I have a 12 year old son who has been playing soccer since he could walk. We've been loyal to the same club for 5 years now and he has been playing at high level there. We recently got switched to a lower tier team and got a new coach. We did not hear positive feedback about this coach from friends and it seems they were right. My son has gone from starter to bench player. After speaking with my son he feels like he can't make a mistake or take risks for fear of getting yelled at or being pulled out of the game. I understand that the coach wants to play a certain style but I think he is killing his confidence with the repeated barrage of put downs and being singled out. I think the coach feels like yelling somehow motivates the players. I think they just play worse when they play with fear. I don't want my son to hate soccer. He routinely picks up the ball and just practices for hours by himself in our garage. He loves to play futsal with his friends and comes home drenched in sweat. He says there he feels like he can be more creative and less stressed and is bummed when the session is over. How do I approach the coach?
You do have a problem, especially when your son is only 12. At this age sports still needs to be fun in order for the passion for the sport to develop and continue. Before you speak to the coach, go to someone you trust, and ask their opinion about your sons ability. Sometimes we as parents have a biased and elevated view regarding our child’s level of play. A coach that has worked with your son in the past can give you an honest assessment. It’s important that you have a clear picture of his ability and potential. I am not sure why your son was moved to a lower tier, but whether it was ability or politics; you’re now stuck with a coach who is damaging your son. First speak to the coach and from the description you provided you have to be careful. I would approach him seeking his opinion. Coaches, who act this way rarely think their ever wrong, don’t want to hear from parents nor will they change their ways, but you have to try. Be honest in a positive way, for instance, approach the coach with “I love your intensity and encouragement for the boys, coach, but my son is afraid to make mistakes in fear of getting yelled at or pulled from the game; can you help him understand that mistakes happen and you just want to help him learn from them?” The coach’s answer will help you make your decision. If he says, your son has to toughen up, find another club or team. If he opens up to any sort of dialog, you stand a chance. Continue the conversation and see if you and he can come to a resolution that is right for your son and further encourages your son's passion for soccer. It does not reflect poorly on your son to be intimidated by an adult. Every kid is different and every upbringing is different. Yelling and intimidation is sometimes all a coach knows but if that is not right for your child, especially at 12, get out. A last ditch effort is to speak to the club director; clubs don’t want to lose players. If you really want to stay at this club or you don’t have anywhere else to go, make this team mean less to your son. Put together outside games at the local park, play more futsal, maybe even con a parent who is positive to supervise get together games or find a high school player whose fun and get him to do it. Try and help your son understand that the actions of the coach are not a product of your sons play, but a reflection on the coach and what sort of person he is. Make fun of some of the remarks that hurt your son, even have him say them to you; “Mom move your feet and close the fridge or I taking you out of the game.” When you hear it from your son’s mouth you will get a better grip on helping him learn how to let it roll of his back. Using humor usually provides a release for anger and frustration and you can use it to boost your son’s confidence. Let’s face it, we as parents hate our children torn down but it will happen more and more as your son gets older and sports become more competitive. Teach him the lessons now. Teach him how to deal with adversity now; it’s a lesson that will benefit him when he hits future bumps in the road.