I am writing to you because in your article you said that fun should be the most important idea taught to young soccer players. This is a great concept and one as a coach I follow, but I was wondering is a team celebration after a goal too much or should it be allowed by a soccer club? (Sep. 01, 2004)
I do not recall writing that "fun should be the most important idea taught to young soccer players," however, if I did, I would like to put this statement in the proper context. It is very important to create an environment in which children feel protected and safe, are gradually improving their skills, are learning new skills, and are making new friends. A program that places the child's needs first, a program that promotes conditions of fair access to success, and is designed in a fashion that maintains the child’s interest and keeps her/him engaged will turn learning, and competition into a joyful experience. I do not consider "fun" to be a legitimate objective on the coaches list of goals. Fun is a by-product of goals, such as, improvement in specific skills and/or the mastery of a new skill. The ability to properly execute a kick or a pass is what makes the child feel good about her/himself. Feeling good about the self IS fun. Newly acquired skills that lead to a child’s improved status on the team, for example, are the specific events that make youth sports fun. Getting out on the field knowing that one has a chance to be competitive is fun. Not being afraid to make mistakes is fun. Feeling valued and appreciated is fun.
It is very natural for a parent to be her or his child's greatest cheerleader. The problem with excessive cheering after a goal was scored in a soccer match, however, is that it highlights only one very narrow aspect of the game. According to my observations of youth soccer games, more often than not, a goal represents goalie error rather than a skillful performance by the scorer. Partisan cheering by the parents, as contrasted with cheering for any of the players that demonstrates skill, effort, sportsmanship etc., is promoting an atmosphere of alienation among players on opposing teams. Children’s sports should not be dressed up as mini wars where the opponent is the enemy that should be defeated and humiliated.
My suggestions above are good policy and therefore it is also applicable to soccer club and any other organization that serves children. Some club coaches and parents think that hate and anger toward the opponent is a game strategy that fuels the desire to win. I find such an approach very disturbing, twisted, selfish, and totally opposite to all the great outcomes we often attribute to sport participation. Clearly, one cannot have it both ways. Sports cannot be great because it builds self-esteem, pride, sportsmanship, a sense of right and wrong, and much more if, on the other hand, rivalries are played to the point of alienation and total lack of respect toward the child wearing the other color shirt.
In short, I am suggesting that we remain our child's greatest fan and guard against turning into a fanatic so that all involved can take full advantage of the "beautiful game."
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Last Modified: Sep. 01, 2004