Soccer Parents

Helping your child enjoy and stay in sport….

I regularly get calls from parents asking for advice on trying to keep their child in sport. Which in a lot of ways can be one of the most difficult challenges parents face particularly as they get older.

The first thing to consider is does the child actually want to play sport. I find with a lot of parents is they feel an obligation to get their kids started as young as possible and although it’s important that children enjoy and exercise – but starting them young is not always going to be the right decision.

Some children just love to play sport and they can be highly competitive. Others just happen to be there because their parents have brought them along. Some love being around their friends and that’s what’s important to them, the social interaction. All kids have their reasons for participating in sport.

If you want your child feeling good about themselves and having a healthy attitude towards sports, then they will for sure need your help. Be there for them, be supportive but allow them to take control of their sport. You also play your roles in the coach-child-parent relationship.

Allowing your child to take control of their sport by encouraging them to do their best every time they train and play will help build their self-esteem. Sport is a great way to teach children about putting in ‘hard work’ can lead to better results and in turn prepare them for others challenges and obstacles they will face through life.  

Research suggest that being in control or over controlling everything your child does in sport can leave them feeling like a failure, inadequate and lower their self-esteem, which in turn will further your relationship with them and impact in other areas of life. 

It’s so important as a parent to be there for them, be part of their team. They look to you for support, encouragement. They don’t look to you to tell them how bad they did or for advice on how they should play (unless you’re a parent coach and in this case read (Coaching Your Child), they want you be to be part of the experience in a positive way.

Also encourage your kids to experiment, don’t focus on a single sport. Diversification will help develop better movement and ball skills.

“If a kid is a quick biological maturer, that’s different than them being the next LeBron James,” Epstein says. “The path that most elite athletes travel is the Roger Federer path, his parents forcing him to play basketball, badminton and soccer, not the Tiger path. That’s an exception.”

Let’s start off on the right track by:

  1. Respecting everyone that plays. including the opposition, officials, coaches and their parents and teach you child to do the same.
  2. Touching on what I spoke about above. Be supportive but don’t coach. Provide encouragement, support, be empathetic, get them to training and games on time, pay the fees, help with fund-raisers, etc., but… do not coach! One of the worst things you can do is coach you’re child, when you’re not their coach. So, don’t parent when you coach and don’t coach when you’re parenting.
  3. Encourage them to try and improve every-time they play. Just 1% every time can lead to big improvements. The main goal of sport is to get better. When the focus is on getting better, they will be more relaxed, have more fun and play better. One way they can focus on getting better is through effort.
  4. Focus on effort not the result. Don’t judge them on the wins and loses and don’t allow them too either. When a child does their absolute best and loses, they are still successful and you can make them feel like a winner by highlighting their effort. The same can be said when they win but they play below par. You can help your child understand the importance between success and failure and winning and losing. Remember, if you define success and failure in terms of winning and losing, you’re playing a losing game with your child! 
  5. Sport should be fun. That’s the number one reason kids get involved. Fun is part of learning and when they stop having fun they stop learning. If your child is not enjoying playing, then you need to start getting curious. What’s stopping them from having fun? The Coach? The Sport, maybe the pressure of the sport?  It might even be you? Fun and play mean the same thing to children.
  6. Do not measure the love you give your child based on their sports performance. Punishing for playing badly is a damaging mistake and you should only use this method of parenting if you want to damage your child emotionally and ruin your loving relationship with them.
  7. Self -esteem gets established through love and acceptance. The better children feel about themselves the better they will perform. A positive environment will help children learn quicker, build their self esteem and help them perform better during competition. All children want and need acceptance and to have their parents feel positive about the things they do. This is how self-esteem gets established. Like positivity, self esteem makes the world go round. Feeling good about yourself is a powerful thing and the more you do it the more it lasts. It’s never nice to interact with someone in a way that attacks their self-esteem by demeaning, or embarrassing them. If you put your child down or reduce their achievement not only will they eventually to the same to themselves throughout their life, but they will also to the same to others.
  8. Failure is the most powerful learning experience. When children played on the street, they continually made mistakes. However they didn’t see them as mistakes, they saw them as challenges. The most successful people in life are risk takers and they aren’t afraid to fail. When they do fail the use the experience and feedback to improve in a positive way. You see if they didn’t fail they would never learn therefore they would never get better. Failure is succeeding, failure is learning, failure is improving.  Fear of failure is really the biggest failure of all. When a child is afraid to fail they generally fail harder because they are tense and focusing to much on the outcome. We don’t tell a child to stop falling when they are learning to walk. These setbacks, mistakes and even taking risks are positive learning experience that will lead to success. Author of Sports Gene David Epstein says, “If you had to choose between needing feedback when we did something wrong or when we did something right, I’m convinced now it’s when we did something right. And that’s when people don’t give feedback,” he says. “They pay attention to what’s wrong.”
  9. Rewarding “A fiver for every-time you score or a trip to that junk food haunt McD’s if you win” Yeah, we have all heard these promises before. Well, research  have shown this is not the way to motivate your child. Guilt indirectly or directly does not motivate a child to play better. Yeah, you might get short term success but long-term you are heading for disaster. Take the fun away and in many cases getting them to focus on themselves and their rewards instead of doing all they can for the team, is not how sport works. Using fear as a motivator is definitely a no no. Setting your child targets for you own gratification suggest you do not believe in your child’s capabilities. Threats take the fun out of performance and directly lead to your child performing terribly. Empower you child to always believe that they can do their best. If you would like to reward then why not reward effort, respect, fair-play and honesty, etc.
  10. Don’t compare your child to others. All children develop at different rates through the various stages. We know of lots of kids who are the same age but are completely different in physical size. One child may be more technical than they other, in this situation there is a value in comparing. You can use this child to demonstrate how a ball exercise might be executed and you can highlight the fact that this particular child is able to these things because he/she practices a lot. If your child wants to be this good then they to will need to put in the time and effort.
  11. Get them to focus on the process of learning not the result. When they focus on their efforts, the results will come. In life we can’t control outcome of most situations and the same goes for the result in the game. Focusing on the task to achieve a result (praise effort) is a more valuable life learning lesson.

Sports is a fantastic way to build self-esteem in the right environment. At the end of it all, when the weekend is over…’s just a game.

As parents we need to be realistic about our children’s development and participation in sport. Very few will get to the top level but most dream of doing so. No matter how far they get or how long they stay in the game, celebrate those experiences with them. The wins, the losses, the disappointments – there is always a positive to take from every situation.  Time passes quickly and It won’t be long before you’re wondering where it went and how you wished, you just backed off a little and let them play!!!


I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me, if you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend.

Thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary