I am always, always excited when I get parenting advice from people who don’t have children. You can’t really explain to these people how wrong they are about, well…everything. I know this because I used to be a person without children, and despite my brain’s post-TIA attempts to wash out my memory, I remember many of the wrong opinions that I used to hold.
“Children should never misbehave in public.”
“Why are parents always talking about their kids? So boring!”
“Why do people take kids’ sports so seriously? Who cares?”
The last one is the one we’re gonna talk about today. I think we’re all aware how much I care about my son’s soccer team and his personal growth (and with my daughter about to tryout for her first select team in a week and a half, it’s gonna get worse), and I think it’s fair to say that there’s a bit of vicarious living going on there, too. At the age of 40, I’m not likely to have any more of my own personal team sport success to celebrate.
However, I would like to think that I care so much because he cares so much. I haven’t forced anything on him. He plays soccer about 40 weeks a year, and that’s all he wants to do. He doesn’t play any other sports. He doesn’t play an instrument. He’s not particularly interested in school work—he gets all As and pegs every IQ test, but it’s not because he loves it, it just comes naturally to him.
But he loves soccer. And that’s why I sent an email to his coach this week about why we’ll likely not be on that same team again next year.
Almost to the day a year ago, I shared with you some of my frustrations regarding my son’s club soccer team, specifically regarding a couple of kids who don’t really want to be out there. I figured that those kids would either not try out this year, or, if they did, they’d be cut from the team. I was wrong on both counts.
The kid who turns his back and sticks his leg out? He’s still doing it, only now he’s doing it on offense because the coach has decided that’s an easier place to hide him. He’s really stepped up his game in practice, too—by which I mean that he trips and shoves his own teammates and calls them “pricks” when they beat him. His best friend is on the team, too, and he doesn’t play soccer so much as he jogs around the field and watches the other kids play soccer.
The coach rotates these two kids at right forward. If you know the game, you know that the right forward is responsible for scoring and crossing the ball into the box. Neither one of these kids can do either of these tasks. Between them, they have scored exactly one goal in eight games, and it was really more of an own goal that the coach just gave him credit for. In fact, they can’t really even control the ball. The other kids know this, and refuse to pass them the ball anymore at this point.
We do have a kid who can play on the right side, and played that role excellently last season. However, the coach doesn’t play him there at all, for reasons neither myself or others can understand. As a result, we have a hole on the right side of the field at all times, which makes scoring nearly impossible.
Meanwhile, my son, who is a natural midfielder, is stuck playing defense because our team can’t score at all, so the coach has put him back on defense to stop the other team from scoring in a sort of Manchester United-style of playing your best players behind the ball. With the exception of the one time that Mr. Stick-Your-Leg-Out actually ended up tripping and injuring my son by tripping him, my boy has played every single minute of every single game at left defensive back. And he’s brilliant at it, earning the nickname “The Gnat” from his fellow teammates.
This doesn’t seem like a huge deal, until you realize that the kids he’ll be competing with for playing time later in life are getting time at their natural positions, and he’s stuck playing a spot that he’ll never play as a teenager. Defenders are normally 6 feet plus, and stockier builds. My son currently weighs 54 lbs as a ten-year-old, placing him squarely in the 10th percentile. Not a problem if you’re a midfielder. Big problem if you’re a defender. For those of you more familiar with American sports, this would be like making him a basketball center or a football nose guard when he’s more likely to be a point guard or wide receiver.
I wouldn’t care that much about it if:
A) The team were winning (or at least competitive)
B) All the other kids were trying just as hard as he is
C) He was still having fun
None of these are true. They’ve only won three games out of eight, and two of those wins came against the worst club in the region. They were blown out, 8-0, by a team that has several members of my son’s indoor futsal squad on it, which embarrassed him greatly. The parents of those kids, all of whom love my son and respect his abilities greatly, began their recruiting pitch immediately after the game. “We’d all love to have Kevin on the team next year!” they told me, even going so far as to see if his number was available. (It was, btw.)
And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that I really want my son to play with his futsal friends. I don’t want him to cry after games anymore. I really don’t want him to cry after games anymore. I don’t want him trying his hardest, only to have his efforts sabotaged by kids who don’t care about winning or losing. And I want him to have a chance to win against good competition.
So I wrote this email:
Dear (Coach),I apologize in advance for the length of this correspondence. With the last two games of the season coming up, I wanted to share some thoughts that have been on my mind for some time, and I felt that email would be the best medium for it, since everybody is incredibly busy.First, I want to thank you for all the work that you’ve done with these kids this year. I know that the time and effort involved is significant, and the challenges involved with this particular group of kids are greater than most.Secondly, while I realize that there is much more to youth sports than winning, I have concerns about how the results of the games are affecting some of our kids. It’s not so much the final tally, but rather the effort being given by some of their teammates. Although some of the kids do not appear to be affected by winning or losing, there are some (including mine) who are deeply affected. I have witnessed kids crying, especially after the most recent defeat to (his friends’ team), because they are trying their hardest.The kids are more aware than we think at times of the effort being given by their teammates, and there is considerable frustration among the kids who are giving their best. Despite my encouragement to play team soccer, there are players that Kevin won’t pass the ball to, because he knows that they won’t do anything with it.This is all leading to the fact that I want to make you aware that we are evaluating switching clubs to (his friends’ team) for the next season. Kevin and (other teammate) play futsal with those kids during the winter, and they’re all very good friends and play very well together. Nobody calls each other names, or argues with each other. The kids trust each other, they pass to each other, and, as a result, they only lost 1 game out of 16 all winter against Premier League competition.However, switching clubs will make our lives exponentially more difficult. We’d much prefer to not drive 45 minutes each way three nights a week for practices.Therefore, I’m hopeful that we will see something in the last two games of the season that will convince us that (his current club) is a good place for Kevin to be in the future. I want him to have the best opportunity to succeed and grow as an individual player and as a team player over the next several years. I am under no illusion that my son is going to play professional soccer—I just want him to enjoy himself and be in a positive environment. Transparently, I don’t feel that this team is a positive situation for him to be in right now. (teammate’s father) and I spend the vast majority of our time together discussing this situation and being frustrated by seeing him play so hard and getting little in return.So you might asking yourself what I hope to accomplish by telling you all of this. The answer to that question is, frankly, somewhat unclear to me. I know that you are doing your best with these kids, and that you are playing the cards you’ve been dealt. Even though I feel that Kevin is playing out of position (we all know that he’s never going to be big enough to play defender as he gets older), I’m not asking you to play him somewhere else, or anything like that. I would never presume to say that I know one tenth as much about this game as you do.I think I would just ask that we put our very best lineup on the field and try our hardest for good results, and when kids demonstrate that they aren’t trying their hardest, that maybe some other kids who are trying their hardest play instead. It’s only my opinion, but I don’t think that we’ve played our best 7 at any given point this season.If you’d like to call me to discuss any of this, please feel free to call me at (my phone number). Again, I want to make clear that this is no personal indictment of you—we greatly appreciate everything you’ve done and continue to do. Also, it’s no indictment of the club as a whole, as we plan to have our daughter try out for U9 Academy. We just don’t want Kevin to have to deal with this same situation for the next several years. I hope that makes sense.Thanks for all you do for our kids.-MWB
I don’t have kids nor have no plans on having them. I totally get what you’re saying. This stuff is big bucks and a huge time sink. If the results aren’t there you gotta switch or quit.
If it’s for the kid, then the parents and the coach don’t matter. The question you have to answer is: how much is 45 minutes x 2 x 3 nights/week worth to you?
Mark, the situation that your son finds himself makes me think back to the dorky-sounding-but-all-too-true advice that my mother used to dispense on a regular basis – “it’s hard to soar like an eagle if you’re surrended by a bunch of turkeys”.
Life is much too precious and short to allow one’s self to be held back by mediocrity, and I believe you’re teaching your son a valuable lesson by seeking out the best possible situation for him to utilize his talent and extract the benefits of his hard work. More likely than not, he’ll find himself in a similar situation in adulthood – a poor job, bad friends, a toxic relationship – and he’ll need to know how to take care of himself. You’re setting the right example, even if it seems harsh and is less convenient in the short term.
Please keep us informed as to how everything works out for your son. I suspect that things will be much better.
I’ve probably shared my story with my oldest and her year of select soccer. I’d considered writing that exact email dozens of times, as the quality of coaching didn’t meet the expectations, the cost, and the time commitment. So we stepped back to rec league, as soccer isn’t my daughter’s primary sport.
I write this, eight days away from a Saturday where she has a three-game softball tournament and an at-least-two game soccer tournament scheduled 12 miles apart.
It doesn’t get easier as they get older…it just gets different. Good luck to your youngest on her tryout.
Bark, I agree with your thinking on this, but I would not have sent the email–just walk. Bite the bullet, get Kevin on the other team. His current team is never going to change and this time you have with your son is too precious to waste, especially when a good alternative (for him, I’m setting aside the increased windshield time) exists.
I’m about 10 years ahead of you, just brought my son home from his first year of college. It seems like 100 years ago now, but we had experiences like this (baseball, not soccer) and we didn’t have other options–would’ve jumped for joy had there been a better (for him) situation available.
Thanks for sharing this. I know you’re a busy guy, I appreciate all the time you put in here. I’m a big fan of your writing and subject matter choices.
i agree. i would walk. you may have better results but i have found that my ability to influence any after school program is zero. the people that dedicate their time to these programs give zero f*cks about the parents who just show up with their kids. they will sweet talk you and sell you but they are very unlikely to make any significant changes unless a group of parents threaten to leave. you have to volunteer your time to running the program to have a voice. i would love to be wrong about this and i’m curious to see how it goes for you.
Yup, another Dad saying you should have just walked. A long email doesn’t do any good any may do harm to the team.
But I’m on the other side of that, my kid was quite poor at soccer and it was equally frustrating to see the Dads who took the whole thing too seriously yet for some reason their kids weren’t on the rep team. I’d think Buddy, it’s house league. You think your kid is going somewhere with this? One of my co-workers has her kid in soccer boarding school in Spain, by invitation. That kid is going somewhere.
A classmate of mine in school was the first American kid ever signed to a Euro development academy——PSV Eindhoven, back in 91 or so I think. He was featured in SI and the whole bit. Never really panned out for him on the playing front, but he’s an assistant with Toronto FC now.
Cool. Europe is the place to go for soccer development. One of my 2nd cousins emigrated from the Netherlands around 77 and he could run rings around any of us. They wound up returning to Europe after 2 years but I don’t think it was just for the soccer.
Anyway at the club level every player should be reasonably serious and capable, so if that’s not happening a change of clubs is warranted.
Just. Walk. Away.
My kids played so many sports at some many levels, when I was not happy I never spoke to the coach. I just smiled and we moved on. The Only time I went up to a coach was when my daughter was playing volleyball in college, the coach knew I was passionate and my daughter was awarded MVP every year. After one close loss I went up to the coach and said “I have to tell you something” her face just dropped.
My daughter had a spike that night that hit an opposing player in the head and knocked her down, so I told the coach I promised her $20 bucks if she could do that and take a player out of the game (kidding). The coach’s face lit up when she knew I wasn’t going to criticize her or the team and promised to show the clip at the team banquet.
“That dad” is the one screaming at the refs when his son obviously fouls someone. “That dad” is the one screaming at the coach when his indifferent, lazy son doesn’t get enough playing time. You are the furthest from “that dad”. My kids love playing (sport), if anything I am not living vicariously, I am holding them back. The only thing I have been stressing about is just how much time I am going to have to dedicate to driving them around and if I am going end up needing to coach their teams.
I’m of the same mind on this a Scout_Number_4. Sending the email is a last-ditch hope that the coach will change his approach, or you really want to give him an earful, but you really aren’t “that dad” so you wrote 770 words to say, “Your coaching sucks and I’m putting my son in a different team for a better experience for the both of us”. You already know he won’t change, and you’ve already made your mind up. Communicate with action. The words in the email are a waste of time.
You’re not wrong. I guess I’m hoping against hope that something will change. My son leaving the club will cause a seismic-level issue. Living in Small Town, USA, you realize that every move like this causes whispers at the grocery store.
Why would you care about “whispers at the grocery store”?
You’re not hurting anyone, don’t apologize for doing the right thing for your family.
Mostly because my daughter is going to be playing for that same club, with many of the same set of parents. I’m not committing to driving her 45 minutes each way a few times a week until she demonstrates that select soccer is her bag, baby. She’s a good little rec league player, but she’s more interested in dance and piano and the moment.
You are definitely _NOT_ ‘that soccer dad’ ! .
You did the right thing with the message, I hope you’ve already switched teams .
Kids are like sponges and here you’ve taught to deal with the problems properly and move forward but to also make sure the people involved know the what’s and whys .
This is going to help your Son big time as the years roll on by .
Sports can teach so many good life lessons, too many chuckle-heads spoil it for everyone and effectively get rewarded because no one ever speaks up .
It was always tough to put a good team and coach together in my area growing up. Kids just played for something to do. It’s a short summer season, and an even shorter school season. The only coach I ever had that knew anything about soccer was pushed out by more controlling personalities.They unfortunately believed that being good at cross country running was the key to being good at soccer. The former coach taught us to play a pick off a corner kick in U12, and that play won us a gold medal in the final game of the season. The latter spent half a practice running around the school grounds. The good coach packed it in when, after giving a lengthy half time speech with a great game plan, he had the whiteboard pulled from his hands and was told “We’re not doing any of that.” It sounds like a way different soccer culture in your area, but I know growing up it wasn’t the lack of talent (at most 5 or 6 guys were good players) that was disappointing, it was losing because of a poorly utilized squad that never improved throughout the season.
Everything in that email is right on, except one thing: Don’t say it in an email. Say it in person. It will mean so much more. And in the long run you’ll feel better that you said it to his face.
You are a great father. As is your brother. You all care.
My father was a great father. But not once did he care what I did for sports. Generations have changed. I did every sport growing up. I was always dirty. He didn’t care one bit. I learned them on my own. I played and fought with kids my own age with no support. Truth be told, I never missed having dad there either. The one time he and mom showed up for a swim event, he didn’t say a word after I won it.
I am not sure which way is best, but for sure dads seem more caring nowadays.
I sympathize. We were kicked out of our local hockey association because, and I am quoting the vice president of the association: “Your kids are too good, and you’re winning too much as a coach”. To this day, there is a woman who works in the post office of my small town who walks away from the counter when I come in, because my team beat her son’s team too often.
However, of the 3 reasons you gave for caring about this, the only one that matters is (C). He needs to be having fun. If he’s not having fun, go somewhere else. If he’s not having fun, he won’t put the time in on his own, which is what is required to succeed at a high level.
It’s what we did, and our home association went from a regional champion to 3rd-from-the-bottom. Last season, after we left, was the first in 40 years that registration numbers went down. So I’ve done the seismic shift.
But the kids are having fun, in an association that is happy to have them. Because of the rules in Ontario they are stuck in local league, playing up an age group and still scoring 3+ goals a game. But they are having fun, and that leads to them playing ALL-THE-TIME, which, long term, is all that matters.
Genetics will determine whether or not they can compete at an elite level, and that can’t be known until puberty. ALL you can do in the mean time is keep them playing. The only way to keep them playing is to make sure they’re having fun. FUCK everyone else. Their interest is only in their child. Do what is best for yours.
I once met a young man of Indian descent, who grew up in the US, whose parents had sent him to medical school in India to save money. Then plan was to graduate him in India and then appear for the US MLE.
I outsourced raising my kids to a firm in India and the cost savings are unbelievable. And from the metrics and defect reports that I see, I can assume they’re doing pretty well. 9/10.
I used a local service and I’m still paying for it. Never again.
Not knowing the coach, I have no idea how it will be received, but my intuition is that the next 2 games will be more of the same. We had a similar situation with our daughter’s neighborhood swim club. She has natural ability, and was the fastest in her age group, but the several of the kids didn’t care, which f’d up relays, and coaching was a donkey show. So, we are not going back, not only because it was a waste of our and our daughter’s time, but because I don’t want my kid around a bunch of undisiplined pricks, even if those pricks are only 8 years old. Life is too short, keep your kiddos on good teams with good coaches.
Team is bad. There’s no “I” in team.
A coach is some combination of babysitter, teacher (how to play the game), and/or motivator (build enthusiasm for playing/winning). Effective coaches tend to focus on teaching and motivating, ineffective coaches tend to focus on babysitting, and it sounds like you have a babysitter who is more interested in giving everyone a chance than winning or improving the team’s weak links. Effective teaching and motivating is also what makes a sport fun, babysitting is just killing time. The coach won’t change, so your only choice is to change teams or change to non-team sport.
I have a hard time with all this obsession with sports. My daughter plays volleyball in a rec league and we pay about $100 per season, and it is a chore to deal with the inept coaches and the parents as well. We had the opportunity for her to do the club thing, but the price tag of thousands of dollars plus having the travel expenses and constantly taking her to practice is beyond the pale. I refuse to spend thousands on yet another coach like the above, it is not like it will pay off with anything like a college scholarship for more than 0.5% of the girls out there. I prefer to have her do other things, like she runs track in the spring to get variety. Plus, she has more time for studying….which as good as she is at math she will likely get a scholarship in that way before some sports way. We have really taken the fun out of sports for most kids….I guess many dream that their kids will be the “cool jock” so that we can live vicariously through them since most of us were not athletes in our formative years.
Respect your opinion, and you might be right that it’s not worth it for many.
I would venture to say, however, that my son will learn more applicable life skills from competitive sports than he ever will from Algebra. For him, rec soccer was incredibly frustrating——the kids didn’t try hard enough or care enough for his liking. I remember when his soccer team lost a playoff game, and he was crying in the corner while his teammates were laughing and having snacks. He was 8 at the time. That was when I knew we needed to stop messing around with rec sports.
And while your point about parents needing that “cool jock” fulfillment also might apply to some, I have a basement full of championship trophies. I’d be happy if he never touched a ball again, as long as he was doing something extracurricular. Don’t get me wrong——I love watching him play and I get a great deal of enjoyment from it. But my glory days have come and gone, and I’m cool with it.
I am a dad, but even before then, I spent a lot of time coaching youths in roller hockey and refereeing and other things. Even on our very basic level it was clear who was really invested in it, who had the talent for it, who was out there just trying to enjoy playing the game… and who was out there because it was a chore they were assigned to perform. Those were always the toughest kids because you don’t want to make them miserable but you will also catch nine kids of flak from the aggrieved parents if you short-shift their budding little Lemeiuxs. And then you catch more flak if the talented kids are being held back.
(If anything, any truly talented kids on my teams were held back by my coaching, tbh, but I did my level best and would ask more talented players to come in to help with skills I couldn’t demonstrate.)
It sounds like you have that rare child who is motivated not just by playing himself, but by actual high-level play, being part of a strong team that’s invested in the results. That really runs counter to a lot of youth clubs, where such things check in well behind FUN! and perhaps learning the game as a distant second. I always thought that learning the game WAS fun – who wouldn’t rather know what they were doing out there and understood what was happening, even if they weren’t all that great at doing it? In that way I guess I did as much good as I could for those kids, some of whom I still see sometimes in various adult rec leagues.
Your son is clearly not going to be satisfied with Nightfly-level coaching, so I appreciate your desire to get him to a level he will benefit from and enjoy far more. Like you say, he will derive maximum satisfaction from it that way, and derive a lot of real-life skills from testing his limits and being accountable in part for something larger than himself. And he is certainly getting an up-close lesson about the different mindsets that either push kids to aspire or try to suck them down toward failure and surrender. Good luck out there.
Both of my kids are pretty decent at (sport). One is ultra-competitive in a way that I never have been or will be. The one kid threw a tantrum when a game of Parcheesi didn’t work out. I give you my word that I am not a competitive Parcheesi player, so there is no vicarious living there. Do I suppress that or try to harness it?
I would be willing to bet that your e-mail is NOTHING in comparison to the e-mails that he likely gets from the parents of the kids out there who don’t give a fuck. I can’t see much of a reason for the coach to play the kids who don’t care at all, other than to appease a parent that is likely more vocal than you about their child’s performance.
I am not looking forward to dealing with these dynamics at all, but when push comes to shove, as a parent you start shoving. You are doing it here as politely as possible, and there is zero wrong with putting your kid’s happiness above the well being of the entire team. He either fits in appropriately, or he doesn’t. In this case, at least in this current state, it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t the best place for him. A real coach shouldn’t have a problem with that. Just because he’s stuck in this situation, doesn’t mean that everyone should be.
I have one out, one in, and one on deck in this travel team cycle. The kids sport of choice is basketball, but it is all the same. I feel like I am watching ‘Hoop Dreams’ each weekend and the players and parents have no idea, but I’ll save that commentary for perhaps another time.
First, the email route was not great no matter how nicely worded. And forcing the coach to contact you with follow up, eh. A conversation after practice or a phone call is the best approach, give and take open discussion.
Second, you really need to figure out what the real goal is here. Is it fun, to win, to get as much playing time (PT) as possible, to improve — and as much as everyone might say ‘yes, I (we) (Kevin) want all of those’, that’s not the way it works in most cases. Each one of those goals, and there are plenty of other considerations, has a different team answer at this age. For instance winning and fun could either mean playing so-so competition or sitting a fair amount on a top notch team. Lots of PT and improving could mean playing up an age bracket and losing while getting better fighting to keep up.
So, not sure from the piece that the goal has really been thought out. Seems like winning and fun, which is fine, but …….
No matter the team choice, youth sports politics are a bitch – and travel teams are the WORST. No two ways about that even with the best out there. And it will only get worse as the air thins out in rising competition. The coach can and will be influenced by parent connections from older siblings and friends, sponsorships brokered, personal training set-ups, and all sorts of even worse reasons. Driving 1.5 hours round trip will only provide a different set of political roster and PT decisions, and maybe those will be easier to stomach.
My advice is to talk to the coach and see if that can be salvaged (unlikely as it appears). If not, move on. Ultimately, the only way to get out of the youth sports political rat race is to form your own team and find a coach who is free to run the team without all that mess. And if you are going seismic, go big. It will take less time than spending 3-6 hours a week on the road to-and-from-practice. I did not figure that out until our second go-round.
Good luck. Enjoy watching your son and daughter play, and try to not to care so much about what the other players are doing. They will be weeded out by the time any of this could matter.
I appreciate your response. I chose email, because (you may not believe this) I am dreadfully socially awkward, and I tend to make interactions uncomfortable for everybody, including myself. This way, I’m able to get out all of my thoughts without doing my Aspie thing where I don’t make eye contact and I ramble uncontrollably. The written word is, by far, my best method of communication.
The goal?. With all due transferrable humility, my son is going to get playing time anywhere he goes, so that’s not a concern. A left-footed playmaker and ball handler with vision is a rare thing at the U10 level. I actually think he’s getting TOO MUCH playing time right now—as I said, he’s played every minute of every game for the last two seasons, with the rare exception of coming out for injury.
I want him to be able to improve as much as he wants to, and to compete as hard as he can. That’s about it. For him, having fun IS winning—he can play great and lose, and he’s miserable, and if he plays terribly and wins, then he’s happy. But he also knows that beating bottom-tier teams doesn’t really count. The potential new club plays in the Kentucky Premier League, which consists of the best 16 teams in the state. He wants that challenge.
You’re absolutely right about exchanging one set of politics for another, but at least they’ll be DIFFERENT politics, and I prefer that devil I don’t know to the devil I do at this point.
So, things actually DID change after I sent the email. Coach invited me to stick around for practice on Friday night and I got to do some drills with the kids. And on a Saturday, for the first time this fall/spring season, the coach started and played the best seven kids for the majority of the game. They quickly took a 1-0 lead over the best team in the league and were tied 1-1 at the half, before the subs eventually had to come in and play in the second half. Two quick goals ensued for the opposition, and the game ended 3-1.
BUT, this same team beat our team 11-0 earlier in the season, so I think this is significant improvement. Final game is this Saturday, against a team they beat 3-1 in the first matchup, so we’ll see how it goes. But I have hope, which I didn’t have before.
BONUS COVERAGE: My daughter’s team won their first playoff game, thanks to a clean sheet first half by her in the goal and a goal and assist by her in the second half.
Good to read.
I’m late to the party here, but my 2 cents is: don’t continue to give money to any club that isn’t earning it. Where I’m from, there are too many soccer clubs that will take as many players as possible – regardless of their skill – simply to make money. There are too many other options and the youth sports ‘window’ is too short to stick with the wrong club.
I hope my assessment is incorrect. Positive change would be the best outcome, and you can’t help an organization improve by abandoning it. I’ve stuck with a number of “causes” throughout my life, not the least of which is the Republican Party because I saw value in helping fix them and abandonment did not offer a satisfactory alternative.
Good daddy Mark ! .