I coach kids soccer and have for a few years now. (podcast available at BeAwesome365)
I LOVE my teams and, for the most part, love my parents, that are piled along the sidelines screaming and cheering for their kids.
Last season, I had more than a few parents who assured me they didn’t understand the game. I often hear the parents (on the far sideline from me) instructing their kids to do the wrong technique or skill. They are missing a vital element of the sport, which keeps them from enjoying sports at a higher level.
First off, Your kids love soccer, and it may be the #1 BEST sport for kids. “You kids get out there and run after the ball for an hour. That’ll tire you out.”
The way I coach, we don’t practice a lot. My players are into multiple sports and extra activities, and my wife and I have decided MORE is not better. Be a kid; try it all. But because of this, I teach my kids to hack the game. Understanding accelerates learning.
A bit of understanding speeds the advancement of the kid’s skills and enjoyment of a beautiful game (soccer is actually known as “the Beautiful Game.”) Often, this enjoyment is handicapped by a misunderstanding of the sport itself.
Add to it hyper-excited parents wearing “parent goggles” demanding their kid gets a fair shake at life.
This leads to terrible advice from the sidelines, a confused look on the kid’s faces, and way too many prematurely balding coaches throwing clipboards.
This is not unique to soccer. My kids also play baseball, softball, football, surf, and do Ninja warrior stuff, plus a hundred other things, and even I am guilty of being that dad that will sometimes, in the heat of excitement, shout out, “GO!” at the exact time he should have stopped while I’m out there cheering for my kid.
The problem is, there are often times in all sports where “GO” is a terrible idea and sabotages the plan.
Example: Just last night, I was at my daughter’s softball game where every single parent, one coach, and even the dugout mom yelled, “Go!” when a third baseman bobbled a ball. My daughter had just stolen third, and the catcher gunned it to the third baseman, who dropped the ball as the slide came in.
Everyone yelled, “GO, GO, GO HOME!”
Are you not sure of my point?
The point is, that’s really terrible advice…all the kid at third had to do was pick up the ball and throw it home. Science has proven a thrown ball travels much faster than a running kid. Thus an Easy out and lousy play.
The teaching of poor techniques and poor understanding.
Nowhere is this more obvious than soccer. I guess being born in the US just predetermines us to be oblivious to how the sport works. That multiplied by, “I’m not really sure what’s going on out there..”
So leave it to me to fix this, just like I do for my kid’s teams and the parents every fall and every spring, all over again.
And I can fix this easily – as soccer is the most straightforward sport in the world to understand. Indeed, Because of this seemingly inexplicable lack of understanding – last season, I put together a little
“Soccer for Parents” Handbook.
In addition to being able to annoy your friends at work with your professed soccer knowledge, it will make you better soccer parents. As now, you will actually be yelling out correct things to your kids.
Making better soccer parents is my #2 Bolded headline at the beginning of the season. I grew up a coach’s kid, and I’m a long-time sports practitioner; nothing is more embarrassing and sad than the sports mom that doesn’t have a clue as to what her kids have been doing for the last 9 years.
Don’t be that mom that just stands, claps, and cheers -then whispers to the person on her left, “What just happened?”
Don’t be that dad that says, “back in junior high, I played soccer for a week in PE…here’s what I think they should do.”
Concept #1 – soccer really is one of the easiest sports in the world to understand.
As of the completion of today’s article, you can no longer say, “I just don’t understand soccer.”
The rules go like this:
When Ball goes in a goal, it’s a point. That’s all; the entire article; is finished, done, and straightforward.
Well, ok, there’s this…The team in blue goes this way, and the team in red goes that way.
If the ball goes out of bounds, you throw it back in.
Now here’s where it gets a little crazy. So stay with me here.
2) There are positions.
Now, this isn’t unique. In fact, every team sport I can think of has positions. I’m not sure why this is so difficult for soccer parents, but it’s the most obvious mistake I see while watching parents when I should be watching their kids.
You see, some players should be trying to move the ball towards the opponent’s goal and score, and there are ALSO POSITIONS that are set up to keep the other team from scoring. There are also positions, specifically made to play a kind of in-between. A “do-it-all” pass it here or there, help out on defense, and just sort of figure out what’s happening and make it work.
As in most sports, they can collectively be broken down into offense and defense.
AND…The go-between guy I was speaking about is called “mid-field.”
So please quit telling your kid to “take the ball and score” when that’s not his position.
I tell my 8-year-olds, “There are two ways to win at soccer.”
- Score more goals.
- Don’t let the other team score. Both are equally important.
Let me share a concept that helped clear this up this season. Especially to the parents!
We know football here in Texas, so we’ll start with that. I am going to use Elite NFL football and start making comparisons.
The kids liked this analogy, as football is big-time in Texas. They just “got it,” and they all laughed, and the parents nodded in a “lightbulb above the head eureka moment” of comprehension.
For instance – are you aware that Tom Brady doesn’t actually “catch” most of his own touchdowns?
It’s true -and yet, despite having only 2 or 3 catches for TDs IN HIS LIFETIME, he is still quite famous AND financially stable. It seems that the majority of what has made him the most popular football player in history on the planet is his ability to pass the ball. To see the entire field and pass the ball where it should go. (also see football cheat sheet)
In soccer, it’s the same – the ability to pass is an under-taught, underappreciated, and often neglected skill. Not because coaches don’t know, but because parents don’t know. You’re not trying to sabotage the game. You’re just looking at it wrong. Nobody argues that Tom Brady doesn’t score the touchdown, right? Yet, we all know he didn’t catch the pass that scored.
Yet, this is where Americans get it so wrong.
Have you ever told your kid you’ll give them $5 if they score?
I tell my players, “Tell your parents you’ll take $3 every time you set up a score. Kid, you’ll make a lot more cash.”
I hear my parents often shout, “Take the ball and score, ” and all kinds of shouts of “Shoot! Shoot it!” despite being on the wrong part of the field and no matter how many opponents are running directly at or guarding them. Kicking the ball into the other team’s wall of shins hardly ever works, even in little kids’ games, but man, do we all get excited when they get close!
Hardly ever do I hear shouts of, “Pass it to that poor kid standing all alone in front of a goal the size of the garage door that has upwards of a 99% percent chance of scoring even if he totally whiffs and the ball just bounces off any body part!”
But that’s what we say and think as coaches. All the time.
That’s what the elite, the college players, and the pros do. They run plays and set up good opportunities.
If you get this concept down, This “passing wins every single game EVER concept” – as a parent or youngster playing the game, you immediately move up to the upper echelon. Passing made Tom Brady. It can make your kid too.
I see an insanely high amount of time spent on ball handling, skills and moves, and cool YouTube tricks of exceptional foot skills, but I don’t see much time spent just watching the game. Play the odds. Kids are like labradors; they run to the ball. If 7 players are running after you because you have the ball, you did a great job – that means someone is unguarded. Directly. Over. There. Get the ball to her!
Typically at the end of the year, many coaches have a sort of awards banquet party.
The kid that scored the most wins “the golden boot.” That kid is typically not the best player. Nope, the best player is the kid that gets the golden boot the ball. “That player” is typically called the MVP.
Concept #3. Soccer isn’t boring because it is low scoring.
Soccer is tough. There’s a goalie right there who can use his hands. A goal is unbelievable. But there is much more beauty and skill happening outside of goals being scored.
As football fans, we go nuts over a huge pass where a receiver jumps 11 feet in the air and makes a one-handed catch! Even when it wasn’t for a touchdown but for, let’s say, a 5-yard gain. We go insane when our team sacks the QB for a ten-yard loss or a game-winning pass breakup.
Basketball has no look; behind-the-back passes and defensive blocks – BLAM!
Baseball has the gravity-defying diving catch for a foul ball and a stolen third base that spills beers across the stands.
Hockey enjoys the monster checks into the boards and the goalie that is so fast you missed it!
These are equally “crazy exciting, ” yet every example given does not change the score.
Heck, my kids scream like it’s the fourth of July if they get a plastic water bottle to flip in the air and land on its bottom. Dude Perfect has made millions of dollars flipping bottles to land on their cap! “AHHH DUDE…DIDYOUSEETHAT!!??? AHHH!!
Soccer has the exact same things happening. Ankle breaker moves, fake out passes, stop and goes and long bombs down the sideline, leaving the defenders scrambling like it’s the Chicago Fire and the goalie quite possibly peeing in his pants a little.
Add that oldie but goodie, “Offense wins games, but DEFENSE wins championships!”
It’s all right there happening, yet, as American soccer watchers…we miss it. It’s nothing if it’s not a goal. We call It boring.
OH, COME ON!
Get a little FE (false enthusiasm) up in there and get excited already. Make your kids want to try a “stop and go” and step over fake shot. As a fan, Stand up in slow motion replay excitement when a big arching pass goes high in the air with a huge curvy bend, and your little girl catches the ball, WITH HER FOOT…HER FREAKING FOOT, like Odell with a sticky glove. That’s excitement y’all!!
It’s up to you to create it and feel it.
The rest of the world does!
I’m 100% sure most of my parents look at each other with confused eyes when, as a coach, I lose my mind in excitement and cheering and run down the sideline when one of my kids does some cool soccer concept -like a backward (negative) pass or a 1-2 (like a give and go in basketball) even when it doesn’t score. Because that means they are developing, they are learning, they are creating!!
I love it when my defense just absolutely shuts the other team down. I have a pizza party if our team doesn’t allow a shot against them. (it’s happened…a lot!)
Can you imagine in basketball if your opposing team took zero shots??? That’s not boring!!
Let me just make soccer super easy for you right now. Soccer is virtually identical to basketball, WITH just a bigger field and more players.
For instance…take a negative pass. This is where a player passes the ball back to a teammate because there are no options available where they are.
This is a considerable development for American soccer kids; it’s a challenging concept. Especially for American parents. “Wrong way, Wrong way!!!”
It’s not. In essence, it is no different than a center in Basketball passing the ball back outside to a guard at the three-point line because the inside is congested. It’s simply a reset; it’s. “Let’s take another look at the field with less pressure and work our way in again.”
My friend Joe Casey relates that when he started refereeing and a team would drop a ball back, Parents would inevitably start screaming, “NO! THAT’S THE WRONG WAY, WRONG WAY!”
It drove him nuts. Parents…Don’t be such a noob. That’s how you play the game!
The new techniques and developments are what is fun about the game. It’s the same as a no-look pass in hoops or a sack in football. It IS THE COOL PART of the game. It takes a lifetime to get down. Even the world’s best pros will never master it all!
#4 speaking of basketball.
Let me get this out there. If you know hoops, you know soccer. (see also basketball cheat sheet)
We already spoke about the negative pass, but I’m telling you – everything matches. It’s nearly an identical sport, and this concept really helps parents and kids “get it.”
Bring the ball down the court. Sometimes slow and controlled, with one main guy taking his time, running predetermined “plays” and changing positions based on that play. Sometimes, fast break big passes down the sideline trying to catch the other team being lazy or caught out of position.
In both sports, the main “play” is to attack from the outside to the inside, where the biggest, tallest kid (or the kid with the best-developed skills) will put in the hoop. But occasionally, you may pass in from the top of the key to the inside. You have to work your way in there.
To get there, you might set screens, run two or three passes, pick and roll or give and go’s.
Sometimes your going to set up outside and pop the long-range ball. A three-pointer in hoops is a 40-footer in soccer.
The big mistake I see in youth soccer is in front of the goal. It gets too crowded and too congested.
My wife has 100 pictures of 5 of our team’s kids lined up in front of the other team’s goal, with 7 of the other team’s kids right up in there with them, trying to keep it out. Every parent and coach is screaming, “KICK IT IN!/ “KICK IT OUT!” and there is ¾ of all the players from both teams standing so close together I could put a hula hoop around them.
Just like basketball. Last night on the NBA game, I heard the announcers point out the same concept. 6 players in the paint = no baskets. “Bill, that was ugly; it’s too congested in the paint; these players are pros; they need to take it out and reset it. They are better than this.”
It’s really similar. Same concepts.
In the younger kid’s game, there are fewer three-pointers and long balls because their skills have not gotten to that point yet. So yeah, the stuff you see on TV won’t work for the kid’s game.
In both sports. Actually, in most sports -especially during the younger years, often it’s just the best kid on the team taking it all and doing it all on his own.
On my soccer team, some kids are just a bit more developed and “into the game.” On my kid’s basketball team, there is that one kid who is a standout and scores half the team’s points. So yeah, get that kid the ball. But by no means think that is how we want to coach it or view it as the game develops and they get older and obtain more skills. At first, getting a kid to pass the ball when the other team is running a press is a HUGE accomplishment.
The ability to dribble with both feet, look up, and develop a strategy based on things that happen takes experience and time – These concepts “go forward” in all sports. But by high school, there should be some quick one-two-three passing, three-pointers, and some kids ripping the ball when left unguarded.
If you know hoops, you know soccer.
See? I Told you you knew this sport.
Concept #5 Soccer has a secret code.
Because the powerhouses of soccer are not here in the good ole USA, but in Europe and South America, you need to speak the code. Soccer coaches and, OH GOD, hardcore soccer fans are just a little peculiar and love the shroud of mystery and intrigue. They love, more than anything else, to annoy their non-soccer friends and colleagues.
I equate this to my Mexican-speaking friends, specifically Steve Tijerina, whom, when I ask, “how do you say ___ in Spanish?” Immediately puts on a tough accent and verbalizes in lightning speed, “cuuumpleasnos?”
Me: “What was that? I didn’t catch it all. Slow it down the first time, please.”
Steve: “Esteban tiene cumpleaaaaaannnnnyyyooos” (but crazy fast)
Me: “C’mon, Steve, help me here….bah, just write it down.”
Steve, “I’m busy, gotta run… sucka!!”
Agh!!! I’m pretty positive Steve has been making up stuff for 2 decades around me.
Soccer fans are weird. And they like it that way. Even American soccer fans take on the European soccer terminology because, well…they’re soccer fans; THEY love to be different.
Here are a few trade secrets. Remember, primarily European. Down here in Texas, we have WAAAY more terms to learn because of our connection to the Mexican League, but this article is dragging on long enough; let’s stick to the basics.
Shoes are often called boots. “Tie your shoes” would thus be translated, “Lace your boots.”
The score zero = nil.
Sidelines = touchlines
The field is called the pitch
Refs are often called officials
Teams are clubs
Tournaments are called cups
The rest of the world calls soccer football. As in FC, after a lot of teams’ names. Football Club
Often there is no championship game – you just play everyone and keep track of wins and losses, and at the end of the season, the team with the best record wins….unless .. they are tied in wins and losses after an entire 50-game season.
And it ALWAYS ends in a tie due to some crazy contract with the soccer gods of antiquity.
So when it inevitably does end in a tie, you go by a tiebreaker that soccer weirdos call a “goal differential” – how many goals did you score vs. how many did you let in.
See? Insight! That’s why the coach is so crazy about only getting beat 0-2 vs. 0-4 or why when your kid’s team is up 6-0, the crazy coach loses his mind when he gives up a goal in the last 30 seconds AND why the weakest kid on the team NEVER gets to try goalie even when it’s a blowout.
See? It all makes sense now. It’s easy.
OK – I’m done with part 1 – everything I’ve just gone over was for the parents. That’s all you need to know. You can stop now.
Part 2 is for the intrigued. So, If you want a bit more, by all means…. proceed to the other article as
Part 2 is about the GAME.
The professionals, the big time, the million-dollar athletes.
You can find part 2 here….(coming soon)