Written by Kurtis Wright-Pottinger
Football parents have had it tough in recent years with all the attention regarding their behavior on the sidelines.
Even though some of it is needed, I cannot help but think how the situation with parents in youth football could be improved.
I feel that many forget that it is the parents who are the first coach and more should be done to help them support the players with their development.
Most parents are very well intentioned and only want the best for their child in the game so most will be open to different methods if they can see it will benefit their child.
In this article, I would like to focus on the relationship between the parent and child.
I know you might be thinking “why only the relationship side?”.
What I have come to realize with my experiences as a coach and football parent is that having built the right relationship first everything else becomes easier to implement later.
But My Child Won’t Listen to Me
(How to Win the Respect of Your Child in Youth Football!)
I think it’s safe to say that pretty much every child will try to test their parent’s patience in some capacity.It’s almost like they can’t help themselves.
But what dictates how you both move on from that is how you respond to it!
Now I am not going to lie, even I have lost my cool at times in the past when I have seen that my child is messing about in training or not listening to the coach but after a lot of reflection, I decided this wasn’t an effective approach.
So, what is the best way to handle a child who is testing you and the coach? It depends on the child.
There isn’t a one size fits all method with this situation as every child is different, but there is a process we can take to re-enforce expectations.
Help Them Reflect!
Now, I am assuming at this point that your child enjoys playing football (if they don’t, it may be best to wait until they develop an interest for the sport before taking them), if this is the case, when you encounter challenging situations try asking them these questions calmly (no particular order).
“Do you enjoy playing football?”
I expect them to say yes to this which will lead into other questions.
“Do you want to get better at this game?”
Most kids who enjoy something want to be good at it as well, so asking them this question begins the process of them thinking of how the choices they make are impacting their development.
“How do you think (famous pro football player) became such a good player? Do you think they were good listeners and trainers?
I have found using players that they look up to as an example of good application helps get the message across.
Also, at this point you may have realized that we have already got them to say yes at least 3 times to you and themself. By doing this, we should have created moments where the child was in deep thought about their actions.
“Now, how would you like to move on from this point? If you want to continue with your current choices, then I can assure you that you will not improve at this game but if you want to make better choices like the pro’s then you will get better and still have fun”.
“So, which one is it going to be?”
Throughout this process we have been giving the child the opportunity to have ownership over how they move forward in their development.
It has been proven in many situations that getting them to think instead of just telling them what they have done wrong or how they can improve is far more effective when you want to get your message across.
“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” Ann Landers. (quote)
One of my biggest breakthroughs as a football parent was when I introduced the goal setting method with my son.
For a while, I had been thinking of an effective way to encourage him to take more ownership over his development because I knew that this help him develop faster.
In my other job, I am PE teacher at a primary school and what you learn from teaching in a school is about setting clear objectives and explaining the steps to achieve that objective to the children.
So, I thought to myself “I wonder if I could something similar with my son”?
So, I did.
I decided that the car journey was the perfect time to try this method out as the conversation would be still fresh in his mind.
Now bear in mind, one thing I didn’t want to with this was enforce my opinions on him about his development.
The main goal of this was to start a conversation that would get him to start thinking about his development and what he needs to improve on to progress to the next level.
In this guided discussion we come to an agreement of two goal’s that he would focus on either in the game or training. We would also agree not to move on from these two goals until we were satisfied, that he was implementing them consistently.
My role throughout this process was merely as a guide and on match days I just observed and said little, only giving encouragement when it was warranted.
It is important that for this process to be effective we must remain patient throughout and portray a calm approach on the sidelines.
This is all about getting them to think independently making in game decisions.
This cannot be achieved if we are giving constant instructions on the sidelines.
Here is an example of a conversation I might have with my son.
Me: Hey (sons name) looking forward to the game today?
Son: Yes dad, I think I will score a hat-trick today!
Me: That’s brilliant, I love the confidence you have. Tell me one thing you can do more of to help you score more goals?
Son: Hmmm, maybe get into more goal score positions?
Me: Great, and how will you do that?
Son: Finding space around the penalty area and trying to support the striker.
Me: Okay, how about we have that as one of your targets then for this game.
Me: Is there another thing that you could think of that might help you play better?
Me: Why scanning?
I question him on this to test if he understands the importance of scanning.
Son: Because if I scan more, I will be able to see my teammates faster and I will also see where the space is.
Me: Good, let’s focus on that to. Let’s see how well you can do with those 2 tasks in this game and make sure you enjoy it.
Did you notice how much input my son had in the conversation? If we really want our kids to learn something, they must understand the importance of it themselves before they will take seriously.
Using a child centered approach that gives them some ownership over their development I have found has a much bigger impact.
Whenever I slipped into dictator mode (we all lose ourselves on occasions) it all just became noise to him and you could tell that he wasn’t listening, which is the case with most children.
Remember the goal is to create players who can play without the need of constant instructions from the coach or parent.
‘Oh no not this topic again!’
I can imagine you might be sick of hearing about how parents conduct themselves on the sidelines.
Despite the countless attention this has received, too many parents are still overstepping the mark at youth football matches.
Now you might be thinking “but Kurtis I want to learn about building a positive relationship with my child in football, why do need to know about sideline behavior?”.
This is a common response because many parents just see their conduct on the sidelines as just supporting their child and giving encouragement which is fine if it is giving encouragement.
But even this should be in small doses.
Let’s think about it.
Place yourself in your child’s shoes for a moment.
You have just arrived at your youth football match and can’t wait to get started. Your dad pulls you aside to have a pre match chat before you head over to the rest of the players.
“Today I want to see a good performance from you out there Zach” he said.
Zach listened on but really all he wanted to do was run over to his and start warming up with them.
“None of that messing around with ball at the back, remember just get rid of it” he continued to say.
Zach looked up with a puzzled look on his face and said.
“But dad, coach has told us that we should try and play out from the back and only play a longer pass if we feel that’s the best option.”
Zach’s dad back a little surprised by his son’s response and said.
“Just listen to me I’m only trying to help you, if in doubt get rid of it”.
“Okay dad” Zach responded, and ran over to his teammates who warming up on the pitch.
The match had begun and it was a close contest.
Zach’s dad was very animated on the sidelines and began to shout instructions to Zach from the sidelines.
“PASS IT, PASS IT, JUST PASS THE BALL!” he shouted.
“STOP BALL HOGGING REMEMEMBER YOU ARE NOT MESSI!” he continued to say.
At this point Zach was looking over to acknowledge his dad but this information wasn’t helping him at all because he was becoming distracted from the game.
Zach’s dad continued to shout instructions from the sidelines.
“JUST GET RID OF IT” he screamed.
“DON’T DO THAT THERE” he also said as Zach was trying to not only please his dad but follow what his coach had taught him in training.
The full-time whistle was blown, and the game finished 2-2 but despite it being a fair result and a good game Zach walked off with his head down.
“What wrong Zach? Didn’t you enjoy the game today?” his dad said.
“I don’t really want to talk about, can we just go home” he said.
Can you imagine how difficult it can be for the child to play and enjoy the game when their parent is giving instructions throughout?
Do you think that this can play a massive role when it comes to building relationships around the game with you and your child?
On match day, remember your child already has a coach, your role is to just be the parent nothing more!
It’s okay to give encouragement from time to time (not constantly as this can also be distracting for them) and it doesn’t have to be all verbally either, sometimes a simple thumbs up when your child is looking is enough.
Remember, football is a decision-making game. Therefore, we should be helping our children to become better thinkers in the game, even if they make more mistakes in the process.
“Failure is success if we learn from it”. Malcom Forbes.
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