Positive Reinforcement In Youth Soccer

Phillip is a new player on a U12 competitive team. He is excited to be playing a higher level of soccer after two years in the recreational version where he was a star, scoring goal after goal. At his first training session the players run through some technical skills, and despite his best efforts, Phillip struggles. He sees his teammates complete the tasks with ease….

At this moment, Phillip’s confidence hangs precariously over an abyss.

After a few moments the coach turns to Phillip and simply says ‘come on, you should be able to do this by now’. And with that Phillip’s confidence plunges, he has been embarrassed in front of his peers, and may never recover.

Sat on the coaches bench these past few years have provided an interesting and at times frightening glimpse into the coach/player and parent/player relationship, and it is abundantly clear that the USSF policy of positive reinforcement is not being followed by all coaches and parents.

For a player to attain a level of mastery of soccer there are three key ingredients; Effort, Learning, and Mistakes. Too often as coaches and parents we guide encourage the effort, guide the learning, and then reprimand the mistakes. The result of this behavior is to make it harder to encourage the effort from the player, guide the learning of the player, and which of course leads to slower development and repetitive mistakes.

This is why we, as a club, celebrate the effort of the player even if things don’t go our way on the field. We know that if a player is giving it their all then we can help them learn and allow their technical and tactical understanding to flourish. We know that Phillip is trying his best and that if we acknowledge how hard he is working by vocalizing it to the entire team he will feel comfortable enough to fail, get up, try again, and succeed.

Imagine the atmosphere on game day if all parents and coaches simply positively reinforced the hard work of the players, allowed the players to make their own decisions, and dealt with mistakes by praising the effort, creativity, and bravery it takes to play this beautiful game. Phillip would certainly appreciate it.

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