By Tony Earp
At the soccer field, you probably hear the loudest cheers and yells when a goal is scored. All goals should be celebrated, and parents should let the kids know how proud they are of all their efforts that resulted in a goal. Scoring goals is one of the hardest things to do in the game, and it gets harder as players get older, and it is the moment of the game that all the near misses, great plays, and hard work lead up to for the team. When a goal is scored, it allows everyone to unleash all the emotion that has been bottled up waiting for that goal to come.
Are there other things that coaches and parents can cheer? There are a lot of things that need to happen to lead up to a goal. A tremendous amount of effort and outstanding play, both individually and by the entire team), occur throughout the entire game. There are moments we are missing that deserve as much, if not more, applaud and cheer from the sideline. This is especially true for the youngest age groups who are just learning to play the game. Developmentally there are many things the coaches want the players to attempt during the game, many of them are risky, and that often do not get much attention.
If we could recognize and celebrate the moments below more frequently, it would give players more motivation to do the things in the game that are beneficial to their development and the success of the team. If players know they will be recognized for the following actions, like when a goal is scored, they will be more likely to try to repeat those actions. Cheer for goals, cheer loudly when someone scores, but let’s get out of our chair and clap for the other important moments in the game.
1) Consecutive Passes – Have you ever counted how many times your child’s team connects more than a couple passes together? It is rarer than you think to see a team connect five or more passes together in a row without losing possession. When teams are able to string together more than just a couple passes and keep possession, moving the ball from one side of the field to the other, poking and prodding the other team’s defense looking for ways to get to goal, it should be something celebrated. Seeing a youth team do this is probably rarer than a goal being scored. Next time your team connects more than five passes, let the kids hear you on the sideline! Let the kids know you recognized the very difficult task they just accomplished as a group.
2) Successfully Playing out of the Back – Normally when a goalkeeper or field player gets the ball around their own goal the immediate reaction is to kick it away, out of bounds or up field, immediately without much thought or attempt to look at another option. It is something special to watch a player get a ball under pressure, around the goal, and with poise and confidence, keep possession of the ball by dribbling or passing out of pressure, or a goalkeeper to pass the ball to a teammates versus just punting it up field. It is an incredible risk, but a much higher level of play. This is what we want out of our players when they play the game. We want great confidence and control on the ball, and we want them to remain calm, not panic, and find solutions to problems. When you see a player, start an attack out of the defensive end of the field near the goal, especially under pressure; make sure that player is recognized for that level of play.
3) Courage and Creativity on the Dribble – This is a great one, and I have seen this happen more and more at the soccer field and it is a fantastic thing for players. Great coaches ask their players to try skill moves in games and to take players on with the soccer ball. At the younger age groups, it is instills confidence in players to have the ball at their feet, not panic under pressure, and be willing to be creative and courageous on the ball. When you see a player perform a skill move on the ball, taking a player on 1v1 or trying to protect the ball to keep possession, cheer for them when they do it. I have seen kids’ faces light up with joy when they do a step over and the parents cheer for them. The players get excited to try it again, and again, and the player’s confidence grows. The player is rewarded for trying something that is difficult, and could cause them to lose the ball, during a game. It helps players use the skills worked on in practice in games because the parents and coaches are saying, “It is safe to work on those skills here too!”
4) Movement or Run that Creates Space for Teammate – This is the most unrewarded, but very important, aspects of the game for players. In order to build an attack, create space to play through to get to goal, the movement of players off the ball has to be consistent and well-timed. We often think of moving off the ball to be able to receive the ball from a teammate. Yes, this is one type of movement, but moving off the ball to create space for someone else to receive a pass is an even higher level of movement. Many people miss this, as the player moving to create space for another player, does not get the ball and is not directly involved in the play. It is an “off the ball” skill in a game that is very important for the team to have success moving the ball up field. This might be harder to see, but when you do, make sure you let that player know you saw what their effort created!
5) Sprinting Back to Cover for Teammate – When teams attack, they commit players forward to create numbers up situations around the goal. A defender or midfielder can get caught up field trying to support the attack when possession is lost. Many players will stand and not recover when there is a turn over, but some players will immediately sprint back to help defend, and at times, work back into areas of the field that should be covered by another player. The recovering player will recognize his teammate is too far up the field and will not be able to recover in time, so the player recovers back for the player out of position. Instead of saying, “that is not my responsibility”, the player makes it his responsibility to help the player who cannot get back and the team keep a good defensive shape. Again, an act that often goes unrecognized, but should be applauded from the sideline.
6) Saves by Goalkeeper – Goalkeeper is an incredibly difficult and unrewarding position. A lot of the good things they do go unrecognized, but their mistakes are very public and costly. Throughout a game, a goalkeeper does a lot, even when they are not making saves, to prevent the other team from scoring goals. A lot of this is their communication and organization of their back-line, coming off their line and cleaning up balls served over the top and into the goal area, and starting the attack when they get the ball. When a goalkeeper is called on to make a save, it is expected a save is made. There is not a lot of praise when the goalkeeper stops the ball from going into the goal, but plenty of constructive criticism when a goal is allowed. Even “routine” saves, are very difficult, although goalkeepers make them look easy, and those moments should be cheered and celebrated. It does not have to be a diving save, tipping the ball over the bar, on a shot heading for the upper corner of the goal. All saves are crucial for a team to have a chance of being successful. As the least understood position on the field, a lot goes into every save a goalkeeper makes and it is time to recognize it!
7) Incredible Sportsmanship – In a time when you often see the “bad side” of sports on Sports Center or your local leagues, seeing great sportsmanship during a match is becoming a rare occurrence. Games, where there should be healthy competition, can quickly turn into a disappointing display of disrespect among the players on the field. It seems it is hard for players to compete, aggressively with one another, without it becoming a personal conflict between the players. When a player demonstrates sportsmanship and class on the field, especially in situations when it is hard, that behavior should be reinforced by the crowd with thunderous applaud. I have seen players correct a referee’s call saying, “No, that was out on me. It is their ball.” I have seen players help a player up who they knocked down and fouled. I have even seen a player who was fouled get up, and say, “No worries, just part of the game.” It seems strange, but great sportsmanship like this allows players to compete hard and learn how to react positively to negative situations in the game. It is better than emulating the players they see on TV blow up on another player each time they are touched or are always trying to get a cheap call from the referee.
In short, there are many aspects of the game that can be celebrated from the sideline by parents and coaches. Yes, the goals are what will always get us out of our seats, but let’s show the kids that we recognize other moments in the game when they do great things that are not easy and just as important for their development. Let’s cheer for more!
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@