Dear Tauna : Should We Stay or Go?

February 13, 2018


Dear Tauna,


Thanks so much for considering my situation. My son Sammy has been playing on the same travel soccer team with the same coach since he was 8 years old. He's now 12. It's been soccer year round for 4 years.


Sammy is clearly passionate about soccer. His coach is South African -  played semi-pro and is very competitive. I feel too much. He put our team at the highest level of play for their age this past season and our team got crushed.


A little about me, I’m a tennis player at the 3.5 level. I understand competition and how disheartening it is to play beyond my ability and get crushed. I had a heated exchange with the coach over this decision. I told the coach that I felt he made a big mistake forcing the boys to play beyond their ability because it was demoralizing. We came to an understanding and I think we are at peace. The coach said he thinks Sammy has the fire to play at the higher level because he's such a competitive kid. But he also said that Sammy's technical skills need to be stronger. 


This coach wants Sammy to have personal training through his club. Sammy is wiling to do the work and wants to stay on this team. My husband thinks we should be looking at other teams and other coaches. I believe that my son is at risk of getting cut if he doesn't get the training because I see that the coach is recruiting very good players. Should I be looking for another team and coach?



There are a lot of components to this question and there are a lot of possibilities for your son. First let me tackle the problem of playing above his level of expertise. You are spot on in your assessment. Losing, just like winning can become a habit. It is also demoralizing to go into a competition without the hope for success. But this is only if the emphasis is put on winning. If the coach praises the boys on how much better they are doing and points out their improvement, while keeping their spirits up; playing against elite competition can be a great opportunity and learning experience.  But, and this is important, it must be balanced with some sort of success. Maybe playing a winnable game or scrimmage or goals that are defined and achieved in practice. Even playing the parents in a mock game; winning is winning in any form, and it’s important for your son to know what it feels like and have that feeling of success in his back pocket.


As to the question of private lessons, you are the best judge of that. Sport is a business and many of these organizations are there to make money. The more “privates” they can get for their coaches the more money they make. But if your son really needs to develop in some areas, this could be the way to go. Get a clear understanding on what skills your son needs to improve on and make sure they are worked on and taught to your coach’s satisfaction. Make your coach responsible for supervising and denoting the success of the “private” he arranges. Remember, developing skills are the foundations of future success.  It will be hard for the coach to not play your son if you are doing everything he asks you to do.


Switching teams is another possibility. But if your son is happy and improving, why do it? Parent’s often fear better players coming in and replacing their child and sometimes they“ jump ship."  But there is no guarantee of who will join the team or if they will stay. The most important things are; one, that your son is happy and still wants to play, two, good coaching for your son, three, playing time.  As a parent, you know your son better than anyone.  Keep communicating with him, ask him how he feels; but don’t give him your thoughts.  Ask him, “how do you think the game went today?” not “I can’t believe the coach didn’t play you more.” Many times kids don’t have problems with a team until parents make an issue out of it.  It's also your responsibility to always know what opportunities are available and if the situation is not the best for your son. Find out about other teams and other coaches. Talk to coaches outside your area, even high schools and get their opinions. The more informed you are the better choices you will make.

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