Sadly, the list just keeps growing, and some soccer clubs' culture needs an overhaul.
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.
NO. NO. NO.
IT IS NOT OKAY FOR THESE THINGS TO HAPPEN.
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.