It’s a wonderful time of year for youth soccer: Summer camps are over, and millions of players kick off the fall season. They are excited to show off new talents to coaches and teammates – but unfortunately, that means too many parents sticking their two cents about the coaching.
Parents complaining, players whining and coaches screaming. It’s a recipe for disaster.
The question is why? Recently U.S. Soccer released new guidelines for developing young players. It’s a fantastic first step.
However, those changes may not matter unless we fix the culture of the youth game.
The parent problem
It isn’t easy being a sports parent. We all want our children to succeed.
However, there’s a line that needs to not be crossed.
Encouragement and support often become yelling, tirades, even abuse hurled at refs, coaches and other parents.
A parent admonishing the referee for making a bad call do so because they are too invested emotionally in the game's outcome or because they don’t know the rules.
In today’s competitive environment, parents use youth sports to gratify their egos or as a form of competition with other parents. This is not a new phenomenon, and sometimes it devolves to violent levels.
Clubs and association from across the globe employ various methods to deal with these situations.
A couple of years ago the New York Times described the experience of an American family whose son had been recruited to La Masia, FC Barcelona’s prestigious youth training program.
"The parents watching the games are much quieter than their counterparts in the United States,” the reporter observed. “Part of that is because Barcelona’s coaches forbid parents to shout out instructions to the players on the field."
James Rodgers coached children in AFC Wimbledon’s Football Community Scheme in England. He told Fox News Latino, "I think that parents should be allowed to encourage their children, but that they should be extremely sensitive to the directions that the players are receiving from the coaches and even from the referee.”
He added, “The most important thing is that the coach should be doing the coaching, not the parents."
On this side of the Atlantic, the "Silent Saturday" movement is pushing for sideline silence when teams play each other.
Coaches and parents alike aren’t supposed to bark orders at the children. They remain silent and observe and save the instruction and comments for half-time and after the game.
The goal is to give players a chance to trust their skills and instincts without sideline interruption and to develop leadership skills on the field. It also fosters a sense of true teamwork as the players must learn to rely on one another.
Training is the time for instruction; games are showcases for that learning.
The coach problem
Note that the silence also applies to coaches.
Too many turn the sideline into a place of incessant screaming. John Ouelette, national coach for the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) and the previous National Coaching Advisory Commissioner has long supported Silent Saturday.
“Because of the yelling from the coaches and spectators, many players had become silent with their own teammates,” Ouelette has observed. “This is detrimental to their development as players.”
One complaint from youth coaches across the country is about the dearth of creative players coming through the U.S. ranks.
Ouelette noted: “During the first stage of soccer development, it is essential that the children are allowed to discover the game on their own terms. High level coaches constantly complain that players come through the ranks dependent on instructions, because they've been bossed around in the early stages – being told where to run and when to pass.”
He added, “They also cite a dearth of truly creative players – the ones with the ability to make the unpredictable moves – blaming the lack of freedom children are afforded during their early years.”
The player problem
The lack of silence also can be an issue with the players themselves.
There’s a questioning that didn’t exist in years past. Young players question coaches about drills, the position they are assigned and, of course, playing time.
This lack of respect is a by-product of the helicopter parent.
This sense of entitlement exists on all playing levels and applies to the whining Landon Donovan did at being omitted from the last World Cup squad.
Practically as soon as Jürgen Klinsmann took the reins of the U.S. men’s national team, Donovan took a four-month hiatus from the game.
Instead of admitting that may have soured relations between player and coach and taking responsibility for his action, Donovan complained to the media.
In the end, James Rogers summed up the situation best: "The biggest challenge is ensuring that the parents’ energies are channeled in a positive fashion. Parents must also have realistic expectations for their children – not every youth player is going to become the next Lionel Messi.
He added, “The sheer enjoyment of the game should be the most important thing."
So everyone just grab a chair, sit back and enjoy the beautiful game.
Video of the week
Kids, do try this at home!
Bournemouth’s Matt Ritchie scores a beauty against Sunderland in Premier League action.
From the wires
Sepp Blatter told his staff he has done "nothing illegal or improper" and has no immediate plans to step down, the FIFA president's legal team said Monday.
Blatter was back at FIFA headquarters three days after being interrogated by Swiss investigators at the scandal-battered governing body's headquarters.
Blatter is expected to hand over power in February when an emergency election is held, triggered by the president's resignation statement four days after being re-elected for a fifth, four-year term in May.
But the 79-year-old Blatter does not appear to be planning any sudden exit despite being the subject of a criminal investigation over his management of world soccer.
"President Blatter spoke to FIFA staff today and informed the staff that he was cooperating with the authorities, reiterated that he had done nothing illegal or improper and stated that he would remain as president of FIFA," Blatter's attorney, Richard Cullen, said in a statement.
Blatter was questioned by Swiss investigators on Friday about why FIFA paid 2 million Swiss francs (about $2 million) to UEFA President Michel Platini in 2011 for work supposedly carried out at least nine years earlier. Blatter denied wrongdoing and Platini, who is also a FIFA vice president, was only questioned as a witness.
"President Blatter on Friday shared with the Swiss authorities the fact that Mr. Platini had a valuable employment relationship with FIFA serving as an adviser to the president beginning in 1998," Cullen said. "He explained to the prosecutors that the payments were valid compensation and nothing more and were properly accounted for within FIFA including the withholding of Social Security contributions."
Platini wrote to UEFA members reiterating Friday's denial of wronging while still not addressing why there was a nine-year gap between carrying out his work and receiving the payment. Platini became a FIFA adviser after running the 1998 World Cup in France until 2002 when he joined FIFA's executive committee.
"It was a full-time job and my functions were known by all," Platini said in the letter. "The remuneration was agreed at the time and after the initial payments were made, the final outstanding amount of 2 million Swiss Francs was paid in February of 2011.
"The income has all been fully declared by me to the authorities, in accordance with Swiss law."
The Scottish Football Association wants answers about why it Platini was paid so long after the work was carried out.
"It is an essential piece of information that still needs to be provided," SFA chief executive Stewart Regan responded to the letter on Twitter.
Scotland was one of the first UEFA members in July to publicly endorse Platini's bid for the FIFA presidency. Oct. 26 is the deadline for candidates, who must pass integrity checks.
Platini's letter did not reference his election campaign, but he wrote: "I am aware these events may harm my image and my reputation and by consequence the image of UEFA."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.