Parents and post-game feedback

This weekend was State Cup for soccer. Today, I was the assistant referee for an u15 girls soccer game, and I was in front of the parents. I have had both teams several times during the spring league, and I am familiar with the players. Early in the game, the better team scored a soft goal.

They kicked the ball high and in the direction of the goal. It was not really a shot. The ball was coming down into the goalie’s hands about 6 yards in front of the goal line. There was no pressure on the goalie. The goalie’s hands were over her head, and somehow the ball bounced off of her hands and into the goal.

It was a bad goal to concede. The goalie knew it. She dropped to her knees, pounded the ground with her fists, and apologized to her teammates. It was unfortunate, but with fairly inexperienced keepers, I believe that this is her first year as a goalie, mistakes happen.

Later in the game, as she bobbled another ball before retaining possession, her father said to another father, “The goalie is my daughter. I’m going to have to yell at her when we get home because she let the first goal bounce off her hands. That should never happen.”

He’s right. At u15s, it really should not have happened. But, it did, and she knew it. No admonishment from a coach or parent is going to change the result, or be worse for the player than the humiliation that she felt in the middle of the game. How is yelling at her and telling her that she made a terrible mistake going to help or fix anything?

I actually like the goalie. This was not the first soft goal that I have seen her concede, but she fights. She’s fearless going for balls, even after she was leveled by one player and kicked by another. Last week, when I had her game, she was leveled by an opponent as well. Despite the physical toll, she goes hard after balls. She runs 20 yards outside her box to get to balls. She has some of the internal qualities that I would want in a goalie despite not having the best hands or positioning right now.

Rather than destroy the girl by yelling at her for a mistake that was obvious and about which she felt bad, possibly turning her away from soccer or goalkeeping altogether, why not help the player? Why not build her up after the poor goal? Why not encourage her? Why is yelling at a player the go-to response? What would the feedback accomplish?

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

2 thoughts on “Parents and post-game feedback

  • The majority of adults (parents, teachers, etc.) are well meaning and would never knowingly hurt a child emotionally or physically. However, our behavior doesn’t always show that. I am a teacher and a parent and have coached in the past as well. Now, I almost never raise my voice but when I started I definitely yelled more than I should have. I think it happens for several reasons.

    1. I justified it the way many much worse behaviors are justified. “It happened to me and I turned out fine.” This is the ultimate, the ends always justify the means argument. Essentially this is saying it is ok to treat other people poorly, simply because at some point I was.

    2. I felt (especially with boys), it would make them “tougher”. What arbitrary definition of toughness I thought I was instilling is beyond me. Now I realize people are tougher when they know someone is loyal to them and cares about them regardless of performance. What is often equated with toughness is usually bravado that disappears once adversity hits.

    3. I was insecure and felt their mistakes reflected poorly on me. Rather than take it has constructive feedback that I need to a better job or that people aren’t perfect, I yelled. It also helps perpetuate the illusion that you are ‘in charge’.

    4. I thought it might reflect a lack of effort. This may have been correct on a few, very rare occasions but more often it is part of the learning process and not a lack of effort but a lack of skill.

  • Mike:
    I agree that most parents/coaches are well-meaning, but I also feel that many do not understand how their behavior effects children. They approach things with an adult mindset. As people, we remember emotional things more than common things, so when we remember our childhood, our memories of being yelled at are more vivid than all the days when nothing really happened. So, we our memories tell us that yelling is normal, when it was, in most cases, an abnormal occurrence.

    I agree with your reasoning. For coaches, I’d argue the reasons should be ordered 3,4,2,1. For parents, I’d guess since I am not one, that the order is closer to 1,4,2,3. Maybe that’s my experience.

    I also believe that coaches overestimate the number of mistakes made due to lack of effort compared to lack of skill or understanding. With children this age, they may possess the skill, but it is inconsistent. Even Stephen Curry misses shots, right? Are those misses because he lacked effort or didn’t care about making the shot? Or, is it because nobody has the skill to make 100% of shots in game conditions, so mistakes and misses are part of the game, especially for children?

    Thanks for the comments. Well said.

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