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The Delight Of Coaching Your Own Child


AYSO Volunteers Discover The Magic Of Soccer Through Their Child’s Eyes

By Mike Woitalla

It's one of the greatest delights of parenthood. I don't recall it mentioned in any of the guide books while preparing for fatherhood or that it came up in the words of encouragement from friends or family. It's the magic of seeing the world through your child's eyes.

Spend a little time with a youngster, and you're fielding questions about the sky, the moon and the stars that you may not have thought about for years. Watch the eyes of children when they play with a dog, see a fire truck, or marvel at the way soap bubbles soar and pop.

Put together a train set, build Lego cities, goof around with dolls and stuffed animals. At some point it will hit. You feel like a child again. You're rediscovering joy and magnificence where you long ago forgot they existed.

And you get to play ball! If you're lucky, you might coach your child's soccer team.

What if I don’t have a soccer background?

Whether you have a soccer background or not, the surest way to enjoy yourself and create a fun environment that benefits the soccer development of the kids is to approach it the way you joined your child drawing with crayons or building with blocks.

See the game through your child's eyes.

"When you realize that you're going out there to enjoy, not to evaluate, it's much better," says John Ouellette, AYSO Technical Director and National Coach. "We're talking about kids playing a game. It's like going to the park, watching children play, and savoring every moment."

What’s Coaching all about?

AYSO has 82,000 coaches in its ranks. Most of them coach teams that include their own children. Ouellette says that coaches often put too much pressure on themselves by misinterpreting the role they're supposed to play.

"It's about managing children," says Ouellette. "It doesn't make any difference if you have a full understanding of the sport if you know what you're trying to get out of your sport for your child."

Fun, exercise and the chance to play soccer is what it's all about.

Soccer, perhaps more than any other sport, requires little teaching at the early ages. This is a notion substantiated by the fact that the world's greatest players spent most of their early years in the sport in a free-play environment.

What’s a Coach’s role?

In fact, the role of the coach in the first stages is simply to give children the opportunity to discover the game's joys.

"There's no real schematic on how to develop a great player, but we know if you give a kid a love and passion for the game, who knows, they may become the next Rick Davis," says Ouellette, citing the AYSO National Executive Director who played for the New York Cosmos and captained the U.S. National Team.

"Our philosophy for AYSO through U-10 is just let them play," says Ouellette. "They get to U-12 and we'll do some technical cleansing, and then teach them to read the game."

In other words, you may be called "coach," but what you're really doing is very similar to taking your child and his or her friends to the playground. You're supervising playtime while allowing the children to explore the fun on their own terms.

"It's OK to sit on a bench and watch them play 3v3, 4v4 or 5v5," says Ouellette. "They don't need a whole lot of skill or ability to do that."

Once coaches comprehend the expectations, they find all aspects of the role less daunting, including the dynamics of coaching one's own child.

How to walk the line between coach and parent?

That's not to say coaching your own doesn't present unique challenges. When you first start coaching you may very well be introducing your child to a new experience: sharing the attention of her parent with a larger number of other children than she's used to. You, on the other hand, are concerned with not showing favoritism.

The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) recommends you explain to your child, "I always love you and you are special to me. But when I'm coaching you, I need to treat you like all the other players. And you need to respond to me as your coach, not your dad. Do you think you can do that?"

One idea the PCA recommends is to employ the "coaching hat." Explain to your child that when you're donning the cap, you're coach. When the hat's off, you're back to parent.

Don’t be hard on your child.

Perhaps the greatest peril of coaching one's own child is the inclination to be harder on him than the other players because you're worried about perceptions of favoritism or simply because we're tougher on the ones we love.

"I know something about parents coaching their own children because I've done it and have made every possible mistake," says Tony DiCicco, who coached the U.S. Women's Team to the 1999 World Cup and the 1996 Olympic gold medal.

"What you must understand is that no matter what you say and no matter how you say it, it often registers as a personal attack when it comes from dad or mom," says DiCicco, a father of four, in his book, Catch Them Being Good. "You must also recognize that you're likely to be harder on your own child than you are on the other players and deal with it accordingly. Don't be afraid to praise your child. ... Acknowledge her strengths and accomplishments at every opportunity."

Am I treating my child properly?

The good test on how to treat your child on the soccer team is to constantly ask yourself if your reactions to his play or behavior are the same as they are to his teammates.

Another peril of coaching one's own children is to leave your coaching hat on when the game or the training is over.

"Frankly, I don't think it's a great idea to discuss sensitive game situations with your child once you're off the field," says DiCicco, "but if you have a relationship where you can do that, just make sure you don't overdo it.

"It's taken me a long time to be able to get to that point, but I've learned to be as nonjudgmental as possible. But no matter what, understand that there are going to be some difficult moments and that, in the end, it is often better to coach less than more."

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