How Not to Coach Youth Soccer * A Lesson from a Soccer Forum

by CoachZ on May 10, 2009

“Dear Forum,”

I have a daughter who plays U12 soccer and she was placed on the bench for an entire soccer game. What do I say to the coach?

Our daughter plays U12 Travel Soccer. She joined this team this year. This team has had the same core players for about 3 years.

At a game this past week, the coach sat [our daughter] on the bench for the entire game. There were times when she was the only child sitting on the bench, and it was humiliating for her. I questioned the coach after the game, and his response was that he did not feel her skill level was up to that of the other players. Having been a part of the soccer community for over 20 years, and having attended all their games and all their practices, I do not see any difference in skill. They are 10-12 year olds who are just beginning to get the feel for controlling the ball and field position. No one child on this team, including the coach’s daughter, stands out as a stellar player.

One of the problems we are having is that there is no sense of team, and our daughter stands as an outsider much of the time. In retrospect, I can see how this effects her play and perceived desire to play. The coach did say he would work harder to promote the concept of “team”, but I feel this was a comment made to appease my discontent with his coaching choices.

There is a large tournatment coming up which requires a substantial amount of money to play, as well as time to travel and participate. At this point, I am not sure if it is in [our daughter's] best interest to participate. On the flip side, I do not want her to believe it is okay to quit when things don’t go the way you have hoped they would. [My daughter] even expressed that she has joined this team to play as part of team, and she has been given very little opportunity to do so. She is discouraged!

As a parent, I am so torn. There are very few other opportunities for her to play travel soccer in our area. I want my daughter to learn the right lessons. I want her to love the sport for all the right reasons.

Anyone have any advice? What do I do if this continues?

Next, an answer from a concerned coach

This is a typical reaction from an inexperience [soccer] coach…I am not surprised of his response to your concerns.

Having 35+ years coaching and training youth soccer players….your concern is legitimate….My recommendation would be to approach the coach and ask him the folowing:

a) What’s the clubs rule on Travel playing time ?… in most cases the standard rule is that a travel player must play 25% of the total season….this does not mean every game. If this is applicable – what this is saying is that a travel player may not play every game..but there should be some consideration from the coach as to allowing your daughter to play at some point during the game, even if it is just for 5-10 minutes….on the other hand, If this was a State Cup game….the coach has the right to keep the strongest and most skilled players on the field. NOT..knowing your daughter’s skill level, I cannot comment where she is in relation to the other players on the team.

b) Ask the coach…what skills is your daughter LACKING! and what can she do to improve.

e) If this situation does not improve….it’s time to look at what other options your daughter may have.

In closing I am hoping that the coach is honest with you and more importantly….that your daughter does not lose interest in Soccer. Please let me know how it works out.

Yours in Soccer,

Coach James

My First Response: CoachZ
Answered a day ago

Get a new coach or put him on a new team! This coach has shown a complete absence of heart! What a jerk! I know the type, they think winning is about them! You can hide a player on the pitch for a few minutes, even if they are completely left-footed! Wow! Your son is going to quit anyway if treated like this, the damage that coach is doing to your son will stay with him a long time! Get him out of that situation now, today! If you have some power in your community and with your soccer organization, try to get this person, they are NOT a coach, removed! They will be mean and passive-aggressive if you try to usurp their authority, your son will suffer. Be careful but get going, fix this before any more psychic damage is done!


A follow up answer after a “thumbs down” from someone who rated the responses!

Answered about 6 hours ago

Well! Someone didn’t like my answer! Probably the coach! Ha! I posted this line on facebook and the response was 100% approval! You have to remember that a U12 player is 11 years old! That’s a little boy! He is just entering puberty. His self-esteem and self-confidence are being shaped and his self-perception linked to the approval of others, particularly a coach or the friends on the team he can no longer faced because he is “riding the pines.” You may be the most supportive parent in the world but at that age outside forces are crucial to a child’s self-perception. That’s why peer pressure is so very key and everyone recognizes it as a central component in behavior.

I have coached athletes of every kind, from professional football players to ODP level soccer players making regional teams and national pools, here and in Canada! I have worked with female athletes who went on to play on national championship division one basketball teams, male athletes who have played for national championship football teams, also DI, and I have trained 12 year old boys and girls just trying to “get better.” I have witnessed the damage “bone-headed, self-centered”coaches can do. I have spent months, and in one case two years, getting a child to believe in himself again after such an incident.

I have coached soccer teams that went from being the bad news bears at 0-8, with exactly two players who had ever played the game before (my daughters), to a team that dominated their division the next season 8-0, not the next year, the very next season, and went on to play in the top division out of eight divisions the very next year, going 6-2! So, I have coached every level and virtually every sport. I have trained the games and I have trained the athletes preparing for the games, as a strength and fitness coach. I have NEVER sat a child the entire match! And let me tell you, there were matches I wanted to win as bad as the kids did, but they never knew that and it is a team sport, everyone plays!

Finally, I have witnessed this sort of thing on other teams and do you know what? The other players, the ones who played, get angry with the coach for doing that to one of their friends and teammates! Additionally, if the coach were smart enough to know kids, he or she would have sat down with the kids, in a team meeting, and asked them this very simple question: “If you have a choice between winning a game (match) and everyone playing, which would you prefer?” In EVERY instance when and where I have asked that question, I have received one response in unison: “Play everyone!”

Thats says it all! The kids get it, even if we adults do not!

So, I reiterate my point…find him a new team or make a formal complaint and the watch the coach carefully, because someone insensitive enough to ride an 11 year old boy on the bench the entire match is not beneath taking any action YOU take out on the child.

Harsh words? Yes! Do I care that someone didn’t like my answer? Not in the least. I care about your child, I hope you do something before he quits organized athletics altogether! I’ve know many who have, and it is a shame.


I got a heartbreaking letter from the boy’s mother today!

Coach Z,

Thank you for your passionate posts on [the forum]. Never in all of my years of participating with my children in recreational and travel soccer have I come across a situation quite like the one we are faced with now with my U12 player. I was at a complete loss as to how to handle things, and the responses I got on [the forum] from you and [the other coach] were both very helpful. I had already asked my U12 player’s coach the questions that [the other coach] suggested, and the response was inadequate. After a nice discussion with my daughter, we came to the conclusion that it would be best if she no longer participated with this team. Unfortunately, the damage was done on Saturday when the coach sat her for the entire game. Thanks again for your advice, it is greatly appreciated.

Of course, I responded!

Dear “MOM,”

When I read Coach Bob’s response I knew from your description of events that you would find that discussion woefully inadequate.

You see, coaches like that are in it for themselves, for their win, not the kids’ enjoyment and development as children, and ultimately as adults.

Unfortunately, coaches like that are the rule rather than the exception. I have spent years trying to undo the damage that sort of coach does to children.

The worst part is that even the best player on the pitch will probably never play soccer above the high school level, regardless of what people may think today. Often the best players quit too, they are under such incredible pressure due to unrealistic expectations on the part of parents, who quite often get as wrapped up as the coach…or worse!

I would suggest a quality martial arts program with an experienced master. They do wonders when it comes to restoring a child’s center and perspective. Do some research and sit in on a class or two, have your son go with you and meet the instructor.

If he like to run, and most soccer players do, have him try cross country. Cross country, like wrestling and track, are based on trials and individual achievement rather than politics and subjective assessment. So, if he is the fastest or in the fastest group, he runs! And with most cross country teams, everyone competes, even in high school!

He can train when he wants and he can work into it.

Either program, running or martial arts, will probably restore his confidence and keep him involved in sports. And I believe, in spite of a few turkeys, sports are a wonderful outlet and a positive environment, particularly in today’s world.

If you decide on martial arts, I would suggest Aikido or Judo! They teach participants to center themselves and control the aggressor by using their force, not yours. It is a wonderful life lesson and great training!

Let me know what you decide, I will worry now until I hear. I love kids, they are so amazing and so honest if you treat them with respect and compassion. I am so sorry he ran into that coach but if that is the last time he has to face a negative authority figure in his life, he will have a wonderful life!

Take care and best wishes to you and your son. he is lucky to have such a wonderful and caring mother!


Professor John P. J. Zajaros, Sr.
Skype: johnzajaros1

PS, I you ever want me to set up a strength and fitness program for him, just ask! It would be my pleasure to do it for you. On me, of course!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

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