My Coach has Favorites From a Sports Psychologist's Perspective

Let’s just clear the air by saying yes, they do. The reality is, sports don’t differ much from real life. Sometimes there are people you just get along better with than others. That’s just how it goes. Start there and accept that fact. However if you find yourself or your child in a situation where you aren’t the favorite you have two decisions or two “paths” you can take…complain about it (do nothing) or start to reflect on your actions and understand why you are in the situation you’re in.

Let’s start with the first option, because a lot of people want to do nothing and magically have something change. It doesn’t work like that. So if you don’t want to do anything and you’re fine with accepting that you aren’t a favorite, then that’s totally fine, keep doing what you’re doing.

Those who fall into the other category, keep reading. If you are not coaches favorite and you don’t know why, but you want to do something about it, here’s my two cents on what you can do.

In Sport Psychology we say “control your controllables”. First, accept that your coach’s opinion of you is out of your “control”. You cannot control what other people think about you, including your coach. However, there are things that are in your control.  When you ask most coaches why some athletes are their favorite they will tell you, “They work hard and they have a great attitude”. If you read this and think, “I have a great attitude and I work hard, but my coach still doesn’t like me,” then you may not actually be doing all that you think you are,  

IF you think you can not possibly do more, then go back to the second paragraph and concede that things aren’t going to change, and accept the position you’re in.

But if you think you are working hard, have a great attitude and still aren’t the coaches favorite, I want you to take a moment and think about the coach's favorite athletes. What type of qualities and behaviors do they possess? Be honest with yourself. Are they the type of players that are always on time? Are they attentive when the coach is talking? Do they work hard on the field? Are they being successful and scoring goals? There’s a reason the coach likes them, so take the time and figure it out.

I don’t want you to try and copy another player. It’s essential that you stay true to yourself, but what improvements could you make to improve your playing abilities? What are those other players doing that you are not? Could you work harder on the field? What about being more actively engaged when you’re on the bench? Do you take suggestions from the coach and try to implement them into your game?

Remember, if you want to change your current situation the only thing you can control is yourself. That’s where 100% of your focus needs to be, “How can I continue to improve myself?” As one of our great mentors at EDA said, “The game doesn’t lie.” What you sow you will reap. Intentional effort to make improvements will show, if you are dedicated to making improvements. But keep the focus all on yourself. You cannot change your coach.

**My only caveat to this is if you have an abusive coach. There are a lot of good coaches out there that are trying their best but unfortunately there are some bad ones. If you have a coach who is constantly belittling or embarrassing you, share that information with someone you trust. Your best option in a true abusive situation, is to find another coach.

My Coach has Favorites From a Coach's Perspective

Do you have favorite foods? Favorite Songs? Favorite Colors? Of course you do, and so does each individual person. Some may have things on their list of favorites that are common, but rarely do any two people have the same complete list of "favorites". So it goes with soccer coaches,  Of course coaches will have favorites as far as players go- but from my own experience, and the experiences I have had with qualified colleagues- that "status" usually has developed from the good interactions the coach has had with that player over a period of time. 

The traits that make a player a coach's favorite will vary from coach to coach, just like your personal preference to foods, colors, song etc. Each coach will have his/her own preferences or ideals that make a player a "favorite" You hear all the time of a player being on a team that they felt the coach "didn't like" them and then the same player having a completely different experience on a different team. My best advice is not dwell to much on who is or is not the favorite, if its fair or if it is not fair, and reasons why you feel that way.  Following is a list I compiled from my own experience as a coach at all levels U8 through Womens Semi-Pro, and a few colleagues of all different personalities, nationalities and gender who I feel are all good coaches. The list is a general guide that all agreed their "favorite"  player embodied, day in and day out, games and in training, in school and off the field.  Keep in mind, this is general.  It would be wise for you as a player to learn the things your particular coach is looking for out of players and spend some time and energy applying those to your game as well. 

1. EFFORT: No matter the circumstance, score, or anything other factors. Coaches like players who put forth their best effort 100% of the time, and work even harder after a mistake is made. 

2. ATTITUDE: " Attitude is a little thing, that makes a big difference." Leave your ego at the curb before you enter the pitch, be ready to work and in training and games, and be corrected from time to time.  Coaches appreciate players who are willing to take criticism and direction without talking back, or even saying, "I know" when a coach is giving instruction. Clearly you don't know if the coach is having to explain it again. 

3. RESPECT: Nothing drives a coach more crazy then when she is trying to organize and explain a new exercise or talk to the team during half-time and players are not listening and goofing off, and instructions have to be repeated. Coaches love players who can show respect and discipline when its time to listen and learn. 

4. COACHABILITY: No coach likes a player who shows up thinking they know it all, or are the worlds best player and they don't need any help. The best players realize there is always more to learn and that the coach is a good resource for further development and will help them refine skills, learn new ones and develop good habits. 

5. ASK GOOD QUESTIONS: If you don't understand something a coach has explained, and you nod your head "YES" when coach asks, "did you get that" that will frustrate your coach faster than anything. If you don't get it, respectfully ask for clarification. That will show the coach you are focused and really trying to do things the way they requested.  It is better to ask and get it right, then think you understand and get it wrong. 

The 10th Commandment for Soccer Parents: Be a Parent


There is a fine line between being a parent and a coach. Don’t push the boundary between the two worlds, because most times they are not congruent. Stay in the parent area and leave the coaching to the coaches.

You should leave the coaching to the coaches and be the support your child can only get from you. When you take on the role of the coach and point out all the mistakes your child make, that is not helpful. You think you are being helpful but in the vast majority of the time, the parent doesn't know what the coach was working to achieve in the game. You child is feeling bad about his mistakes and your pseudo coaching doesn't help the situation.

Your child will have many coaches in her life but she will only have one set of parents. Be a parent. Why would you ever consider jeopardizing the most important role in your life to become a half-ass coach? 

Your child is looking to you for guidance and support, not coaching. Be that support. It’s your job

The 9th Commandment for Soccer Parents: Don't Let Your Child be Bullied or Be a Bully


Would you stand by any at the playground or at your house if someone bullied your child? Would you just stare and say nothing?  I would hope not. It’s no different in soccer. NO ONE has the right to bully your child. Conversely, your child does not have the  right to Bully anyone.

You are the parent and you need to stick up for your child and give him the tools to deal with bullies. If the bully is a parent or a coach, you need to stand up for your child. Children are taught to respect adults and there is no way for your child to stand up to a bullying adult, but you can and you should. If someone makes a derogatory remark about your child within your earshot tell the person to stop. Its as simple as saying, "Feel free to speak about your child anyway you want. But DO NOT say another word about my child." Most times, the person, when confronted, is taken aback. If for any reason, this does not work, then quietly and respectfully tell them to stop. 99% of the time this is the end of the problem. If you are dealing with the 1%, let your coach know and speak with him about how he will stop this from happening in the future.

Bullies are everywhere. You can be a role model for your child in how to deal with bullies. Don't expect your child to "take-on" an authority figure. That being said, they should not "take-on" an authority figure by being disrespectful. Example: A player goes to a ref and makes inappropriate remarks or finger gestures. At that point, your child is a bully and you should remove them from the field. If your child is being disrespectful, pull them off the field. If that's not an option, and it always is by the way, talk to the coach and ask him to bench your child. Bullies are created by those who don't stand up to them and by those who encourage that type of behavior.

Whatever you decision, do it with respect and model the right behavior for your child.

The 8th Commandment for a Soccer Parent: Watch Your Mouth


This is a great idea to keep in your mind always. But it is especially important in a soccer match, when in the heat of the moment, people say sone pretty horrible things, to their children, to other people's children, to the coach, and to the referee. You are the most important person in your child’s life and your child learns how to behave by watching and listening to you.

Be the very best person you can because especially when tensions rise, your child is watching. Your actions directly impact how your child plays the game. Your body language affects your child and will lead her to believe that your love and affection for her is directly tied to her athletic performance. 

Your child needs to learn how to fail in order to succeed, both in soccer and in life. When parental behavior is such that a child believes the parent will no longer love her because she failed, it’s the parent who has failed.

When you stand up and tantrum like a three-year-old toddler, your child will believe she is the reason for your actions and then she becomes afraid: afraid to play, afraid to disappoint you, afraid to make you angry.  If you want your child to leave sports, that’s a great way to accomplish that objective.

If you are uber competitive, then just sit away from the field. As long as you let your child knows that you will be watching from afar, she will be just fine. If you can't take your eyes off the match, then whittle. Get a sharp knife, a piece of wood and whittle. You will be paying more attention to keeping your finger intact than finding every little error you can find. You will still be there for the action, just somewhat detached. Remember these kids are not professional soccer players, they are kids playing a game. 

Just remember if you wouldn’t want your Mom or your pastor, rabbi, priest, or any other religious leader you respect, seeing your actions or hearing what you say, lighten up.

The 7th Commandment for Soccer Parents: Do Not Time Your Child's Minutes in a Game

Your child plays on the field for the amount of time a coach chooses to have them play. Your child is aware of how much time he is playing, you and he doesn't need a detailed review. There are many reasons why a child plays a certain amount of time. These may or may not be valid to you, but it's not your choice or your child's choice.

It’s not going to change the coaches mind if you have a detailed form on how many minutes and when your child plays in a game. It will not change a coaches mind.

If your child is dealing with a lack of minutes, he needs his parent to support him and not by
"going off" on the coach.  If it is a chronic issue, it may be time to schedule a meeting with the coach, Not after a game or when you are angry. Breathe, get calm, and then text the coach at least a day after a game, and ask for a meeting with him, you and your child. 

If you act like an obsessed parent that's not a good thing for you or more importantly for your child. 

The Sixth Commandment for Soccer Parents: DO NOT Speak Ill of Any Player

NEVER under any circumstances speak ill of another player. When talking to Collegiate and Professional players about what they wish their parent's hadn't done, universally they mentioned speaking ill of another player. They said it made them feel as though they weren't good enough and their parent had to diminish another to raise them. Think about that for a minute. When you speak ill of another player, you are actually diminishing your child. You are telling your child that she just isn't good enough. Next time, you start to say something, stop and say instead, I'm so happy I got to watch you play. That will make your child feel great because she pleased you.

NEVER blame any player for a team’s loss. There's never one player to blame. Soccer is a team sport and the truth is you win as a team and you lose as a team. Teamwork is tough. Team chemistry even harder. When you blame one child, then you are responsible for dismantling all the work the team has done. Losses are tough. Be there for your child. She doesn't need you to give her an excuse. she just wants her parent to be there. There's going to be times when you child feels like it was her fault, Tell her it is a team sport and that there is another game coming up. Then move on with your life!

You don’t want others talking badly about your child, so be respectful towards all the players and teach your child by example. Remember your words and actions will have a profound impact on your child. And by the way, your child is not a professional player so don't treat them like one.

Fifth Commandment for Soccer Parents: Encourage your Child to be a Great Person

Soccer is a game that teaches life skills. It is a place for children to learn to be better people. Do encourage your child to play fairly. Things happen on the field that can be construed as unfair. The ref may miss a call, there may be a careless tackle. Whatever the situation, you child and you should not retaliate.

Do encourage your child to give it everything he can while on the field and in practice. Make sure your child is ready to play when he arrives at practice and at a game. That means you need to make sure he is fed and hydrated. It means they are on time for every practice and game. 

Do encourage your child to be a good sport. Not everything goes your way. Sometimes it seems that all the calls go against you. It's hard, but the reality of the situation is there will be games where the call go against you and games where all the calls go your way. If you complain when they go against you, you should also complain when they are all in your favor. In either case, it's not fair to someone.

Do encourage your child to express gratitude to coaches and referees, regardless of how the game turns out. Your child should be grateful he is playing a game he loves. It isn't about the "W" it's about the process of becoming a better player and a better person.

Do encourage your child to be kind to everyone. Regardless of the situation, he should be kind to everyone around him. That means the teammate who missed the shot or the GK who had a bad day. At some point every player on the team will have a tough day and your child's kindness can make a team better.

Do encourage your child to be the type of person you hope they will be as an adult. Soccer is a microcosm of life. How he behaves on the field will impact how he behaves in life. Also please note that your child is looking to you as his example. Act like your child wants you to behave.

It all starts right now.

Fourth Commandment for Soccer Parents: Support Your Child in His Dreams

Every child has dreams. Most children, at some point in competition soccer, say they want to be a member of the National Team or they want to play professionally. Let them dream. Dreams are what excite kids to work hard. Dreams are the very thing that makes your child happy and wanting to do the things to achieve the dream.

They are only children once and they should have the right to dream they can be anything they want. Believe me, their dreams will probably change when they figure out that there is something they want more than to play professionally.  The hard reality of being "the best" in competitive soccer, will come soon enough.  

Remember their dreams are their dreams. Your dreams are your dreams. Sometimes it's easy to get the two confused. What you view as success might not be your child't view of success. Let your child dream they way they choose to dream. Don't tell them what and how to dream. Support their dream but don't usurp their dream. A nine-year-old should not be training like a High School Senior. Remember your child is a child, and not someone for you to live your dream through. 

Until they decide what they want when they are older, let them dream their own dreams.

Third Commandment for Soccer Parents: Believe in Your Child

It’s easy for parents in the world of youth competition soccer to become part of the group who is constantly finding fault with the coach, with the players, with the referees, with other parents, with everything but themselves. Somehow this group and everyone in it, has forgotten that soccer is a game and it is played by children.

Believe in your child. Believe she is playing as hard as she can. Believe she is working hard. Believe she is doing her best. Believe she is having fun. Kids want to do their best. They don't go into a competition saying, "I think I want to lose today". That's not in their realm of thought. They go in, they compete to the best of their ability at that point in time, and then they look to you for support. No one plays great at every game. There are up days and down days, but everyday is a chance for the player to learn, to be supported by you regardless of the type of game she played. Don't analyze, don't ask them for their version of the game. Just let her talk when she chooses to talk. You didn't play the game, she did.

If you feel the need to overanalyze each game, then start playing yourself. Film yourself, critique yourself, let others critique your play and see how that feels. You're an adult and I doubt that you would have much fun knowing that in the end all your mistakes would be highlighted. Imagine how a child feels when every move they made, every goal they missed, is critiqued by you. 

Believe and when you do, you will find that you are not part of the group who complains, you will be your child’s greatest cheerleader and support.

Just Believe.



The Second Commandment for Parents


You know your child better than anyone. There are many coaches and every coach has a different style. Some are quiet, some are yellers, some are demanding, some laid back. Find the coach whose personality and coaching style mesh best with your child. 

After you have discussed with your child, what he wants, then your job starts. If your child wants to play with neighborhood buddies then look for a local club. There are numerous clubs, each with a slightly different philosophy. You can go to the websites and read about them. Here’s a newsflash. Don’t believe everything you read. Clubs are businesses that need your child to be successful. Please notice, clubs are not people, they are business entities.

The “people” part of a club starts with the coach. Every club has good coaches, average coaches and in some case, terrible coaches. It’s your job as a parent to weed them out. 

First, start by looking up the various coaches in your child’s age and skill level. From there, go and watch the coach during a game. See if the coaches philosophy of coaching fits your child’s need. Some coaches are very animated, others like to scream, some are silent, Observe. Most importantly bring your child along so they can see how the coach behaves.

When you have a list of a few coaches, or maybe less then a few, who fit your criteria, contact the coach and ask if the coach would be willing to have your child come and train with them. At this point it is very important that you say, “Would it be possible for Johnny to come to a practice and see if his skills would be beneficial to your team? And then you ask, “What can you do for my child?” You are asking for a favor with the first question and gaining knowledge with the second.  The coach doesn’t need to say yes or even respond. Most coaches, when treated with respect, are agreeable to this. There may be rules in you State Association making this difficult.  So ASK!

The coach will probably ask about your child, wanting to know what division your child currently plays and what team he plays for, and if your child has ever played against his team. These are perfectly reasonable questions so don’t take offense. Remember at this point the coach is going to evaluate your child not only in terms of your child’s abilities but also in terms of team dynamics. You, the parent, are not privy to the team dynamic so be respectful, regardless of the coaches decision. There are coaches who will accept your child to the team if it strokes their ego and they will take your child whether or not your child is a good fit or not. Coaches are humans and come in all types of packages.

That being said, there are some A-Hole coaches, just like in the general population, If you come across one of these, and they do not want your child, thank the heavens that you escaped. DO NOT ever let the opinion of one coach sway your determination to find you child the best team.

IF you receive the same type of feedback from numerous coaches know they are probably right. If they say your child isn’t ready to play at a certain level, believe them. Find a place for your child to train outside of the club environment, IF you child is willing. 

At this point in your journey, your child will tell you what he wants. LISTEN TO HIM! You can not read your child’s mind and just because you love soccer doesn’t necessarily translate to your child loving the game enough to forego other things. But always remember, children should be playing more than one sport. It's good for them mentally and physically