Competition vs Training – Winning vs Development in Youth Sports – Parent Etiquette and a Challenge!!

In 20+ years of coaching youth soccer, this has been a prevailing theme.  My talk track about the benefits of training over games in terms of time on the ball, touches and overall technical development is almost automatic especially under 12.   Every year the same or similar conversations happen with the newest crop of parents with their first born children who are new to organized club sports.  I have go-to metrics and case studies on things like how many touches a player gets during training vs. a game and how if there is a conflict between a game and a training session, that it is both more beneficial and the club’s preference to make training a priority over the game.

I have an almost equivalent auto response when asked what I thought about the game, the refs, that one player, those parents, etc.  Response is typically this is one of a gazillion games that is part of the long term process and how you (the person I am speaking with) are probably more happy/upset than than your kid that played the game, both immediatly following the game and for a longer period of time after.  Further,  I mention that I am nearly positive that this game will be long forgotten and probably close to meaningless a year from now, 5 years from now, by the end of their playing career, etc.

It doesn’t matter how much evidence or best practice guidance we seem to provide, the message is mostly lost because the parents love the games and are very serious about the competition. Parents of 7 and 8 year old players often ask why the u17 and u18 teams travel all over the country but they don’t. When does our team go to Vegas, Disney, etc? The intensity and drive for results seems to start earlier and earlier every year.

So, here is where I know that it is not just me and it is not a lack of education either.  I think that it may be generational thing because more parents than ever have played soccer.  Even if they played bad soccer with bad training and coaching conducted by their high school shop teacher, the bottom line is they now have a persective of having played the game.  The discussions of this generation are seldom “I never played soccer but…” and instead start with “well I played soccer and we never…or we always…”  The other part of this is that I am coming to realize that both the players and the parents LOVE the games and the competiton and it rarely matters what evidence you can provide to suggest that it is both a barometer of progress and intended to be fun.  So that is just fine, enjoy the games.  The problem is the intensity of the sidelines and the improper etiquette that is frequently exhibited. That intensity reveals itself in the way of coaching from the sidelines, questioning the officials, calling out players or coaches and anything else you could imagine.

If you don’t believe me that there is a concern in the sport about parent enthusiasm associated with competition and how that impacts the experience, do a quick web search on parent sideline behavior. Organizations like Proactive Coaching, Positive Sports Parenting and tons of others have made their mission to educate the fans on proper support during competitions.  Coaching Education has been created to engage the parents in the process and to help educate the parents.  Entire Leagues like the East Coast based EDP and national bodies like US Club have announced official policies for sideline behavior. State Associations like South Carolina are implementing silent sidelines.  I one had a manager proactively hand out lilipops before a rival u15 game a few years ago as a subtle reminder to our parents.

So here is my simple challenge because you never know who is watching.  We tell players all the time about the importance of effort, honoring the game and sportsmanship every time they step on the field because they never know who could be watching.  The same holds true for the spectators.  I have been in more than one college recruiting presentation where the coaches have mentioned that they often evaluate the parents as much as the players when they are scouting. So to that end, my challenge is for you to schedule a meeting with your boss sometime after your childs next game.  During the game, point the video camera on you so that when you meet with your boss, you can share and discuss that video with him or her.  Does that make you think?  Its not only for the kids benefit but for yours as well.  What if a perspective employer, business partner, customer, physician or other happen to be on the other side of the mid- line watching their child play?

Does that make you think? I hope that it does and I hope that if you are reading this, you can have a sense of humor in all of this but also realize that this is a game and it is being played by kids.  I recognize that the Development over Results conversation is becoming less and less acknowledged, so if you are going to prioritize games and competition, at least consider who are the adults and who are the kids.

In support of the beautiful game…















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