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From Soccer Mom Christina Walton

Soccer: Lessons for Kids and Parents Alike

Screaming at 5-year-olds

He wanted my best player off the field. He screamed insults at me, said that my player "dominated." He said I just wanted to win, and he bad-mouthed me to the parents. "HE" was the coach of the purple team and I was the coach of the white team in the Saltfleet Go-Ahead Soccer League (Mini-Under 5 Division). It was our second game of the season. 

Even though the ref told me that I didn't have to do it, I took my player off the field, only to stop the coach's tantrum. I did what I thought was best at that moment. I then wrote a short letter to the league, as did a couple of other parents, explaining what had happened. The screaming coach ended up screaming at his own players and was eventually replaced as a coach.

A Summer Of Learning

Thankfully, I went on to coach the rest of the summer without an incident. In the course of the summer I learned a lot of things:

  • Soccer is alive and well in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, with 15,000 children participating. Our three children play, and my husband and I volunteer as coaches.

  • Soccer is popular for a lot of reasons: 

    • It is relatively inexpensive; 

    • Because it involves lots of running it has natural appeal to most youngsters; 

    • Because as many as 11 players a side are on the field at any one time, and there a lots of chances for substitutions, it is inclusive; 

    • It helps children build self-esteem by helping them master new skills, from following the ball, to dribbling up the filed on a breakaway, to protecting the goal. Even just stepping onto the field is a big event for some kids. 

  • Soccer teaches parents how to work together to make a program successful because without volunteers, the kids can't play

  • Kids learn: 

    • how to be team players 

    • healthy, productive assertiveness 

    • conflict resolution 

    • responsibility 

    • good sportsmanship 

    • how to win and lose (some adults are just mastering these concepts for the first time as well!) 

    • how to handle stress and pressure 

    • risk taking (we encourage every kid to play goalie at least once; they feel so brave and proud of themselves afterwards. They see that the sun still rises the next day, even if they give up a couple of goals 

    • discipline to stay on task even if they are tired (at the younger ages), and to pursue excellence (at the more advanced levels)

Discriminating Against Strong Players Is Unfair

Another thing I have noticed is that, in our efforts to ensure a spirit of fairness and a level playing "field" for all, we sometimes are tempted to view the stronger players as a threat, even as the bad guys; the "dominators" as the coach of the purple team called my "best" player.

I saw this happen to my son. He was often asked to play goalie for long stretches just to keep him off the field. I think this is not only unethical, it is just plain unfair. The child who is a high scorer deserves as much time on the field as the child who is working on developing different skills. It's our duty to ensure that ALL players are allowed to play and take risks, to the best of their ability.

Valuing Each Player

All kids deserve ice cream after the game, in celebration of the individual child and what each has achieved. As the coach of a Mini-Under 5 team, I see how young the kids are. Sometimes just turning the ball around and going in the right direction is a personal triumph for kid this age; so is learning to not steal the ball from a teammate. The shy player who bravely kicks the ball two times more that she did during the last game is learning and growing.

My husband coaches both of our daughters' teams, an Atom girls (Under 10) and the Under 7. The U10 kids are a bit older, so they are learning definite strategies such as passing to center. The games are faster and our daughters are learning to think and plan ahead. At all age and skill levels, the team spirit of fun can prevail. The GOAL then is to value each player. Their smiles and enthusiasm say it all!