Developing Decision Makers
By Fran Kulas, Villanova University (posted with author’s permission)
Would you, as a parent, go in your backyard and cheer for your kids while they are playing tag with their neighborhood friends? Would you tell them where to hide in a game of “hide-and-go-seek”? Would you tell them who to pass to in a two-on-two basketball game in your driveway? I feel sure those who asked themselves these questions responded with a definitive “no.” Since you wouldn’t cheer for your child or offer strategic comments to them in neighborhood games, why do you do it during their team’s soccer game? Is it because you view their performance as being more important because they are wearing uniforms and there is a referee? Are you the type of parent who believes that your success in raising your child will be measured by what your child does or doesn’t do in his/her soccer game?
The sideline behavior of coaches and parents must improve. In Dr. Lynn Kidman’s book “Developing Decision Makers,” she points out that “it is imperative that we give priority to the development needs of children, ahead of adult needs.” Children actually need less direction than most parents and coaches are giving them. Let’s explore solutions that will help give the game back to the kids.
Adult influence is a very instrumental factor on the way children develop psychologically, socially, cognitively, and emotionally. As Kidman points out, “Adult reinforcement is the main influence on the way children perceive failure. If adults make it clear that they expect their children to win, they insinuate that the children will fail unless they win.”
Adult reinforcement can be both positive and negative. While parents and coaches may have the best intentions at heart, Kidman notes that adult expectations can often inhibit a child’s enjoyment of a sport. “Because the desire for adult approval is very strong before puberty,” Kidman writes, “Children’s ability to perform at their own level and for fun can be inhibited. Therefore adults have a responsibility to consider which expectations are their own and which are their children’s. This is a difficult task because it requires some degree of objectivity.”
Sideline Behavior and Comments
A simple, yet seldom-used, method of determining what children want to hear from the sidelines is proposed in the book: “A good way to determine whether the sideline comments are helpful and supportive is to ask the children what they prefer to hear on the sideline, if anything.” Have you ever tried this approach? I challenge you to do so and report back to me with the responses you solicit.
Steve Tranter, Director of Coaching for the Cincinnati United Premier Soccer Club in Cincinnati, Ohio, distributes a document to all of his coaches entitled” Coach Protocol.” In this document, coaches are instructed to “only give instruction when the ball is out of play.” While this may be considered extreme, it certainly serves as a sound guideline for parents and coaches to refrain from trying to control the players’ every move versus allowing them to discover the game at their own rate.
Parents and coaches often get wrapped up in the moment and get overwhelmed with the emotion that they want the players to succeed. We must, however, as adult leaders in a child’s game, ask ourselves, “Are we giving information for rapid performance change or for deep rooted learning?”
An old Chinese Proverb states: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Let’s remember these wise old words while on the sidelines of the soccer field. Kidman points out that “too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.” There couldn’t be a more true statement.
Let Them Play!
U14 boys’ coach Hugh Galvan, paints a clear picture in Kidman’s book when he is quoted saying “Certainly I used to be more directive, make a lot more decisions for players and didn’t include them in the decision-making process, yet ironically, they play the game, not me.” This youth coach has a firm grasp on what a coach is really meant to do: empower players to perform and make decisions independently. “There is no point in coaching unless the teaching you do helps the student overtake you,” Galvan said.
Yet sometimes as parents and coaches, we sometimes selfishly want players to rely on us to be successful. Letting players play and make decisions on their own is perhaps the most important responsibility for adults. It is well documented that decision-making ability is considered particularly important within a free-flowing dynamic sport such as soccer, in which the coach has limited influence once the game begins. Sometimes, less is more.
Recently at a U.S. Soccer National Youth License course, instructor Ron Quinn provided a slogan for all adults in the game to model themselves after: “Over-coaching is when players look to you for every move they make. Under-coaching is when they can’t find you.”
Fran Kulas is Director of Coach and Player Development for Concord Soccer Association. He can be reached at
Information for our Families
The Seymour Soccer Association is made up of parents and we know some of the problems and concerns that parents have. We have set up this web page just for you. The SSA is made up of volunteers and we need help.
The role that parents play in the life of a soccer player has a tremendous impact on their experience. With this in mind, we have taken some time to write down some helpful reminders for all of us as we approach the upcoming season. If you have any questions, please feel free to discuss it with us.
1. Let the coaches coach: Leave the coaching to the coaches. This includes motivating, "psyching up" your child for practice, post game constructive critiquing/teaching, setting goals, requiring additional training, etc. You have entrusted the care of your player to these coaches and they need to be free to do their job. If a player has too many coaches, it is confusing for him and his performance usually declines.
2. Support our program: Get involved. Volunteer. Help out with future fundraisers. Do what you can to support your program and ours.
3. Be your child's best fan: Support your child unconditionally. Do not withdraw love when your child performs poorly. Your child should never have to perform to win your support.
4. Support and root for all the players a team: Help foster the concept teamwork. If your child's teammates are playing better than your child, your child is provided a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow.
5. Do not bribe or offer incentives: Bribes may very well distract your child from properly concentrating in practice and game situations.
6. Encourage your child to talk with the coaches: If your child is having difficulties in practice or games, or can't make a practice, etc., encourage them to speak directly to the coaches. This "responsibility taking" is a big part of becoming a an adult. By handling the off-field tasks, your child is claiming ownership of all aspects of the game - preparation for, as well as playing, the game.
7. Understand and display appropriate game behavior: Remember, your child's self esteem and game performance is at stake. Be appropriately supportive. To perform to the best of her abilities, a player needs to focus on the parts of the game that she can control (fitness, positioning, decision making, skill, aggressiveness, and what the game is presenting to them). If she starts focusing on what she can not control (the condition of the field, the referee, the weather, the opponent, even the outcome of the game at times), she will not play up to her ability. If she hears many voices screaming what to do, or yelling at the referee, it diverts her attention away from the joy of competition.
8. Monitor your child's stress level at home: Keep an eye on your child to make sure that they are handling stress effectively from the various activities in her life.
9. Monitor eating and sleeping habits: Be sure your child is eating the proper foods and getting adequate rest.
10. Help your child keep his priorities straight: Help your child maintain a focus on schoolwork, building and sustaining relationships, and the other important things in life. Also, if your child has made a commitment to soccer, help her fulfill her obligation to the team.
11. Reality check: If your child has come off the field when her team has lost, but she gave her best effort, help her to see this as a "win." Remind her that she is to focus on "process" and not just "results." Her fun and satisfaction should be derived from "striving to win."
12. Keep soccer in its proper perspective: Soccer should not be larger than life for you or your family. If your child's performance produces strong emotions in you, try your best to suppress them. Remember your relationship will continue with your child long after her competitive soccer days are over. Keep your goals and needs separate from your child's experience.
13. Have fun!: That is what SSA and its coaches will be trying to do! Coaches will try to challenge your child to reach past their "comfort level" and improve themselves as a player, and thus, as a person. Coaches will attempt to do this in an environment that is fun, yet challenging. SSA looks forward to this process. We hope that you do to!