Most parents mean well. They really do. They want their kids to succeed in everything they try, and they give lots of advice geared to help their son or daughter reach his or her goals.
Here’s the problem, though: Despite their best intentions, parents sometimes have no idea what they’re talking about.
It’s OK to admit it. It’s the truth. It may hurt, but it’s the truth. As they say, the first step to conquering a problem is to admit there is a problem.
Soccer is a prime example of this. Most American parents simply don’t know that much about soccer, even if their kids have been playing soccer for years. They get the basics of the game – pass, shoot, score – but that’s about it. Unsurprisingly, that can lead to some bad advice and misapplied praise.
Let me explain…
Little in a youth soccer game is likely to elicit as many cheers as a big booming kick down the field. We love to see the ball make that big, long arc across the sky, like a Kris Bryant home run or a Steph Curry three-point shot. It’s powerful. It’s emphatic. It’s eye-catching.
It’s also usually the wrong decision.
In soccer – and especially in youth soccer – the team that does the best job of controlling the ball usually wins. It’s not the team with the flashiest footwork or the fastest, strongest or most athletic kids. It’s the team that plays under control, the team that makes the smartest decisions when they get the ball, the team that makes the most accurate passes, the team that knows when to boom the ball down the field and when to just make a quick, simple five-foot pass instead.
We see similar things in other sports. In basketball, we love the dunk and the deep three-pointer, but the best offense is usually about smart, easy passes to the open man. It’s how the San Antonio Spurs have been so good for so many years. In football, we love to see Hail Marys and long bombs, but teams like the New England Patriots have been successful with shorter, simpler passes that aren’t nearly as sexy but keep getting first downs and frustrating the defense. It’s very much the same thing in soccer.
Watch a match between two teams in the Premier League or one of the other top European leagues. You’ll rarely see a ball just booted to be booted. Every decision, every pass is made with intent. That decision making is part of what separates the good teams from the great teams in world soccer, as well as in youth soccer.
Now that’s not to say that booming the ball – one of my son’s academy coaches called it a “Hulk smash” — is always a bad idea. Sometimes the offense is swarming and the defense needs to do anything it can to slow the charge. In that case, a big, booming kick can help reset things, allowing the defense to catch its breath and fight on. That sort of kick should absolutely be applauded. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Most of the time, however, the game doesn’t call for power or force. It calls for control. Rather than “Hulk smashing” the ball down the field, the ball just needs to be dished off to the teammate that’s a few feet away who can start the offense headed down the field.
Even the goalie needs to be under control. Sure, you see plenty of booming punts or goal kicks from the keeper during a game, but you also see many times when the goalie opts to throw the ball out to one of his teammates. That’s because the goalie knows his team is much more likely to keep possession of the ball that way than any other.
So the next time you’re watching your daughter play and she chooses to make the smart pass to a teammate rather than booming the ball up the field, don’t be afraid to cheer even if the other parents don’t. Even tell her on the ride home just how great you thought that pass was. After all, in sports as in life, kids need to be praised when they do the right thing, even if other people around them don’t understand just how right it was.