In a coach’s desire to win or a parent’s anxiety to see their kid perform well, kids are told when to pass, when to shoot, where to stand, when to run, and even when to tie their shoes. Guess what? Kids can think too!

I’ll never forget what I heard an opposing coach yell to one of his U8 players at a game. The child had just received the ball about 10 yards into his defensive half, took a couple touches to the side and then played a ball upfield. In my mind I was thinking “nice play.” This kid didn’t just kick the ball as hard or as far as he could like so many other players would have done. Smart right? Well, the coach yells (from the sideline so that everyone can hear), “Johnny, I don’t want you to dribble back there. You’re playing defense. When the ball comes to you, I just want you to kick it.” And we wonder why so many kids look bored playing soccer, why they lack sufficient technical skills, and why teams are still playing kickball in high school…? They’re not playing their game.

If you want your child or player to think for him or herself, if you want them to enjoy playing the game, if you want to empower them to show their skills without fear of making mistakes, if you want them to learn from their mistakes then coaches and parents need to make a change.

Parents, stop coaching from the sideline! Your screaming doesn’t help your child learn how to make their own decisions and eventually just leads to anxiety and resentment…or your  child walking off the field crying, which I’ve unfortunately seen on multiple occasions.

Coaches, empower your players instead of micromanaging them on the field. Let practices during the week be opportunities for teaching. Then, on the weekends let them play the game!

Clubs, don’t publish marketing jargon about how you focus on player development or about “how you play the game” is more important than winning…if you don’t hold your coaches to those standards.

Kids can think too! And kids want to play the game. Let them make their own decisions; let them make their own mistakes; let them learn so that they can do all of these things on their own when they’re older. Without autonomy we are less engaged and when we aren’t emotionally engaged we don’t learn. That’s not a recipe for success or having fun.

Keep calm and #letkidsplay so they may continue to play with the same fun, smiles and passion they had when they were five years old. We owe it to them. It’s their game, not ours.