Monday, March 14, 2011

Youth Soccer: Not Playing Up to Her Potential

What do you do when your young athlete is not playing up to his or her potential?

I say bite your tongue until your son or daughter wants to talk about it. That's what I did this weekend and it seemed to work.

This past weekend, we went to Columbus for an elite level invitational soccer tournament.

My daughter has not been very thrilled about soccer since last fall. In fact, she has mentioned on more than one occasion that this is her last year. How quickly things change, last year she was all about soccer. At that time, she was a star on her team,  a scoring machine.

Fast-forward to a new coach with a new system and a new group of girls. Things are radically different. While others have flourished in the new environment, but my daughter has not and her love for soccer has waned.

With her confidence at a low point, she gets frustrated quickly. The high level of determination that she used to bring to every game has diminished greatly. Instead of battling through defenses, she now gets knocked off the ball and on to the ground with ease. To make matters worse, she has been stopping play regularly as she cries on the ground.

Crazy Youth Sports Parent Alert

This has been a bit frustrating for me and my wife to watch. I actually lost some self-control for a split second Saturday when I yelled, "GET UP, YOU'RE NOT HURT." I immediately regretted my comment even though I knew it was true.

She did not contribute much in the two games on Saturday. I was secretly wondering why we even came up. After the games, we drove in silence to the hotel. I was kicking myself for feeling agitated by her play. "She is 10" I kept telling myself as I bit my tongue and search my brain for something to say. By the way, we don't sugar coat things. We do not tell our kids that they played well if they didn't. My daughter is smart and self-aware. She knows when she has not played well and doesn't like to talk about it when it happens.

Her spirits were lifted after spending time with teammates in the hotel pool and at dinner. At night, she was ready to talk.

She said, "Dad, it is not fair that I did not get to play goalie at all today."

Oh that is what was bothering her. I asked her if she thought the other goalie did well in the games.

She said, "yes she played great, but we should be splitting the time."

I said, "Honey, the goalie has to be the toughest player on the field. It takes lots of bravery. It takes lots of determination. You have not been showing the coaches how incredibly tough you are lately. You've been getting knocked down and crying a lot. I think that the coach wants to protect you. He probably thinks that you get hurt easily. Listen, I know that you're tough. Your mother and brother know you're tough. You know you're tough. So if you want to play goalie, you need to show the coach that you are physically and mentally tough again. Until then make things happen on the field by hustling, staying on your feet and making good passes and shots."

She did not say anything in return, but I knew she was listening.

Tough 1V1 save before getting drilled
As fate would have it, the team's primary goalie couldn't play on Sunday. She suffered an ankle sprain making a tough save late Saturday. On Sunday morning, my daughter, CC, started in goal. She played with absolute toughness and made some tremendous saves. She only allowed one goal all day and her team won both Sunday games.

After the game,  I just ran up to her with a big smile on my face and gave her a big affirmation hug because I could tell by her eyes that she was very proud of herself.

On the car ride home, she said that she wants to get an official club goalie jersey for next season.

Next season? I thought she was done with soccer.

The Main Point

What do you do when your young athlete is not playing up to his or her potential?

1) Think about your young athlete's age and situation. Do you really need to do or say anything?
2) Don't shower them with disingenuous praise. Kids are a lot smarter than parents give them credit for. They know how they did. They know where they rank. They probably know that they could be doing better.
3) If you need to talk, talk about aspects of the game that your athlete did do well.
4) Look and listen for clues that they may not want to talk about it at all. Kids put pressure on themselves, they don't need added pressure.
5) Wait, if you are generally supportive and rational, your kid will eventually engage with you about the frustrations they have regarding the sport they are playing. They will seek your wisdom on their terms in their time. If you are typically an ass - they will probably not approach you. Then you need to answer this question Are you playing up to your potential as a father or mother?
6) Finally, be prepared that they may be just fine playing below their potential and having fun instead. It probably will not change their lives that much.  Only 2 to 5% of HS Athletes play in college. Less than .5% of HS athletes play pro.


  1. Great article! Very insightful!!

    As parents we are too often "all over our kids" about their play. We too often live vicariously through their exploits or lack there of. If they do no live up to our own self inflated view of how well we would have done while playing the game in our so-called heyday, we get upset with our own kid for letting US down. Too Bad! Get over it.

    Like you point out, our ten year old is doing his/her best. If they are not doing their best, they need our understanding and encouragement and nothing less.

    I especially like the way you ask us..................................
    ................" Are you playing up to your potential as a father or mother?"
    Parenting is probably the toughest job in the world but by asking ourselves that question, can put us on the right road to good parenting.


  2. Thanks for the comments and the affirmation. I hope that my honesty about youth sports will help others.

  3. "She suffered an ankle sprain making a tough save." It comes with the sport, but sports accessories and regimen could help prevent this.

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