By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
"Football is like life. It teaches work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness, and respect for authority." — Vince Lombardi, football coach
"Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do." — Pelé
As we head into another season, (and with the Winter Olympics having come to an end), it seems appropriate that coaches, team managers and parents do their best to remember what it's all about or perhaps reevaluate the very best lessons that activity in sport can bring.
In completing my research for this article, I spent some time researching the history and ideals of the Olympic movement and I was excited and delighted that they have many great resources available as teaching and coaching aids. I was glad to read that the five core values the IOC talk about are:
1. Joy of effort
2. Fair play
3. Respect for others
4. Pursuit of excellence
5. Balance between body, will and mind
My joy quickly left me when I reflected how the above values seem to be completely ignored within the youth soccer environment!
I know we have it wrong. When I see the screaming parents shouting abuse at their own kid, I know we have it wrong. When I hear the constant yelling at the young referee just doing his best, I know we have it wrong. When I witness team managers bumping chests and threatening to sort it out in the parking lot, I know we have it wrong. When young kids stop playing due to the pressure placed on them on the car ride home, I know we have it wrong.
All of the above, which are accurate observations from games last season, stand in direct opposition to the Olympic ideas above and to all the great things that activity in sport can bring.
Studies show that for very young kids, increased participation in developmentally appropriate soccer activities with exploration through a variety of movements helps promote cognitive growth and confidence.
The physical benefits of continued participation in sport for adolescents, are well summarized by AAHPERD in the statement below:
"With regular participation in a variety of sports, children can develop and become more proficient at various sports skills (including jumping, kicking, running, throwing, etc…), if the focus is on skill mastery and development. Young people participating in sport also develop agility, coordination, endurance, flexibility, speed and strength. More specifically, young athletes develop:
Enhanced functioning and health of cardiorespiratory and muscular systems.
Improved flexibility, mobility and coordination.
Increased stamina and strength.
Increased likelihood of maintaining weight
When all the easy to identify and well documented physical benefits for participation in sport have been exhausted, we can move on to the slightly less tangible, but equally undeniable character development opportunities that participation brings:
1. Goal setting – With the right guidance, young players start to set goals and plan routines to enable them to achieve these goals.
2. Discipline and Work Ethic – Once individual and team goals have been set, players learn to adhere to exercise routines and ball activities that will lead to success.
3. Perseverance and Determination – On any athletes journey there are times when things just don't go as a planned. Setbacks with injuries, disappointments with playing time, results that disappoint.
4. Coping – Ultimately in any young player's soccer journey, there are times when things just don't work out, so they learn to cope with these emotions and develop coping skills that will help them well beyond the soccer field.
5. Character, Moral Courage and Integrity – Every good training environment will place players in situations where they make decisions that can help them develop a strong moral code.
Consider the "what would you do" questions below and consider the moral consequence of that decision:
a) A player from the other team gets injured, do you kick the ball out so they can get treatment or carry on playing regardless?
b) You get into the box, lose control of the ball and have a chance to dive to win a PK. Do you stay on the your feet or take the dive?
c) In training, your team are doing some sprints in pre-season training, you're at an angle where the coach can not see if you make the line, so do you cheat and win the sprints? Or do you go the whole distance and give your best result?
d) Ref awards you a PK for a foul on you that you know was not a foul. Do you roll the ball wide to deliberately miss or try to score anyway?
I grow increasingly concerned with the popular trend, that the end justifies the means, and if we cheat but win it's okay. This is diametrically opposed to the moral code that sport should install.
6. Cooperation and Social Skills – Any team environment brings with it a wonderful mix of characters, opinions and personalities. Learning how to get along with each or finding the right tones and words to motivate each other is a priceless gift that participation in sport brings.
“Never give in – never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense." – Churchill
My great hope as we head in to the new season is that people will get a better grip on the reality of the many wonderful things that participation in sport can bring. Perhaps if they can stop chasing the win at all costs mentality, the next Premier team or the scholarship that probably is not at the end of the rainbow, we can get back to what it's really about.