal with the adversity they will face in their lives.
Don’t be afraid to call a time-out from your sport
Now for some unusual advice from a coach. Don’t be afraid to call a time-out in your child’s sports career. Last year I coached a U9 team and had a girl who just wasn’t having fun. It was a particularly cold and wet year and she really struggled with the cold. She was just too small and slight to keep warm and the wet practices and cold games made her feel miserable. Her mom suggested that she take a time-out and come back in the spring. That spring I saw her out on the field and she was having a great time. That mom’s choice worked.
Sure kids have to work through adversity, but if your son/daughter is not having fun find them something that does. Your child will only be little for a short time. Let them have fun while they can.