Criticizing Teammates

As a parent, if one of your children was constantly yelling at and demeaning a sibling every time they made a mistake, wouldn’t you put a stop to it? Why then do coaches allow players to chastise or put down teammates for errors on the field? This behavior is not only detrimental to team chemistry but will have an adverse effect on the player being criticized, as well as the one doing it.

There is probably nothing that bothers me more than coaching against teams of young players who have not had this issue addressed. And I see it all the time in baseball and soccer. The youngster at shortstop, who looks as if he could be the team’s most talented player, makes a great pickup of a ground ball and throws to the second baseman covering the bag for the force. He drops it. Everybody’s safe. The shortstop stomps his foot and yells at the poor second baseman, “Come on!” loudly enough that all the players and parents on both teams hear. And the coach of the hot-shot shortstop, (often his dad), says nothing. Or, in soccer, after a player makes a pass that is intercepted by the other side, a teammate yells out something obvious, but not helpful, such as, “Keep the ball!” or “Don’t give it away!”

If a player on my team ever did this, they’d get the minimum of a strong talking-to, and, depending on the severity of the case, may find themselves sitting next to me on the bench. In early season practices I make sure that my players know that bashing another teammate is the quickest way to get pulled out of the game. It’s not just that it’s cruel to embarrass teammates right after a mistake they already feel badly about, it’s bad for the team as well. My philosophy has always been that you may very well need that player on the next play. So do you want them hanging their head and feeling horrible, or do you want them fired up instead, wanting to atone for that mistake? Plus, when you yell at your teammates in a non-constructive manner it creates an atmosphere of tension that isn’t good for anyone. If the rest of the team is playing in fear because they know someone is going to come down on them any time they mess up, there is no way to relax and play with confidence.

What if, in the two examples above, the criticizers immediately called out, “That’s all right!” instead? Imagine how much more of a team you’d be building. The kids who lost the ball would feel a sense of loyalty towards their teammate and would likely try much harder to reward that encouragement the rest of the game. And, players should understand how much better they will look to observers by being positive in the face of adversity instead of negative. For example, often when college soccer coaches are scouting high-level club players to potentially recruit, they know all the kids have tremendous skills. In addition to great players, they are looking for great teammates who will lift others up, not bring them down.

Teach your players to be positive towards their teammates – especially after mistakes – and you’ll be on your way to building a real team, not just 12 individuals wearing the same uniforms.

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