photograph © Susan Leggett | Dreamstime.com
I started playing soccer when I was six years old, and played all the way to college. My kids finally agreed to start playing recreational soccer when they were 6 and 8. At their first game, I learned a few things about myself. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and I couldn’t stay in my seat. It was pretty embarrassing.
I decided to channel my enthusiasm into coaching, and have been much calmer ever since. Having been on both sides of the field now, I am here to help those of you with future athletes in the house.
Know your coach.
Talk to the coach about his or her style, then talk to other parents who have had children play for the coach and ask them to describe the coaching style. Then determine whether that style will be a fit for your child.
Steve Jones, who has coached youth soccer for several years in ESCRA (East Shelby Church Recreation Association) notes some coaches have a goal of pure recreation and fun; some are hoping to establish a good skill base in the players; some are focused on the team’s win/loss record.
“In a past season,” says Coach Jones, “our church league included a team that I understand practiced three times a week in addition to their game. When they played our team, they scored at least 10 (probably more, I stopped counting) unanswered goals against us. I imagine some parents on that team were incredibly proud of the team for scoring so many goals. But I also bet some were embarrassed by a coach who allowed the decimation of a team clearly on a different skill level.”
Be on time for games and practice.
Check the team practice and game schedule to make sure you can fully participate with the team before signing up. Practice is usually progressive, starting with warm-ups, so if a player shows up late and misses one or more steps they disrupt the effectiveness of the practice. Coaches may also put a good deal of time into making line-ups and ensuring equal play in games, so knowing whether a player will be in attendance is important.
“Respect that the coaches are volunteering their own time,” says Kirsty Maclean, who’s been coaching off and on for 20 years. “We understand that circumstances may dictate that a child cannot be present for all practices and games, but please communicate any absences appropriately.”
Don’t yell during a game. instead, find reasons to cheer.
Coach Jones advises against being consumed with wins or losses. “It should be all about how your child (and the team) progresses throughout the season,” he says.
Josh Spickler, who has coached recreational basketball for the past couple years in the 5- to 8-age group, believes there’s nothing better than seeing a kid finally “get it” after the eighteenth try. “That’s what sports at this level is all about: 18 chances to get something right. Where else in life are you going to get that?”
Jones notes that especially with young kids, it’s difficult enough to process the game situation mentally and apply appropriate motor skills without also having to process commands being yelled from the sideline.
Bailey Leopard, who has coached soccer since 2005, says, “As coaches, parents, and mentors we can help players learn how to celebrate their hard work. For the kid who can barely dribble a soccer ball with their feet, a great pass to their teammate is cause for celebration. For the goal-scoring machine, switching back to defense to cover for their teammate may be the best time to celebrate. Making the great save, scoring the game-winning goal or winning the championship, while all fantastic, are not the only moments worth celebrating.”
Coach Jones adds, “Feel free to compliment other people’s children in addition to your own child. Kids are very proud when somebody ‘catches’ them doing something well, and it sometimes means more when a compliment is not from your own parent.”
Be nice to the refs.
The referees in recreational leagues are typically kids, too. Kyle Dempsey, who has coached for six years, says, “The ref is going to be someone who is still learning the rules and how to manage the game. Keep that in mind next time you want to yell at them. They have one set of eyes but the parents have 30. They may miss things that you see. It’s all part of them learning how to referee a game, so be patient and remember that your kids are watching and learning how to treat the referees as well.”
Practice at home.
Carlos Provencio, who has coached basketball and soccer for several years, says, “Sports are more fun when you are good at them — not when you win, but when you are good. So get the kids away from TVs and computers and get them out practicing with you, with friends and neighbors, or by themselves. They will thank you. The coach will thank you, too.”
Coach McAfee agrees, “I don’t have time for individual lesson plans. I have a kid three to four hours a week at best. The rest is up to you. Throw, catch, swing, dribble, or shoot at home with your player as your time allows and he will get the most out of his time with me.”