Our Clubs and Coaches Can and Must Do Better

Sadly, the list just keeps growing, and some soccer clubs' culture needs an overhaul.

  • An email from a parent whose 9 year old just travelled three states away to a tournament, was ridiculed by teammates thanks to the culture the coach established within the team, and who played 15 total minutes of the tournament.
  • A social media post in a private group about an 8 year old who played less than 10 minutes of an entire end of season tournament.
  • An email from a parent of a 16 year old who didn’t make the team he had been on for the past six years, and who was notified about this by his name not being on the website published list instead of receiving a call from his coach of the past four years.
  • A voice mail from an upset parent who felt like she had nowhere to turn when her daughter, who is struggling with anxiety, was screamed at from the coach during a game, loud enough for everyone to hear “What are you doing?  I am so frustrated with you.  We worked on this at practice.”  The mom said to my voicemail with her voice cracking: “Why couldn’t he instead give her some confidence and believe in her?  I am so worried about her.”

The list goes on and on.  I could fill up pages.  In fact, I have an entire folder in Outlook where I save emails such as this entitled “Frustrated Parents”.  Parents who feel powerless.  Parents not sure how to balance the “hard times” with the “tough lessons” and the “personal growth”. 

And what often strikes me most when I receive these emails is the fact that parents are asking me if the experience of their child is an acceptable one.  They are seeking validation for their frustration, not sure if they are overreacting.

Is it okay for an 8 year old to not play a single minute in a game? 

Is it okay for a coach to verbally abuse a player for making a mistake? 

Is it okay for a child to feel betrayed by an adult they trust?

Let me be clear – NO.



And any confusion felt on the part of parents about these topics is a demonstration of how far off we are from the youth sports culture our children deserve.

Clubs and coaches are making a commitment to our children when they take them on a team.  They are making a commitment to development, personal growth, fun, life lessons, friendship and the sense of solidarity and community that is so uniquely felt and learned in sport.  It’s not always going to be easy.  The learning and development won’t be without setbacks.  The friendships and community may require some intentionality on the part of everyone.  However, the experience should be one in which the child ultimately benefits.

Learn more about the

Our Youth Soccer Education Platform for Parents and Coaches.

Coaches who choose to only play an 8 year old 10 minutes total in a four game tournament should not be allowed to coach.  Club leaders who are not willing to set clear club-wide standards about playing time and the treatment of children in their club for fear of not having enough coaches, need to be replaced.  Our children need coaches who respect them and club leaders who are dedicated to their wellbeing and development. 

We can do better.

We must do better.

When standards are not being met, when our children are being harmed, parents must have a clear path to club leadership and trust that leaders will lead appropriately.  Until clear standards are put in place from clubs regarding the treatment of players the grey area will be too grey.

Let’s all do our part in holding coaches and club leaders to the standards our children deserve.  And let’s all do our part in educating ourselves about what these best practices are, how we can each do better to improve the experience of our children, and in doing so – we will gain important clarity about what youth sports done right looks like.

U.S. Soccer must lead here with playing time mandates at the youth level and our registration bodies such as US Youth Soccer, US Club Soccer, AYSO, USSSA, and SAY Soccer must provide clarity around the standards and bylaws clubs in their organizations must put in place when it comes to the behavior of coaches and the treatment of players. All clubs must develop stringent policies on coach-player interactions, complaint procedures, and provide clearly published playing time standards.

Our children need strong leaders who care about them and their wellbeing to lead with clarity.  Leaders need to start hearing parents when they raise concerns about how their child is being treated, validating them instead of categorizing them as a difficult parent.  These are not “crazy” parents living vicariously through their child.  These are parents who are protecting their child from the harm being inflicting on them by adults in positions of power.  

These issues are developed by a system that is not clear enough about what children deserve. Our leaders have enabled this grey area by not being clearer about standards and not effectively leading, and our children are suffering as a result.

We can do better.

We must do better.

post script:   I hit publish on this article and opened my Facebook feed to see a wonderful season wrap-up post from a coach who is doing it right, followed by multiple comments demonstrating the most beautiful and earnest gratitude from parents grateful for his positive influence on their child and their family.  There are incredible coaches in our youth game influencing in the most powerful ways.  This article is not intended to categorize all coaches and clubs.  It is a call to action to make these exceptional coaches the standard, as that is what our children deserve.

post script:  Thankfully, organizations are starting to take action.  Aspen Institute's Project Play has published the Children's Bill of Rights in Sports and US Youth Soccer recently published a Players Bill of Rights.  Foundational to this movement is the leadership of the United Nations and their Convention on the Rights of the Child which you can learn more about and learn how the nation of Sweden is responding to it in an article by Mark O'Sullivan HERE.

  • I have twin boys who are just finishing their sophomore year in high school. Each of their youth sports experiences were completely different. One plays on a high school varsity team and plans to continue playing in college. The other stopped playing organized sports when he started high school and would have quit sooner if I had let him.

    But I wanted him to experience the “development, personal growth, fun, life lessons, friendship and the sense of solidarity and community that is so uniquely felt and learned in sport.” Sadly, I believe he would have been better off had he NEVER gotten involved in youth sport. Instead of developing confidence and self-esteem, his youth sports experience destroyed his self-confidence and damaged his self-esteem. All sports taught him was that he wasn’t good enough and he had less value than other kids.

    And the bizarre thing is he could be an even better athlete than his twin brother (he is tougher, grittier and more competitive) who was a varsity athlete as a freshman, a varsity starter as a sophomore and will likely continue to play in college.

  • I have spent years researching the impact of psychological, emotional, verbal abuse on the brain. It amazes me that with extensive medical, psychological, and neuroscientific research, we continue to treat a single physical blow as a criminal act while treating significant repeat “blow” to the brain as normal.

    I can assure you that in my new book The Bullied Brain you can find extensive research to document and provide evidence on brain scans of the serious, long-lasting harm to brain health and body health from emotional abuse (threatening, throwing objects, put downs, humiliating, berating, yelling, swearing).

    The subtitle of my book should provide hope: “heal your scars and restore your health.” Problem is, as demonstrated in this appalling story, most athletes do not know their brains are even injured. They think their suffering and performance issues are because of their own failure.

    If the law took emotional abuse as seriously as it does a single physical slap, then our children would not be suffering such a decline in mental and physical health. That said, once they know the harm to their brain is visible on brain scans, they can set about healing. The brain is adept at repairing harm done. I hope Safe Sport USA knows the research and gets legal reforms in place.

  • Coaches are the firm foundation of a club’s atmosphere and dynamics. If they are supportive, helpful, and genial, the players would follow suit. If they end up berating their players, shaming them for playing poorly instead of teaching them how to improve, then it’s just going to be reflected in the kids’ treatment of each other.

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    Skye Eddy

    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.