At some point all of us have to make a decision regarding how we will spend our time. At least at this level everyone is truly created equal – each of us gets the same 24 hours in a day.
Some people have a hard time with this lesson. We fill our time with low value tasks. We squander our time with pointless activities. We indulge ourselves as if that was the point of our existence. Others attempt to solve world hunger and (because it is impossible to do so) become frustrated with the fact that we each only get that 24 hours.
Kids have a different set of challenges. Kids should be allowed to be kids. They should have fun and enjoy each other’s company. Adults who had fun as children are more productive adults. Most children though do not make these decisions for themselves.
The problem is, from day one, we enroll our children in a marathon. They have to succeed at as many things as possible so they can succeed as adults. Success as a child = Success as an adult.
This is a reality for many of us as club soccer coaches. At some point you realize that the once dominant midfielder lacks the drive and energy to succeed in the role you had placed her. You’re watching her play and she simple is not enjoying the moment. It’s work for her – and she’s only 13. It’s one of the saddest things imaginable when you reflect that what was once a joyous activity has now become drudgery.
So how does this happen? It happens for a variety of reasons but in my experience the most prevalent cause is the loss of perspective – a child’s perspective. The simplest question to pose a player in this situation is – why are you playing? But don’t take the easy answer because every player you’re likely to ask this question of has already had the answer conditioned in to them. “I’m here to have fun” expressed with a forced smile.
In our part of the country, there are always at least three sports activities available for kids. It is physically impossible to participate at a competitive level in all three sports. The parent that enrolls a child in three competitive sports in the same season needs to be reported to Children’s Services. At some point the same can be said for the parent that enrolls there child in two competitive sports.
So ask the question but understand that it is only the first question. “Why are you here?” should be followed closely by:
“How many other sports are you currently playing?”
“Describe an average day?”
“How do you feel when you lose? and how long do you feel that way?”
As a club coach you can’t fix the issues held by a family. Parents who overbook their child’s day may not recognize your concerns. Understanding why a player participates without energy is better then simply addressing the symptom. A lack of enthusiasm and energy are only occasionally addressed through discipline.
If a player feels they are not rewarded for a higher level of performance then shame on the coach. Do not tolerate mediocrity – performance should be rewarded.
If a player feels their effort does not matter because as a single player they can not improve the team’s performance then shame on the coach. Do not tolerate cynics. Eleven players who feel they can make a difference create a team that can. A single player who feels they can’t make a difference creates a team that can’t.
If a player shows up exhausted from their other activities, you have one less player. They may not be able to make the decision explicitly but they have made one. The best player, exhausted on the field before the game starts is no better then a cynical player. They have decided they won’t make a difference. Do not allow the behavior. Explain your position to the player and parents and force them to make a decision. The child who shows up to practice exhausted is no different then the child who does not show up. The discipline should be equivalent.