Dear Dr. Debbie,
I’m the assistant coach for my eight-year-old’s soccer team. The main coach is inept. The kids spend most of the practices in chaos. The coach ignores my suggestions for dividing them up for different drills, instead he spends most of practice time looking over the papers on his clipboard. On game days he’s inflexible about the lineup he has spent all of practice time preparing.
I have to say, my son looks forward to practices as well as games, but I’m counting the weeks until the season is over.
How can I make this experience more productive the next time around?
Dad on the Sidelines
Don’t miss last week’s column Jealous of Dad’s girlfriend — Good Parenting
I’ve never witnessed soccer with 8-year-olds but have long been amazed that leagues for this sport are organized for children as young as 3. The chaos you describe probably looks like “magnet ball.” This nickname applies to a sport beyond the developmental skills of the children. Instead of acting like a team and playing by the rules, each player wants to have an immediate relationship with the primary object of the game, namely the ball.
To be more developmentally appropriate, sports for young children should be about each child’s skills, including social skills. The role of the coach, and as many assistant coaches as you have, is to structure the time around the primary goal of increasing each child’s competence. I would expect that a checklist of physical skills is probably issued to each coach with his whistle. The social skills aspect may not be spelled out. These could include: playing fairly by the rules, communication with the other players, respecting the leadership of the adults, taking turns to lead one’s teammates, using teamwork to meet shared objectives and winning and losing gracefully. The adults should agree upon the importance of these skills and plan activities to hone each of them. Activities could include demonstrations by the adults, brief discussions with individual children, discussions with the whole team and group games.
Get the ball rolling
As I understand it, the point of introducing the sport of soccer to children seems to be to get some physical exercise and to learn to work as a group. This is what group games have done for children for centuries. Here’s a great list of group games that have been expressly compiled to be used by children’s soccer coaches. Instead of waiting in line two-by-two to practice dribbling the ball, everyone is included in play at the same time. Often there are no winners and losers, just a lot of fun — and skill building — for everyone.
Run Out the Clock
Your predicament is temporary. Since your son is not complaining, you might as well relax and let the chaos play out the season. Do a little comparison shopping before you sign up again. Ask around to see what the grapevine has to say about other coaches’ approaches to practices and games. A coach for children needs to be proficient at much more than deciding the lineup for game day. If you want to take on full responsibility for structuring practice time in a more developmentally appropriate way, consider signing up as head coach yourself. Or think about re-moving the goal posts altogether and be that parent who helps his child get with other children on a regular basis just to run around.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com