Over the past year I have read probably hundreds of articles, blogs and posts, [like this very good post,] that discuss how parents should behave at a youth sports match. Typically all are written from a coach or management perspective and most are well intentioned. They are generally based on how young players should be able to perform in a less stressful environment to enhance their learning. Sports should be fun is the foundation of many articles.
The large majority of these pieces are well thought out and focus on eliminating all the negativity that increasingly surrounds a youth soccer game [or any sport for that matter.] They very clearly spell out exactly what parents and coaches should do. Letter for letter on how and why to behave a certain way should be adhered to. They are hard to disagree with.
This is all well and good except for one rather large psychologically based point; people hate being told what to do. In fact, more often than not people feel great resentment at someone telling them to do something a different way. They didn’t ask for your help thank you very much. They prefer you tell others who need to adjust their perspective and will almost always back you up when you are telling someone else what they should be doing. Just don’t directly tell them. If you don’t believe me then look at the stats on obesity, or how long it has taken to minimize smoking, or simply take your significant other to a mountain resort and teach them to ski. My bet is you will be buying lessons for them rather quickly. They don’t want to listen to you. Don’t tell me what to do. Why are we like this? Does it matter? We are.
My mother always used the expression, “There are two ways to skin a cat.” Until recently I really didn’t understand this statement completely. Cats and another option never quite connected for me. Lately it has been given context. Allow me a quick story. My friend’s wife leaves the kitchen cupboards open all the time. He’s tall, she is short. Cupboards are open, she’s cooking, and he dents his head daily. The result is they fight. He whines about this incessantly. These cupboards were affecting their marriage. Sounds familiar doesn’t it. But instead of continuing to tell her that she was wrong he finally came to the realization that there might be a different way. He took the cupboard doors off. While not aesthetically pleasing his head doesn’t have cuts all over it and they haven’t had a fight in months.
“Two ways to skin a cat.”
When the Play Better program was designed we chose to let parents be whomever they wanted to be. Of course we aren’t endorsing yelling at your kids or interfering with your coach but what we are saying is that it is extremely hard to turn off the emotional levels one has for their children. In fact it is likely harder to change the depth of care a parent has for their child doing well, which is often at the heart of problematic sidelines, than it is to teach kids to play proper soccer.
Play Better changes the traditional wins by rewarding young players when they reach developmental metrics, like passes in a game. This not only improves the young players game it also serves to invite parents into what their child wants and sees as beneficial. This is ultimately what a parent wants. Which is to say, a happy child that is seeing improvement and is developing. I’ve never met a parent that isn’t invested and I have never met a parent that can yell at their child if they are happy and smiling. It is seemingly impossible.
What is also impossible is to not begin to learn the game as parents. If your team is aiming for 200 passes and their “win” results in a few dollars being sent to Save the Whales, then parents and coaches want to help the team reach that goal. They want you to win.
Except for now it becomes more challenging to shout or be frustrated when your child makes the inevitable mistake if you know your child intended to make a connected pass for charity. As an adult our mind reasons that they are trying their best to Save the Whales.
Cupboard doors off.
Coaches, parents and adults of all types can still exist as the person they are and on a few occasions still need to be reminded about their behaviour but with Play Better they can support the team however they want. We don’t always know what is best but we can create a culture around our teams that makes it a place everyone wants to show up and have fun at.
Play Better teams witness first hand how altering the “wins” and “goals” allows a new paradigm of development to be created. For everybody! And this includes the well intentioned and overzealous sideline adults.
Change the reward. Change the game.
Go. Play Better.