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The Parent’s Role in Nurturing a Difference Maker

The role of the parent is more significant than the role of the coach. Coaches are often given way too much credit for the development of a child’s outstanding soccer abilities. In truth, the real magic happens within the environment of a child’s home during their early ages.

No, this does not mean you need to tie a parachute to your child’s back in a grandiose effort to turn three-year-old Samuel into the next Kylian Mbappe. There are more subtle ways to supercharge Samuel’s home environment to get him on the right path.

In his best-selling book, Atomic Habits, James Clear writes, “Whatever habits are normal in your culture are among the most attractive behaviors you’ll find.” In a household that values soccer and family deeply, a child’s infatuation and love for the ball will grow.

Ditch the parachute, and leave a couple mini soccer balls around the house for your child to play and dribble. Join your children frequently in the yard or at the park when they play soccer. No need to coach. Your presence alone will be enough to energize and motivate your child. In a child’s early ages, your presence in a soccer environment will promote enough joy and fun to set the stage for a love of the ball.

If siblings are involved, the growth will triple. The consistent play, joy, competition and validation that comes from battling against your siblings is incredibly impactful. The rate of skill-acquisition will skyrocket. It is no surprise that a majority of elite athletes are younger siblings. According to Tim Wigmore and Mark William’s book,The Best: How Elite Athletes Are Made, 75% of U.S. Women’s National Team members studied were reported as younger siblings.

Several coaches had a tremendous impact on my life and soccer journey; however, let’s not overlook what made the real difference. I owe most of my success in soccer to experiences with my family. When I think of core memories from my childhood, I flashback to these moments:

  • My dad was present in the yard while I played with the ball. It was beyond electrifying to me. Hearing the door open as he made his way out of the house and into the yard sent me to the moon with excitement. He did not go out of his way to put extra pressure on my development. He would stand in goal and help chase our missed shots. He would punt balls into the clouds and ask us to control them. He would encourage us to express ourselves, “do a move” and shoot. Simple, sweet, invigorating.

My Dad with me and my twin brother, Brandon.

  • My mom drove my brother and me to the field one night when we did not have scheduled practice. It was cold and raining so she sat in the car while we played. I didn't realize how special that was until a coach at the field pointed out how grateful we should be to have a mom who would take her kids to the field on such a cold, miserable night. Nights like these would prepare my mom to sit through the familiar freezing rain during my time playing for the University of Pittsburgh.

A cold, rainy night in Ambrose Urbanic Field.

  • Battling against my brothers. Most of our free time was spent playing soccer whether it was a game of World Cup or 1v1 competitions in the driveway. My older brother had a 4 year advantage in skill and physicality & my twin brother was my equal. Consistent play, joy and competition dominated our lives. Soccer and togetherness was a daily ritual.

A family outing.

None of these moments ever felt like “training.” Just family experiences filled with joy… which led to an infatuation and love for the ball… which paved the path for a fulfilling soccer journey.

As your child’s coach, I am happy to supplement his or her soccer experience and play one of the parts in developing a Difference Maker, but let's not forget where the real difference is made.

Thank you for reading,


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    Alec Anselmo

    Alec Anselmo was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. He played NCAA Division I college soccer for the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University. He then played professionally for Stumptown AC. Alec enjoys writing about youth development in soccer and coaches for West-Mont United Soccer Association in Royersford, Pennsylvania.