The effects of a coach’s reaction to mistakes

Last weekend, I refereed five u14 girls soccer games. In the opening game on Saturday morning, the host’s u14s played another local team. The hosts won 2-1, and all of the goals were flukes: a striker tried to dribble around the goalie, kicked it too hard, and scored; a fullback tried to clear the ball and it deflected off a striker and bounced over the goalie’s head; and a fullback and goalie ran into each other, leaving the ball at the striker’s feet. 

The first two were scored by the hosts, who won the game 2-1. Throughout the game, their coach screamed at the players. “Player X, you have two minutes to play harder or you’re never going to play for me again.” “Wipe that smile off your face; that’s not funny.” As the coach criticized the players, the players started to yell at each other. “What are you doing?” “Do this.” “Do that.”

When the girl ran into the goalie, the coached yelled at the fullback that it was her fault, and it was because she wasn’t taking the game seriously enough. He drew this conclusion because when she shanked a clearance earlier in the game, sending the ball out of bounds off the side of her foot, she smiled. She was embarrassed. It clearly was not an intentional mistake. It is the kind of play that happened repeatedly over the weekend because many players lacked coordination and control. They knew how to play soccer, but they did not know how to control their bodies. After the game, despite the win, more than one player was in tears, including the fullback who ran into the goalie and was criticized throughout by her coach and her teammates.

In the second game on Saturday, I had an out of state team. In this game, there must have been five chances for the teams to go one on the keeper, and they missed four of them in a 1-1 draw. I never heard the coaches yell critically at the players. When one girl kicked the ball wide of the goal on her chance against the keeper, she put her head in her hands, then laughed, then threw back her head and rolled her eyes before running back to play defense. She reminded me of the toddler in this old article. The coach applauded her effort. After the game, I walked by the coach as he talked positively to his team, mentioning all the chances they had and that they would convert in their next game.

On Sunday, I had the out of state team in the semifinals. They won 4-2 after falling behind 1-0. They played the same way that they had on the previous day, they just converted their chances, as their coach said that they would. They did not play the hosts in the final. One coach encouraged and applauded the effort, and mistakes were corrected from one game to the next. The other coach belittled his players and criticized them for entire games, and they did not win again, likely because mistakes were not corrected. I continued to hear stories on Sunday from several referees about the coach screaming at his players, and every story turned out to be about the same coach!

In the first game, with about five minutes left, a father yelled at his daughter, “Have some fun!” This after the father and the other parents had spent the previous hour yelling, instructing, coaching, screaming, etc. at the players. I turned to the girl closest to me and asked, “How are you supposed to have fun when you’re being yelled at the whole game?”

She rolled her eyes and said, ‘Tell me about it.”

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

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