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By Tony Earp
As a soccer coach, I hear a lot of things said by parents to me or their kids that my mom never said to me growing up. Below is a sample of comments I hear all the time. As a coach, I cringe every time I hear them. Maybe because I never heard them growing up from my mom.
“I will talk to the coach.”
Nope, never, not going to happen… if I had an issue with a coach, I always was forced to discuss it with the coach. My mom never stepped in and expressed concerns for me. I asked my mom why she always made me talk to the coach. Her response was not what I expected.
In short, my mom said to me she would never talk to the coach about what he was doing on the field because she would never expect him to talk to her about what she was doing with me at home. It was a simple point and again a very good one. Can you imagine if your soccer coach knocked on your parents’ door and gave them suggestions how to be better parents? Her view was that he was the coach and she was the parent. She will do what she thinks is best for me and the coach will do what he thinks is best. Both will make mistakes and will need to learn from those errors.
With that in mind, my mom gave me the responsibility to discuss issues with my coach or any adult I felt it was necessary. When I was younger, she would go with me, but would still make me talk. I know there were times she may not have agreed with the coach but she would never express her disagreement to me. Why? Probably because as soon as I knew my mom did not respect the coach’s decision, she knew I would not respect the decision either. She would be giving me the “green light” to dismiss the coach anytime I did not agree with him.
There a lot of lessons my mom was teaching me by doing this, but I will not go into them all. Outside of taking responsibility and learning how to bring up concerns to people of authority in a respectful way, the most important lesson was probably the least obvious. By my mom refusing to talk with the coach, it made me really decide if my concern was important. When a parent will quickly bring up an issue with a coach, a player will be more likely to bring up every little thing seen as an issue with the parent because the parent will discuss it with the coach. When the kid is forced to have the discussion, the child will be a little more selective about what is a REAL issue and what is not.
“You are better than that player.”
I would ask my mom if I was better than player “x” or player “y” because those players were getting more playing time than me or playing in a position I wanted to play. Whether I was better or worse did not matter much to my mom, or at least, she never made it the focus of the rest of the conversation.
In my mom’s heart she probably thought I was the best player to ever wear soccer cleats. She loved watching me play and thought very highly of my ability and potential on the field, but she NEVER compared me to another player. She would let me know when I had good days and bad days, but she would not compare me to any other player on the field. There were no coaching points or suggestions on how to play better, but she would be honest about my level of play. Normally the comments would be limited to things like, “I have seen you play better” or “it just did not seem like your day.” On the positive side it would be limited to, “You worked very hard today” or “It was a lot of fun to watch you play.” She always made it just about me, positive at times and negative at other times. She was not afraid to let me know when it was not my best effort, but never slow to let me know I played well.
Honestly, I am not sure if I know how my mom felt about any of the players I ever played with. She never gave me specific feedback about any players on the field. Her comments about the rest of the team would be very general. She would always refer to the team and never about individual players. After games I would hear, “the team looked great” or “the team seemed a step slow today.” This continued all the way through college.
My mom just focused on me most of the time. I was her focus and none of the other kids were her responsibility. She never spoke about me to other parents or talked about other players with other parents. Although parents may ask, my mom deflected the questions and avoided those types of conversations. It just was not her concern and made a choice not to allow herself to be part of those discussions.
This kept me focused on me. We are quick at times to justify how well or poor we are doing based on others around us. My mom forced me to measure myself against myself. When using other players to decide how well I did can dangerously lower, or raise, my expectations for myself. It can create a false sense of success or a false sense of failure, depending who I would measure myself against. We all compare ourselves to others at times. It is unavoidable. But when you cut through all the distractions, you should measure success or failure against yourself. It takes a deep sense of awareness and the courage to accept the fact you did your best or you never even really tried. Both are hard to admit at times.
As parents and coaches, sometimes it is the things we do not say that have the biggest impact on a child’s ability to be successful. Youth sports is not about the parents or the coaches, it is only about the kids. It is their time to play, learn, and grow. The kids need to experience success and failure, confidence and doubt, courage and fear, anger and joy, and everything else that comes with playing sports. My mom allowed me to experience them all. She did not shelter me from the bad or shower me with the good, and I never got to take the easy road to where I wanted to go.
Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@