“Shooooooot!” The voice rang out across the soccer complex. It was a crisp fall morning. The air light enough to echo that sound beyond our field and throughout the entire 20 field complex.
My player had been awarded a gift moments earlier at the top of the box. The keeper mishit a clearance and sent an apologetic ball directly to my player’s feet. As the ball was making its way to him, that word pierced the moment.
He visibly clenched. An adrenaline surge reaction to the word rushed through his body and he swung wildly, almost like a startled animal, at the ball. It slipped off the side of his foot and plowed high and wide of the goal.
He was one on one with a nervous, frustrated keeper who had made an error and was desperate to fix it. He had the upper hand in this moment and it was wasted because of one word.
I leaped from my chair and marched over to the midfield line. I scanned the crowd for the culprit and searched my memory for the voice….
Good golly! I saw him. I placed the voice. It was my dad. He doesn’t even have a kid on this team! He was just here to watch a good game of soccer and watch me coach. I know he was well-meaning, but seriously, screaming at that moment was the worst possible choice.
I whistled to get his attention. He looked over at me.
“Please, no.” I said firmly, but politely. “Let him decide. Let him have his own head in that moment. He knows what to do without anyone joysticking him.”
There was a smattering of nervous laughs as parents realized I scolded my dad. I. Scolded. My. Dad. I had to do it. He left me no choice. That player deserved that moment without any outside interference.
He works very hard in training on his technical and tactical skills. He works tirelessly to own the game he plays. He spends his week with me getting “ignition words”, feedback, praise, and advice so he can have the games on the weekends. Our deal is I will teach them the skills and empower them to recognize when to use those skills during the week, but release them to use as they see fit during games. It is the only way they become independent-thinking problem-solvers in the game.
No child should have his game joysticked by a parent or coach. No player should work so hard to learn something just to have everyone take away the joy of DOING it on Sunday. Why play sport if someone else is going to do all your thinking for you?
Yet, this is what we do when we scream every possible instruction to children during matches. When we refuse to let them play, grow, learn, explore.
Would you do this in math class? Would you show up at your son’s math exam during finals week and yell out “carry the one, Michael! Carry it” or “No! that is not a prime number”?
I was blunt with my father. It hurt to admonish him. I’m sure it was uncomfortable for him, but it was necessary to prove the point. I would scold my own father to prove my point that the game belongs to the player. Too many times we hear phrases like “shoot”, “boot the ball”, or “Get rid of it”. These do no good to help our children play the game that belongs to them.
This game is his to play. We had our games. We had our moments of joy. We still have great memories of them. Let him have his.
This article may be a bit blunt too.
Sit down. Bite your tongue. Wait to see what your child does first. Then cheer or encourage or smile broadly when he puts forth his best effort. Whether he scores or not, HE did it. HE tried. HE made the choice and HE can now develop from that moment. We learn by doing and we must own that doing. Your child succeeds when you shush and let him do.
Here is some advice for avoiding “Boot It” Disease.
- Film games. The moment you put a camera up to your eyes, you become a slightly detached observer. As if you are watching your favorite sport stars on TV. Also, the first time you watch the recording and hear yourself…it is an eye opener.
- Wear headphones. No joke. I had this awesome parent who wore headphones for every game. He was a former coach, loved his son dearly, and was heavily engaged in his son’s efforts. He wore headphones so he could merely be an observer. I suspect he didn’t want to hear what everyone else was saying too, but it kept him quiet during games.
- Get in the corner. Again. No joke. When I watch my son’s games I sit near the corner of the field. It gives me a perspective on the game I enjoy, but it also removes me from the fray. I am not compelled by the yelling of others to do it myself and I am far enough from my son, that I become an observer.
- Make a bet. Bet your child you can go an entire game without yelling an instruction. Bet him something fun like ice cream if you fail. If you win, he has to Instagram a photo of you saying “Coolest Soccer Mom/Dad Ever”. Is that still cool?
- Ask coach what you can say. Coaches work all week and season on certain topics with their teams. They would love if you reinforced those topics. I had a team of U8s that talked about “freedom” and “hero feet”. By the end of the season, my awesome parents were calling out “good job, can you find freedom” or “who has hero feet”. It was reinforcing what the girls were trying to learn. It was also getting them to think on the field. It wasn’t a demand, it was a reminder.
These 5 tips may help you learn to love watching your child play the game, and may save your relationship. The game is theirs and we should let them have it. They know it is theirs, so whether they say it or not, they wish we would just shush and let them play sometimes.
By the way, several minutes later, my player was gifted another ball in an almost identical spot. No one said a word. He settled it, took a diagonal touch forward, and slotted it by the goal keeper.
When everything settle down after the goal, a voice called out across the field “Point taken”.
Thanks, Dad, for staying silent and letting me play too.