Are Our Children Learning or Performing? - SoccerParenting.com
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Are Our Children Learning or Performing?

As a new school year began this week I have been especially aware of my son’s learning environment at school. I’ve asked him countless questions about his new teachers and their teaching styles, and about his first impression of how his year learning with them will go.

What is the best environment for our children to learn?

I want my son to experience classrooms where learning abounds. I want him to be provided space for critical thinking and curiosity, a learning environment where he feels safe making mistakes and asking questions, and is motivated with a sense of autonomy to challenge himself. I want him to experience the tests, quizzes and papers as a welcomed, albeit formidable, challenge to gauge his progress, instead of a stress-ridden experience where he is hyper-focused on the outcomes. I want him to feel like he has support and encouragement from me at home, his classmates, and his teachers and advisors as he dives into new subjects. 

And the same goes for him on the soccer field. 

I want my son's environment on the soccer field to be one in which he is able to experience learning, not performing. Learning on the soccer fields means being able to concentrate, having the peace of mind to be able to stay focused and acutely aware of the movements of the ball, his teammates and opponents. Learning on the soccer fields means trying new things, pushing previously conceived limitations, taking risks without the fear of retribution from coaches or parents, and feeling a sense of anticipation as decisions are made and a sense of inspiration as skills are executed.

What is a poor environment for our children to learn?

I absolutely don’t want my son's learning environment on the soccer fields to be invaded by hostile behaviors from parents who care too much and are screaming at the referees, players or just too loudly voicing their opinion about moments in the game.

I absolutely don’t want my son's learning environment to be muddled with distracting behaviors from coaches and parents who are telling him what to do in the moment he is making a decision. He doesn’t need someone telling him where to pass, or how fast to run, or where to throw the ball in. Instead, he needs the space to be able to think faster in order to perform better. Distracting him will not help him learn.

Supportive vs Distracting and Hostile Behavior

In order to learn, my son needs and deserves to be surrounded by supportive behaviors, not distracting or hostile behaviors. Supportive behavior means encouragement and praise at the appropriate times in a game - NOT when he is concentrating and trying to perform a task or make a decision. He needs to hear statements such as "Good Job", "Keep Working Hard" and "You Can Do It".

I imagine you feel the same way about the learning environment you want for your child on the soccer field? Or course we don't want our children to be distracted or feel the stress of being in the presence of hostile communication.

And yet…our soccer sidelines are out of control.  We show up with the best of intentions and excited to watch a game, and then before we know it – we are riddling the environment with distracting behaviors and allowing for hostile behaviors to go unchecked.

Supportive vs. Distracting Behavior

One thing I’ve found with the work I do as the Founder of Soccer Parenting – is that when parents and coaches learn the difference between supportive and distracting behavior – the distracting behavior decreases.  While it feels like we are helping our children learn by telling them what to do – we are not. 

When we distract our children by telling them what to do we may be helping to positively change the outcome of a decision in the moment – they may make the pass that leads to the breakaway, or move to a better position to defend, or shoot the ball and score - so it may appear they are learning.  But, in fact, telling a child what do to in the moment – "Pass to…", "Go to….", "Shoot!!!"...does not lead to long term, cognitive growth.  When we distract our child with these behaviors we are helping them perform, not learn. 

Distracting behaviors lead to performing. 

Supportive behaviors lead to learning. 

You can make a difference in improving the soccer learning environment of children.  

I invite you to The Sideline Project - a program developed by Soccer Parenting to improve sideline behavior.  It's simple:

  1. Watch the 2.5 minute video about Supportive, Distracting and Hostile Behavior, 
  2. Read the Sideline Pledge, 
  3. Add your name to the virtual pledge wall.  

We know our children’s teachers are critical to their learning environment at school.  We know our children’s coaches are critical to their learning environment in soccer.  And we also must appreciate the critical role we play as parents in facilitating the best learning environment for our children during a soccer game.  

It’s time we eliminate distracting behavior, set strong standards and expectations around eliminating hostile behaviors, and be supportive of our children - allowing them to find joy, inspiration and learning on the fields.


About the Author Skye Eddy Bruce

Founder, SoccerParenting.com Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF “B” License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.

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