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Common Sense Coaching from a Sideline Soccer Mom

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Let me preface this by saying I’m just a sideline soccer mom. I’ve never coached my own children. My husband has…he’s coached all of our children at one point or another, as well as teams that we didn’t even have a child on because they needed a coach. We’ve had kids on both “A” teams and “B” teams and kids that started on the field and kids that started on the bench. Now that the sports season is over, these are my own observations as a parent on common sense coaching in youth sports.

Common Sense Coaching for Sideline Parents

I think we’ve been pretty lucky overall with coaches. I’ve actually been watching from the sidelines for the past 10 years. With 3 kids and multiple games every weekend, I’ve watched a lot of different coaches. In the younger years, when kids are really just developing, it’s so important not only to develop their skill, but also their self confidence. I don’t deny as they get older, they should have to earn their play time…I’m fine with that. But when they are little, what coaches do can go a long ways towards creating a strong self confident kid that has a sense of fair play.

So this is my take as mom watching from afar!

Be as fair as possible. When the kids are young (pre-travel) and you find you have a really dominant team, break it up for the following season and move the strongest players around. It’s not good for one team to pummel the other teams week after week. Even if you’re not keeping score (which you shouldn’t be at these young ages), you can bet the kids are, and believe me, they feel lousy whether the score is recorded or not. At these early ages, the teams should be as equal as possible.

When kids start playing town travel, adhere to the play time rules…and don’t start the same kids on the bench week after week. Yes, they do notice, and yes, it does a number on their self confidence. I get that they earn their play time later on, but there is a time and place for that. When they are 9 and 10 years old (really just starting to develop their skills)…the kids that ride the bench really do feel it. And parents get upset too, which in turn makes the kid feel even worse. I know, one of my kids used to be in this situation.

Don’t blow out other teams. As a coach, my husband felt strongly that no team should be humiliated. When he coached my daughter’s travel team, it was a strong team and the girls won most of their games. Many times if they were up by several points, and it was apparent that the other team was not going to beat them, my husband would play a girl or two down on the field to give the other team a chance to make up some ground.  Or he’d give the girls the instruction that they could only shoot with their weaker foot, or that they had to pass a certain amount of times.

One season he coached my youngest son’s basketball team, and the boys lost most of their games, many by a fairly big margin. Then somehow one game they were winning huge…the other team had a similar record to ours.  He discreetly asked the score keeper to stop putting up the scores. He pulled the boys aside and said to them… “How did it feel to you when you were getting beaten badly by those other teams?” The boys overwhelming said that it didn’t feel so good.  So he said “Let’s not do the same thing to them.” The boys got it.  They still won the game, but the scoreboard didn’t show a blowout. Unfortunately, some of the parents from our team noticed what was happening and started getting pretty irate…they wanted to humiliate the other team. Have a little empathy folks. If you don’t like how it feels when it’s your kid on the receiving end, don’t dish it out!

Teach sportsmanship. Kids need to learn losing is a part of life. It’s not that big of a deal. They won’t even remember down the road that they lost that game. But what they do need to learn is how to handle themselves in the face of adversity. If they learn this lesson young, it’ll be a lot easier to handle life’s disappointments that inevitably will come their way. Sometimes I wonder if some of the sportsmanship issues we see today are as a result of our new way of handling the sport seasons…handing out trophies to everyone, because everyone is a winner! Everyone does not need to “win.”. Whatever happened to just having fun? I really think if we adults didn’t make a big deal out of the trophies, then the kids wouldn’t even care. I’m not a big fan of participation trophies. You can read all about my politically incorrect viewpoint below. My kids just recycle them. Unless they mean something to them (like a district win), they don’t even want them. The novelty wore off right away.

Be a model citizen. Model the behavior you want from the kids on the field. Sure coaches get upset and say things they don’t mean. They’re not superhuman. But if you say something in the heat of the moment, use it as a teaching moment and apologize.

Encourage team bonding. Two of my kids teams have had coaches that went out of their way to create a tight knit group by planning sleep away tournaments and group get togethers  outside of the sport. Of course it helped there wasn’t a lot of turnover on these teams, so the kids had the opportunity to really get to know each other over several seasons. But the fact of the matter is, my kids are older now, no longer play on teams with these kids, and yet still have some very close friends. And as a bonus, it had the same sort of result on the parents. Many of my closest friends today are from those travel years. Thanks Coach!

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Saturday 5th of April 2014

This is terrific advice. I think ALL parents, coaching or not, should read and abide by this. We all want our children to enjoy the activity and this is how it's done.

Michelle Nahom

Tuesday 8th of April 2014

I think that kids emulate coaches and parents. Honestly, that's where our problems with bad sportsmanship lie in my opinion. The kids learn it from the adults in their lives.

Betty Taylor

Wednesday 7th of August 2013

Great coaching tips! I have had lots of years in sports with my children. There have been good coaches and people who should never coach.

Michelle Nahom

Wednesday 7th of August 2013

That's always the way isn't it?! I'm very thankful for all the wonderful coaches my children have had!


Friday 21st of June 2013

As long as a coach remembers he's here for the kids, not the other way around, he should be fine. However, it's easy to be the fair and virtuous coach when things are going your way. How will you react when the officiating is questionable, the opposition is chippy, and your kids just want to give up?

The lessons the kids will take away from youth sports don't have as much to do with skill and wins/losses as they do the example the coach sets when things go wrong.

another jennifer

Wednesday 19th of June 2013

There's a lot of great advice here, Michelle. I find myself cringing on the sidelines sometimes when parents take games with the younger kids too seriously. While I also don't believe in participating trophies, there needs to be some sort of decorum for the kids. Your last point about team bonding can last a lifetime with the kids. So important!


Tuesday 18th of June 2013

Great post! My daughter played softball in middle school and there were just some parents who were super obnoxious and would yell out things that didn't help the team or their own child. It was disturbing and you could see it in their kid's faces that get that all the time.

Keep it Touched, Khloe