Many, perhaps most, would say we have lost our grip on youth sports in this country. Parents are out of control, kids aren’t achieving, coaches are misbehaving and the whole system isn’t producing the kinds of players we hope to display on an international stage.
I think this all started when we asked Dad and Mom to kindly step aside so we can pay someone who knows what they’re doing to take over. We did this to insure that Johnny and Jill had the “best” environment, the “best” teacher, and the “right” approach to this game that Mom and Dad didn’t really know but were happy to study up on so they could spend a few evenings a week out on the pitch to help the tykes learn.
What we didn’t count on was the wonderfully freeing feeling that pay for play would invite in. Wow! Now I don’t need to rush home from work to deal with the kids. I can stay late at the office or get a bit more done around the house while they’re at practice. Bonus! They can get great training and I don’t have to be there.
Now all I need to do is show up at games on the weekends and enjoy watching the kiddos play. I’ll bring junior, bring snack when it’s my turn and just relax in my chair and enjoy the game.
What we didn’t count on was the feeling of angst when Jimmy didn’t pass to Johnny – who was totally open! – or when Sam keeps losing the ball, or when that big kid on the other team – is he really only 8? – dribbles through our defense six times in a row and his coach never subs him. And can’t we do something about our goalie? He’s not even trying!
What has this coach been teaching these kids?! Does he even know what he’s doing? What are we paying this guy for? For that matter, what are we paying him?
Wait. Now look! Coach is sending in a whole new platoon of subs, just when our kids were getting it together out there. We’re sunk. That scrawny kid is afraid of the ball and the rest of ’em can’t connect 2 passes! Why did I even come for this? Now Johnny is sitting on the bench talking to another kid. He doesn’t even care that his team is getting stomped. What are we teaching him here?!
I don’t think so. But it’s what is being played out across the country. Our money has allowed us to resign from our responsibility to maintain good humor and decorum.
We have a right to criticize this coach because we’re paying him. We have a right to insist on playing time because we’re paying for it. We’ll say what we think about his coaching approach because he doesn’t see what we see and he needs to know!
When parent-coaches were ushered out, we apparently ushered this parenting in. Then, in many instances, we became the worst versions of ourselves.
Who’s to fault Charlie Boehm for tweeting, “Teach the children well. But slap some sense into the parents while you’re at it.”?
Back when we were coaches we:
- knew how hard it was to play every player
- felt the pressure to win
- empathized with the opposing coach who had a weaker squad because…
- sometimes we were over-matched and acted in unsporting ways.
- heard what the parents sounded like shouting at their kids
- heard from the kids what it felt like to be shouted at
- kicked ourselves for yelling at our own kid and apologized for same
- saw the value of time well spent with the kids, win, lose or draw
- demonstrated the value of volunteering our time
- showed the kids they were worth it
- learned things about ourselves as the game asked it from us
- worked on our skill so we could become better teachers
- took our responsibility as mentor and role model seriously
- gained more than money could ever buy.
I wrote Fit2Finish: Keeping Your Soccer Players in the Game for those coaches. The dedicated volunteer coaches who wanted to teach kids to compete well in the game while helping them stay healthy and fit, because that’s what will help them succeed in life.
Dedication to the team, playing the role you’re assigned, giving it your best regardless of outcome – even if it means giving up time when you could be doing something else – speaks volumes. Choosing to coach says all these things to our kids in ways nothing else can.
Before we dismiss being a volunteer coach as something parents just don’t do anymore, we must consider what a paid coach is costing us. Not just in dollars and cents, but in hollers and sense. We may be missing the chance of a lifetime and making fools of ourselves in the meantime.
There are lots of great resources to help you be a great coach for your kids’ team(s). If you’d like the Fit2Finish resource to be among yours, sign up to receive news from the Fit2Finish blog or contact me for your copy of Keeping Your Soccer Players in the Game, free to the first 25 coaches who respond.