Coaching Your Son or Daughter – What You Need to Know

My child is in the team - HELP!

Whatever your level of experience as a coach, parent or volunteer, this situation might occur.

1. You are asked to take over the team to keep it going when the coach cannot do it any more and you want your son or daughter to still have somewhere to play.

2. You are the person who starts a new team when your child is very young to get them playing games and involved with other like-minded children and friends.
However the situation arises you now find yourself in charge of a team with your child in it. A great deal of the support we offer to very young players is related to the psychological and social corner of development. Young children are finding out where they fit into this big wide world. They are discovering things that they are good at (or not so good at, sometimes). It is becoming clear that other children might have different capabilities, opinions and thoughts and they are having to deal with and understand this.

When explained in this way it is clear that there is an awful lot for the young child/player to deal with and the effective Foundation Phase coach will be increasingly aware of this and be skilled at supporting players and children of this young age.
What do you need to consider, what do you need to know more about?

I want to try to reassure you and give you some things to think about to help you become an effective coach in these situations. The reason I believe I can help is that you, as a parent, have a lot more to draw upon than you think.
In all honesty with very young players the football will take care of itself (within reason) and whilst it is important that the player’s enjoyment and understanding of the game improves through your coaching, another priority will be for you to understand where the children might be developmentally and use this to help your effectiveness and you will have been through this as a parent with your own child.

In looking at where the child is and understanding this more, I believe it will help you to become a more effective coach of these young players and your own son or daughter.

Let’s start with the very young and have a brief look at the world of the 3-4 year old. (As a parent you will have been through this so try to relate to your own children whilst remembering there is no ‘one size fits all’).

At this age the child has an exalted sense of self. They are confident and believe they can do anything; “I can run fast, watch me”, when the reality is just the opposite. They tend to focus on one aspect of a situation rather than several, “he’s not sharing”, when the truth is his friend is now playing with the toy that he has monopolised for the last 20 minutes.

Related to this single-minded focus is the fact that pre-school children typically blame anything that goes wrong on other factors – not themselves.
This all sounds quite negative but this exaggerated view of their capabilities is a GIFT because we can encourage them to have a go at lots of things and to never give up. When coaching children this young remember to:

• Give lots of ball contacts.
• Comment on how fast, strong, and persistent they are (it is ok to support this belief about themselves at this stage rather than say, no you are not).
• Celebrate the child’s belief that they can do anything.
• Get them to have a go at lots of different things.
• Give them variety in a fun, exciting and enjoyable way.
• Encourage and provide lots of free play opportunities both within and outside of your sessions.

However, not having a clear enough understanding of their own abilities and capabilities means they are unable to engage in what psychologists call “social comparison”. The little voice on the shoulder that judges everything we do in comparison to others. This has not developed sufficiently yet so the pre-schooler just thinks they are TERRIFIC.

What a great place to be – be happy for them!

By 8 years of age the child sees themselves as far more complex and can describe themselves in a much more balanced and abstract way; “I know I am a good friend, I know that Susan is a faster runner than I am”. Your child is now considering the possibility that they may not be great at everything.

How do you begin to manage this as the coach?
• Be specific where you think their strengths are.
• Send out the message that with practice all things can be improved.
• Talk about how players different strengths makes for a good team if you work together.
• Help them work through the negative aspects that they identify (I’m not good at tackling) and be patient as you give them small and concrete things to work on.

By 8 years of age the child has moved from defining themselves through external characteristics to being more aware of their psychological and social ones. This greater social awareness comes from the ability to regulate their emotions. The child is learning strategies that can be used to adjust their emotional states to a comfortable level of intensity so that they can accomplish their goals.
This is worth considering in a football sense because as a parent you will already know that the first few years of schooling appear to be built upon a firm foundation of children’s emotional and social skills.

The child’s temperament and the adult interactions play a part in developing effective strategies for dealing with and managing effectively those negative emotions.
As parents you will know that children must learn two skills:
1. Be able to recognise an emotion when they see or feel it, and
2. Be able to label it (for example, I am angry).

As a parent we must have these conversations but how easy is it to take this to football practice and the matches you play? There will be opportunities to talk about:
• How they feel when they do not start a match or when they are substituted?
• How they feel when they don’t get on or only play a few minutes at the end?
• How they feel when they lose, play well or play badly?
• How might your teammates feel if you don’t share the ball when you really should?
• How do you feel when you score a goal?

These are a mixture of recognising emotions the child might be feeling and some that relate to others. This is important as it begins to build both self-awareness and empathy. We must talk about emotions so that we can help the children (including your child on the team) to understand the emotions they encounter.

You will be doing this as a good parent so use this ability as a coach.
Some general tips:
• Avoid defining your child just by their ability on the pitch.
• Pay attention to how you talk about your child in front of others (they pick up and understand more than you think (particularly the 3-4 year olds).
• Treat your child as an individual and be consistent with the treatment of all other players. You DO NOT have to be “harder” on your own child – just fair and equitable.
• Let your child know that anything is possible.
• Talk to your child (and the other players) about feelings. Football is an emotional game.
• Recognise as both a parent and a coach that emotional intelligence correlates to success in life.

During the years 5-7 the brain is in one of its most dynamic states of change as it becomes more efficient at processing information and combining it with previously acquired knowledge. New information is considered and previous thoughts and actions are refined in line with this new input.

You will see large increases in language development and spatial awareness – your 7 year old will be seeing things very differently as during this period the brain develops greater flexibility and it is now perfectly equipped for further learning.

The two parts of the brain are now communicating more effectively enabling better bilateral (left and right) control of the body. The ability to form images and thoughts in words in the head is improving and this should be encouraged. It is fundamental for later creativity and mental planning.

So I know this as a parent but how does it help me as the coach of my child’s team?

• Try to introduce the practices in a way that will grab the player’s attention (if you can get them asking for the game they played last week you are well on the way).
• Link new information to old – help players (including your child) make the associations – show how they are connected.
• Try to get each player to make ‘personal connections’ (this is what it means to you when you play here, or when you do that).
• Link abstractions to concrete experience. Use video of a third man run on Match of the Day, talk about when Hazard does this and Pedro does that.
• Use lots of specific instances before generalisations are made.
• Help each child/player understand the relevant aspects of a problem.
• Try to present ‘manageable’ problems to solve rather than constantly providing solutions. Some fails at this stage, if managed well, are really beneficial.
• Help the team plan, organise and set small intermediate goals.
• Never use guilt as a means to get a change in behaviour.
• Through carefully phrased questions get the players to consider other aspects to help build their knowledge and understanding further.
• Try to introduce the practices in a way that will grab the player’s attention.

I have been trying to ‘speak’ to you as both a parent and a coach in an attempt to link how your parenting skills can help you deal effectively with all players in the team where your child plays. You will have parented your child using many of these things to guide you. They reflect developmentally where the child is at and what they can cope with at each stage. Use this to help you develop well-rounded intelligent and respectful young people. Remember:
As parents we must stop worrying about how fast we can make intelligence grow and concentrate on how far.

The same applies to us as coaches in the Foundation Phase. Rejoice in where each child is at, understand it more and then work as effectively as you can to develop each child further. The bottom line is that each child (including your own) should emerge from childhood excited and confident about learning.

And for us as coaches with our children in the team, ensure that we have helped to develop a life long love of sport and physical activity.

Author: Owen Southgate