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Coaching Youth Sports “Let Them Play”

It’s fall in the Midwest. Recreational youth soccer abound. And for good reason! Youth sports keep kids active and teach friendly competition. Children don’t have to be all-stars or on a winning team to benefit from the experience. This season I skeptically volunteered to coach my daughter’s 8U AYSO team. My great takeaways from the experience? 

  1. The AYSO philosophy of Let Them Play
  2. Nothing brings a game down like a difficult coach.

youth sports“Let Them Play”

A big part of youth sports is volunteers; particularly volunteer coaches. Recreational leagues are always in need of more volunteers (if you know you know!). After notification that my daughter would be placed on a wait list if more parents did not volunteer, I found myself head coach of her team.

The coaches training emphasized children do best when their coach is positive and encouraging. In addition to skills and drills, young players must be given the opportunity to learn from playing the game without interruption. It’s hard to focus when the coach is constantly shouting directions! They develop as players when allowed to make mistakes and try again. Just let them play!

At this age we have to remember who we’re coaching. Kindergartners cannot be coached like middle schoolers. My daughter was five-years-old her first year of soccer. The young volunteer coach had played soccer in college and coached older kids. The first day of practice he attempted complex drills with a group of five and six-year-olds. Mostly they just spun in circles or collapsed on the ground. That night he sent an email, apologizing, and promising the rest of the season would be better. It was. He realized his team of young players wasn’t developmentally ready to be coached like older, more experienced players. From there on out practice was fun and the kids got better. On game days? He stayed on the sideline. He let them play. 

The Difficult Coach

An overly critical, negative coach puts stress on young players. On game days they make playing less fun for both teams. We all know the type.

The coach who stands on the field, screaming, the entire match. 

“Move up! Move back! Yes! No! Pass! Shoot! Now get back! Back! You should have been there! You’re not a midfielder!”  

They bend the rules, interrupt the game to move players around the field, argue with the referee, or even act as referee, to ensure their team has the winning advantage. 

After a particularly tense match, with a difficult coach, my 7-year-old daughter remarked, “I think that coach wanted to win the game for herself.” She wasn’t wrong.

The continual shouting and overbearing presence on the field had created unnecessary tension. Both teams were pushing and grabbing. Both teams had players upset or losing interest. I don’t remember if we won or lost, but I do remember the frustration we all felt. 

When it comes to our kids we are all guilty of getting a little overzealous. I’ve been there, it happens. We can only remind ourselves what’s best for kids and try to be better for them next time. 

If your child is out for a new sport this fall consider playing with them in the backyard tonight. Next season? Volunteer to coach! 


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