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May 22, 2020



This week I learned that a former player of mine has quit the game at 16 years old. It’s no longer fun and they want to spend more time with friends. Those are certainly valid reasons for a kid to decide they no longer want to play the game. It’s sad to see a good player with all of the necessary tools leave the game so young though.

Often times we hear from parents that they don’t want to join a “bigger club” because they worry about “burn out”. When I ask them what they mean by that the answers typically boil down to too much time spent on the sport and overtraining. They don’t want to take the fun out of it.
So, why do kids play sports to begin with? According to every piece of research I have ever read, in 9 out of 10 athletes surveyed, the answer is this:

“Because it’s fun!”

What makes it fun? When kids were asked what made sports fun,here were their top answers:
  1. Trying your best
  2. When the coach treats a player with respect
  3. Getting playing time
  4. Playing well as a team
  5. Getting along with teammates
  6. Being active
Notice what’s not on there?

While overzealous and aggressive coaches who have their priorities screwed up (I've been there!) play a large role in taking the enjoyment out of the game, this is a parent engagement piece designed to help you help your athlete.

Back to the player who recently quit. What went wrong? Without talking to this athlete, I cannot say for sure obviously but from where I stood, I could see plenty of warning signs that this was coming. The parent had very big ideas on what they wanted for this player.

This player came to our team only a year or two after starting the game. They had been with another club previously…well, two actually. They were dual rostered between a community club and a larger club. They continued to dual roster against my advice for the first year with us. After two years with us, they left for greener pastures. That made three clubs in four years. They constantly looked to guest play wherever and whenever without asking if this was a good idea.

I heard over and over about the parent’s high school athletic achievements and how they wanted to provide the best opportunities possible for their athlete. When the motivation of this player started to dwindle, I was asking what was wrong. They no longer seemed to be having any fun, ever. The parent began paying for goals. Now it became a job. *Our Book of the Month for May, “Drive”, delves into why an extrinsic motivator like money does not work and does more harm than good, especially in kids*

As you can see, this was all parent-driven. Three teams in four years means that the friendships and bonds that can be created as a team develops...were not. The trust built in a coach over time...was not. Participation was no longer about fun, getting better, working hard, developing bonds within a team. It was time spent with strangers and acquaintances. Why invest in new friends and a new team if you are just going to move on soon? It was time spent in the car driving greater distances for training and games chasing something the parent wanted, all the while, getting further from why the kid began playing the game.

This isn’t about changing clubs or playing for clubs further from home. There are certainly valid reasons for doing so and plenty of kids who “want” this (assuming they understand the trade-offs). This is about perspective and keeping the child involved in the decisions. They’ll make new friends after joining a new team...if given the time. They’ll gain trust in the coach...if given the time. They will help you understand why they play the game and what they want from the game...if given the opportunity.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first player I have seen this happen to. And worse yet, it is becoming a more common occurrence. Participation in youth sports is declining. The drop off at age 13 is alarming. As the adults, we all need to make sure that we are asking the kids what they want and making sure that they clearly understand the trade-offs they may need to make to pursue different options.
For a great article on how to make sure we, as parents, are helping to maximize what an athlete is taking away from the game, please read “Why Kids Play Sports” by John O’Sullivan over at Changing the Game Project.

May 15, 2020

In our first Player Development piece, we touched on several statements that we hear when players are considering moving to a club like Cap City but decide not to. As we approach what would have been the typical pre-tryout training and tryout period, we thought it would be a good time to revisit that topic in a little more depth. As players start to think about what team/club they will play for next year we hope this piece will help shed some light on some of the issues you should consider while making your decisions.

As we stressed in that first article, it is important to remind you that this is an individual decision. What is right for one player, may not be right for others. There are many factors that go into making this decision. Hopefully, by shedding some light on a few of these issues we can give you the information you need to make the best decision for your young athlete.

When is the right time to Make the Jump?

There are a couple of “natural” markers throughout young players early development that you can look to as good times to move to a club like Cap City. If you don’t start with us in our Kickers or Juniors programs, when teams begin 7v7 play at U9 is the first natural step. This is their first introduction to the larger game as they move from 3v3 or 4v4 and add goalkeepers and more decision making.

The next obvious transition point would be when teams make the jump to 9v9 at U11. This might be the most crucial time. Existing teams will be looking to add players with a larger roster size and more playing time available. However, what really makes this age an important one is that the Michigan State Youth Soccer (MSYSA) Directors Academy (DA) begins play at U11. Not only is the MSYSA DA a select league comprised of clubs selected through a rigorous application process, but the DA is also the only pathway to the National League Conferences (NLC) or Michigan State Premier Soccer Program (MSPSP) Premier 1 and Premier 2 at U13. Only teams that have competed in the DA at U12 can qualify for the NLC Qualifying division in the Fall of the U13 year. Those teams competing in the NLC qualifying division will then be sorted into NLC, MSPSP Premier 1, and Premier 2 for the Spring of their U13 year.

Not only does the DA provide the best pathway, it begins to weaken the competition within other leagues like MMYSL and WSSL. Many of the larger clubs in those leagues push the first and even second teams on to the DA, thus dropping the level of competition within the other leagues significantly.
The final “natural” movement time then comes as teams begin to play 11v11 at U13. With both DA and non-DA teams moving into the MSPSP divisions, leagues like the MMYSL and WSSL see a further drop in their competitiveness. Unfortunately, when we see teams start to come together this late, they are typically behind the curve and have an uphill battle to gain promotion to the higher divisions and leagues.

The later the talent within the Lansing area starts to come together, the further behind they get. As we have shown at Cap City with our high school girl’s teams, we can typically get our teams caught up but the ceiling for their league play is limited the later that it happens as they just don’t have enough time to move up through the leagues. Lansing has the talent to compete with the best teams across the state and region, we just need to see players start moving towards the most competitive environment they have the ability to play in at an earlier age.

As we discussed in our first Player Development piece though, this isn’t about winning games championships. As players find the proper development environment with the proper competition and challenge, their enjoyment and passion for the game increases. When the environment a player is in exceeds their capabilities, the result is anxiety. When the environment falls short of the capabilities, the result is boredom. Both can drive a player from the game, or youth sports in general. But, when the environment provides the proper challenge, this keeps them in the game longer so that they can get all of the wonderful gifts that youth sports can offer.

As we sit in the midst of a global pandemic, let’s talk about a youth sports epidemic.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears in youth athletes, especially female soccer and basketball players have become an epidemic in youth sports. Among teenage athletes, the rate of ACL tears is rising, with the sharpest increase seen in females aged 13-17 who, over the last 13 years, have experienced a 59 percent increase in the number of required reconstruction procedures, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics. There are a number of factors as to why this is happening and ways to reduce the chance of it happening, so let’s dig in!

What is the ACL?
The knee is held together by four ligaments. A ligament is a structure in the knee that holds the bones together and helps to control joint movement or motion. There is a ligament on each side of the knee (the collateral ligaments) and two ligaments deep inside the knee. The two ligaments inside the knee that “cross” each other are called the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). Both ligaments attach on one side to the end of the thighbone (femur) and on the other to the top of the shinbone (tibia). [Figure 1].

During activity, the ACL controls how far forward the tibia can "slide" relative to the femur: it essentially acts to prevent too much forward movement. While some degree of motion or sliding is normal and is required for knee function, too much motion may damage other structures in the knee which can lead to long term problems in some patients.


How is the ACL Injured?

The ACL can tear with both contact and noncontact movements. Approximately 70 percent of injuries are noncontact and occur when the athlete is trying to change directions, slow down or land from a jump. In contact injuries, a direct blow can cause the knee to hyperextend or bend inward (valgus stress).
ACL injuries often happen during sports and fitness activities that can put stress on the knee:
  • Suddenly slowing down and changing direction (cutting)
  • Pivoting with your foot firmly planted
  • Landing awkwardly from a jump
  • Stopping suddenly
  • Receiving a direct blow to the knee or collision, such as a football tackle

Some ACL Injury Facts
  • There are approximately 100,000 to 200,000 ACL ruptures per year in the United States alone.
  • Female athletes at two to 10 times greater risk than males depending on the sport. In soccer, females are three to five times more likely to sustain an ACL tear. Among basketball players, females are at two to seven times greater risk.
  • For boys, soccer was the sport second-most likely to result in an ACL tear, at 17.2%.
  • For girls, soccer is the top offender. A whopping 53.2% of injuries to the ACL in high school female athletes occurred playing soccer.
  • Up to 70% of ACL tears could be prevented with proper injury prevention training


Can ACL Injuries Be Prevented?

No. No injury in youth sports can be prevented. However, proper training has been shown to reduce the chance of an ACL injury by up to 70%!

By introducing a program like PEP or FIFA 11+, clubs and teams can help reduce the chance of their athletes injuring their ACL. These programs are designed to help teach athletes safe movement mechanics for slowing down, pivoting, cutting, jumping, and landing. Additionally, they can help to strengthen the muscles that help to provide stability to the joint. Muscle imbalance created by early specialization can also be an underlying cause for ACL injuries so targeting those muscle groups not specifically activated by your sport is also important.

Cap City has implemented the FIFA 11+ warm-up for all of our teams in the U11 and older age groups. All of our coaches have been trained on the warm-up up and what to look for in order to help improve mechanics and muscle imbalance. At U10 and below we have begun to implement portions of the FIFA 11+ Kids warm-up which helps to teach proper movement mechanics.

It is also important to note that proper rest and recovery should be a part of the athlete’s schedule in order to help reduce the risk of all injuries.


Can Athletes Expect a Full Recovery?

Absolutely! The rehabilitation process is long and difficult, but a committed athlete can fully recover from the injury with the proper rehabilitation program. Often times the most difficult part of the recovery process is the mental aspect. Injured athletes need to pay close attention to their attitude and self-talk from the time of the injury through the recovery and rehabilitation process. Easing back into practices and competition with a plan to overcome the thought of re-injury should also be part of the plan.





Sports Performance Nutrition

Q&A with Blaire Wolski, University of Florida Performance Dietitian

March 26, 2020


An important but often overlooked aspect of player development is performance nutrition. With the current athletic climate, we were able to catch up with University of Florida Performance Dietitian, Blaire Wolski. 

Q: Why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself and your background.
I appreciate you thinking about me to provide some nutrition education and tips for Cap City Athletic! I wanted to introduce myself briefly to those who may be reading. My name is Blaire Wolski, MS RD and I am currently a Performance Dietitian at the University of Florida (UF); I have been in this role for 2 years and work specifically with gymnastics, swim & dive, golf, and track. Previously, I received my masters from Kansas State University, while working as a Sports Dietitian with soccer, baseball, golf, and track. So, I have a few years of knowledge and experience with a variety of teams under my belt from across the Power 5 Conferences in D1 athletics. However, this journey all started at Michigan State University (MSU), where I played on MSU Women’s Club Soccer team for 4 years, including the 2012 National Championship team. Go Spartans! Soccer has been near and dear to me since childhood, and I am always excited to help along the next generation of passionate players!
 
Q: I think most parents have a good handle on proper basic nutrition. Why is important that we educate players/athletes and their parents and coaches about athlete or performance-specific nutrition?
There are many factors that drive training and performance – physiological, psychological, social, emotional, environmental, etc. but nutrition is a very important factor. Nutrition is a piece of the puzzle that links directly with areas of sleep, hygiene, hydration practices, growth and development, injury prevention and recovery, immune function, energy availability, and mental health. All of which can directly impact sport and performance and overall health. I educate my athletes based on a quote that I’ve stumbled upon “Nutrition can make a good athlete great, or a great athlete good” (unknown). I tell them to treat their bodies like the most important machine that they will ever operate, and in order to operate efficiently, it needs to be fueled correctly.
 
Q: Could you outline some differences in the nutritional needs of in-season and out-of-season?
The difference between in-season and out-of-season fueling is a very important distinction to make because training periodization changes. Generally speaking, when the training load decreases, the intake should decrease. Athletes should start by making small changes, like substituting chips/cookies with a piece of fruit or a nutrient-dense snack or reducing the portion of or eliminating a snack.

In the college setting, the off-season is when a dietitian would work closely with an individual athlete on any weight-based goals or with the team on nutrition education and lifestyle habits. In the youth sports setting, the adolescent athlete needs to maintain proper nutrition practices (consume enough calories) to sustain growth and development. In this case, I always preach mindfulness and intent when choosing foods to consume. I would recommend focusing more on the “what” vs. “how much” and trying to establish and trust hunger cues!
 
Q: Talk about pre-event nutrition? Are pasta parties or "Carb loading" necessary the night before an event?
Carbohydrates are necessary to consume prior to an event, but newer research is emerging on the traditional “carb load.” It is recommended to start consuming a higher carbohydrate diet 3-4 days prior to a competition to maximize glycogen stores. Best carbohydrate choices include:
  • Vegetables (a variety of colors and types; starchy vegetables include corn, peas, and potatoes)
  • Fruit
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains (whole oats, quinoa, and brown rice)
 
Q: What about game day nutrition? We don't have much control over our schedules so could you touch on any difference in morning, afternoon, or evening games?
My first piece of advice would be to wake the athlete up in the morning for breakfast, regardless of game time. Breakfast serves many purposes in the morning – athletes are coming off of a fasting state during sleep, so food will kickstart metabolism, fill up an empty fuel tank, and top of glycogen stores used during performance. It will also promote brain function so athletes can focus on the game and task at hand. Hydration would be my next focus! Consume fluids with all meals and carry a water bottle around throughout the day. Water is best for hydration, but a sports drink (G2 or Gatorade Zero) may be beneficial in hot, humid temperatures or if your athlete is a heavy sweater. Recommendation: drink 16 oz. 2-3 hours prior to competition/workout, drink 8 oz. 10-20 mins prior to competition & drink 4 oz. every 10-20 mins during activity (as able).
Best practice would be starting with breakfast and then consuming a meal or snack every 3-4 hours. Ideally, the pre-game meal will be 3-4 hours prior to game time. Due to the unpredictable game schedule, I would recommend keeping simple, shelf-stable nutrient-dense snacks on hand (i.e. granola bars, pb&j’s, fruit, trail mix, and tuna packets to name a few) and research the area when on the road for quality food options ahead of time! If able, I would avoid fried foods because they can cause inflammation and GI distress.
 
Q: And what about recovery and post-game?
Recovery is one of my favorite topics because it is SO impactful. My first recommendation is to consume a quality protein source within an hour after competition or practice; this is your post/recovery meal. I would recommend a meal over any protein supplements because of the added nutrients consumed within a meal. A recovery meal should contain a source of protein to promote muscle protein synthesis for muscle building and recovery, a source of quality carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores, and lots of colors – fruits and veggies will provide vitamins and minerals to support bone health and immune function. Next, for adolescent athletes, I would also recommend a dairy source for the calcium content, again to promote and facilitate bone growth and health. Lastly, again hydration is so important. At this time, an athlete needs to replenish any fluid losses from competition. The general rule of hydration is ½ your body weight (lbs.) in ounces each day; however, you then need to allow for sweat losses.
 
Q: As we continue to see all of the various types of "diets" out there from vegetarian and/or vegan to ketogenic, can you touch on those as they relate to or impact young athletes?
In my opinion, I would deter any young athletes from following any particular “diet” unless for medical necessity or religious purposes. Diet has a negative connotation in society and leads down a slippery slope to distorted body image and mental health concerns. Young athletes are so impressionable, and I think it is important to promote the idea of healthy lifestyles and consistent fueling.
 
Q: Understanding that parents have extremely tight/busy schedules, do you have any tips to help them while "on the go"?
First of all, I admire all of the parents who take time out of their day to cart kids around, cook family meals, work full time or stay at home to nurture the family! Parenting is a hard job and it is not one size fits all. My biggest advice would be to find something that fits your routine – this increases the success of its application. Some ideas include meal prepping for a few days, researching recipes and building a grocery store list, determining meal menus ahead of time, ordering groceries online for pickup/delivery, or using a delivery meal service. Get your children involved with meal preparation as they are able, give them ownership and responsibility for packing their own snacks and lunches. Finally, utilize frozen and canned foods as needed for those times when you just need a break from the planning and preparation!
 
Q: Do you have any resources that we can point our parents to for help? Guides, recipes, technology?
The following are reputable resources for Sports Performance nutrition education:
  1. Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitian Association (CPSDA) has several infographics on their website - https://www.sportsrd.org/downloadable-resources/
  2. United States Olympic Committee - https://www.teamusa.org/nutrition
  3. Gatorade Sports Science Institute - https://www.gssiweb.org/en/education-resources/All
  4. Gatorade - https://performancepartner.gatorade.com/athlete-tools/nutrition
 
Additionally, if your child is interested in playing collegiately, I would recommend searching the school’s sports nutrition department on social media, if available. For example, @mgofuel, @spartan_fuel, @longhornfuel, @lsunutrition, @uncsportsnutrition, and @tcufrogfuel are among some great accounts on Instagram.
 
For recipes, I find that the number of resources can be overwhelming so I choose one source (i.e. tasty website, food blogger, allrecipes.com, recipe book, etc.) to work from. My goal is to try and find 2-3 new recipes to try each month. Currently, my favorite place to find recipes is https://www.lecremedelacrumb.com/category/main-dishes/
 
Others include:
https://www.skinnytaste.com/
https://gimmedelicious.com/recipes/
https://tasty.co/

Soccer Positions Explained: Names, Numbers And Roles

by Dan Jury, Director of Coaching and Player Development

March 20, 2020


“My kid wears #21, why is coaching telling her she is a #6?! Why does it even matter what number she is?!” Have these thoughts crossed your mind in a recent season? Or maybe you have been watching a game on TV and heard the commentators going on about this player being a #6 or that player being a #9? Well, hopefully, this article can help clear things up for you…a little.

To put it simply, the numbering system corresponds to positions on the field. We will use a 4-3-3 formation in this article to discuss the numbers, roles, and responsibilities of each number. A 4-3-3 formation is one of the most widely used in youth soccer as it is one of the best for their developmental needs. This formation utilizes four backs, three midfielders and three forwards. In this formation, for instance, the right outside back is called a “2” and the defensive midfielder is referred to a “6” and, a soccer number most people have heard of, the playmaking attacker is called a “10”, versus the more target attacker which is a “9”. You may also see this referred to as a 1-4-3-3 with the 1 being the goalkeeper. This nomenclature is en vogue right now but I'm old-school and since every formation includes a single goalkeeper, believe it can be omitted.



Position numbers in the game date back to the 1920s. So, while the concept of a numbering system is certainly not something U.S. Soccer invented, it is a teaching and communication concept that is now being formally implemented throughout coaching and player education platforms and has been filtering into the youth game over the past several years. In 2012, U.S. Soccer created a technical group with the aim of formally addressing and establishing a philosophy of soccer for the United States. One of the many results of this technical group is the numbering system. While it’s similar to other countries such as England and Germany, it’s not the same. Effective coaches are clear, concise and accurate with their communication. A standard numbering system for positions and their roles, rather than positional names, therefore, provides a common method of communicating technical information about individual and team play. For instance, there is a wing-back, a fullback, an outside back – or simply, there is a “2”.

When we start to think about the general playing characteristics associated with each number, we start to see how all of this makes sense from a coaching tactics perspective, from scouting and recruiting perspectives and from a player education perspective. Coaches can now evaluate the tactical adjustments necessary for their system of play based on the qualities of their players. While recruiting for a college or national team, coaches and scouts can set out to identify and organize the maze of players more easily. For players, they can start to identify with different roles based on their skills and abilities.

So, what are the soccer numbers as they relate to the positions and what are some basic characteristics of each?



Different formations may deploy the numbers slightly differently or may omit and double up on numbers. This is where the numbering system can really be useful as a means for players and coaches to use the same language. A 3-5-2 system may use two 9’s while omitting a 4 or 5. Since the role and attributes of a 9 are consistent across formations, this helps a player understand their role within a new formation.



Finally, different coaches will value different aspects or attributes within different roles. For example, in a 4-3-3 some coaches may deploy a more defensive strategy and want to play with the 8 more like a 6 in order to have two players protecting their backline. Therefore, they would want a more defensive-minded 8 as opposed to a more attacking-minded coach who may want their 8 to possess more of the qualities of the 10.

For a more complete profile of each position, please click here.

 “We need to stop listening to ourselves and start talking to ourselves!”

by Dan Jury, Director of Coaching and Player Development

March 18, 2020


I’d love to properly attribute this quote but for the life of me, I cannot remember which book I recently read this in. It was in regards to an ultramarathoner and how he was able to push himself to complete marathons of over 100 miles. This stuck with me as I thought about the conversations I have with players. When talking to players I will typically use the example of a missed shot or other negative outcomes on the field and next time you are at the field you can listen and watch for this as well. When a player misses a shot you will often time hear their players shout things like “You’re okay”, “You’ve got the next one!”, “Keep shooting!”, or even, “Good shot! It’s okay”. But watch the body language of the player that just shot. Slumped shoulders, head down, hands on the head, or other obviously negative physical reactions. You can only imagine what is going through a player's head at that time. So the question becomes, “Why do you talk to your teammates better than you talk to yourself?”

Self-talk serves as the basis for so many things in our lives: our beliefs, our outlook, our confidence, how we interact with others, and much, much more. But, we don’t just want to talk about self-talk alone; we also want to dive into the research behind it to make sure this isn’t just another ‘positive self-talk is great’ article.



Seeing as our focus is athletes, we want to specifically look at the research of the relationship between self-talk and performance. However, we also think there is a larger issue at stake here, and one that seems to be getting worse all of the time. Our kids are growing up in a time were self-confidence is eroding and anxiety is growing. We owe it to our kids to give them the tools to combat these issues.
  • Why is self-talk so important, and how can it help?
  • Positive self-talk can improve confidence
  • Positive self-talk positively affects performance
  • Self-talk affects motor skill performance more than cognitive performance
  • Self-talk works best if scripted and practiced ahead of time
  • Research has shown that you should use different statements and different times
    • What works for each person is typically a matter of personal preference
    • Addressing yourself by name or ‘you’ is found to be more powerful than ‘I’ statements
    • Talk should focus on what you should do rather than what you should not do
As you delve into self-talk you start to realize that the language we need to teach our kids in this regard is similar to that of having a Growth Mindset, something that we covered in previous “Inside Cap City” email and was one of our featured books, “Mindset” by Dr. Carol Dweck. So what does this language look like?

Research shows there are 5 specific categories of performance-based self-talk:
  • Self-Evaluation ("That was a great pass!)
  • Instructional (“Bend your knees.”)
  • Confidence/Motivational ("I've got this!")
  • Focus (“Don’t think about anything. Just concentrate.”)
  • Arousal ("Calm Down")
As you can see, these are all quite different in when and how they can be used but all could come into play during either a game/performance, or more importantly during a test or other academic event. For example, instructional self-talk(i.e. “Elbow-up”) is most helpful for tasks requiring fine skills or for improving technique. While motivational self-talk(i.e. “Give it your all”) seems to be more effective in tasks requiring strength or endurance, boosting confidence and psyching-up athletes for competition.

Need proof that self-talk is an important issue for coaches and parents to address?



With this knowledge, it is obvious that teaching athletes how and when to use positive self-talk appropriately is well worth the investment. It is a powerful, actionable tool in achieving one’s peak performance.

6 Tips for Effective, Positive Self-Talk
  • Self-talk should be practiced ahead of time (outside of competition).
  • While there are best practices, the focus should be less about negative/positive, or good/bad self-talk, and more about what is PRODUCTIVE for athletes in certain situations.
  • Individual preferences are okay.
  • Self-talk should be focused on what should be done, rather than what should be avoided.
  • Different situations might call for different types of self-talk.
  • It is difficult to turn off self-talk. For most people, self-talk is going to happen, for the good or the bad, regardless of whether you work on it. Knowing that you may as well make the monologue in your head helpful… and positive!
If left unchecked and untaught, our inner dialogue can severely impact our growth and performance. We all, our kids included, need to stop listening, and start talking…to ourselves. (But not is a crazy person sort of way!)

Additional Resources


The Destructive Nature of Negative Self Talk - Psychology Today
Mindfulness for Athletes: Self Talk is Key - Sports and The Mind
Categories of Self-Talk - Aspire Performance Coaching (Vidoe and Infographic)
Nike Pro Genius Self-Talk Tool - Video
Lewandowski Visualization - Mental Preparation for Athletes (Video)


An Open Letter to Parents: Mindfulness Supporting our Children in Youth Sport

by Stacy DeLonge, Goalkeeper Director

August 1, 2019

As summer comes to an end and the craziness of fall sports begins, it is important to be reminded of ways we can continue to positively support our children through the power of sport. From pregame pep talks and in-game encouragement, to post game car rides home, we as parents have an awesome opportunity to teach our young athletes respectful ways to approach and deal with the ups and downs of the sport they play and love.

As a young soccer player, I was thankful for the day my dad decided he was no longer competent enough to coach me at the competitive level in which I desired to play. Don’t get me wrong, my dad was an extremely talented athlete and coach, however, soccer was not such a big sport during his childhood. For many parents of my generation, it was the same. As I migrated to the competitive club scene and continued to receive high quality training in my new environment, I was lucky that my parents fully understood that their daughter knew more about soccer then they ever would. It was this reason alone that some of my fondest memories were simply the car rides to my games. For our early morning away matches, we would always stop at the local gas station, pick up our favorite donuts and orange juice, (hey, the power of nutrition was not as highly valued back then!) and rock out to the Beach Boys. The only soccer “pep” talk was my dad yelling “Nobody in your house!” at the top of his lungs before the start of the game. He was referring to the 18 yard box and having the mentality that I own every ball that came inside my area. At first, it worked like a charm. I remember at 14 years old thinking, “yeah, right on! Don’t mess with me!” As I got older, it became our thing. He continued yelling is catch phrase before my college matches, I would chuckle to myself and think, “really dad? Still?” But it reminded me, in a world of standings and stats, not to take my game so seriously, to relax and feel lucky to still be playing the sport that I love.

It is important to recognize that youth sport, especially at a club level, is a privilege and opportunity that not all are fortunate to have. As parents, we need to remind ourselves not to take the game so seriously. In the long run, a win or a loss at 13 and under means very little. If we put too much pressure on our young ones to win or perform, we might place upon them the wrong idea, that winning is everything. WRONG. Sport can offer so much more than that, for example, the ideas of teamwork, inner confidence, and problem solving to name a few.  

As a sensitive young athlete, I was always very aware of my teammates, coaches and the fans. As a goalkeeper, I heard everything. I can still hear competitive parents living through their children, opposing coaches yelling at their players and athletes talking “smack”. It wasn’t until I was much older that I was not only able to filter these comments. Until college, I did not have the mental ability to focus solely on the game in front of me. It took that long. Again, that was when I was almost 20 years old. I remember opposing team’s parents yelling at teammates of mine. I remember my team’s parents yelling at children other than their own. And heaven forbid, I remember parents yelling at referees (most of the parents did not even know the rules back then…) I was very lucky, my parents seldom got excited and raised their voices. My mom had been known to yell out “don’t hurt my baby!” on occasion (Yes, mom, I heard you too!). So in turn, I was a well-mannered athlete who did not yell back at my parents, teammates or coaches. I cannot speak the same for others. They were simply learning behavior from their adult parents. Looking back now, it is so easy to understand why this teammate acted this way and that teammate acted that way. Don’t get me wrong, I had many wonderful families and teammates that I still communicate with to this day.

Whether we have played the game before or not, we need to remember that how we act on the sidelines, in front of our children, other parents, coaches, opponents and referees is one of the most important ways we can be positive adult figures in the lives of our athletes. We are setting the example for our children. We are showing them through words and actions what is acceptable behavior. At my youth club and at this current club, we preach respect. Not just for our athletes, but our parents as well! While many of us model the behavior we love and expect at Cap City, some are not fully aware of their actions and words and how they are perceived. I challenge all of us (because I know I am going to need to be challenged in 5-6 years!), to really take an honest look at ourselves and how we act. It might be through on field coaching, yelling (at our kid, someone else’s, or referees), poor body language or demonstrative actions. Each of these sends a clear message to our kids and the one thing I know, is that they really really struggle with disappointing not only their coach, but more importantly, their parents. We know it can be tough watching your kids face the adversity from time to time. But this is how they will learn to be resilient. One of the most awesome traits our kids can utilize in this world! No one is perfect and games can get pretty darn emotional. We all slip up once in awhile. It is important to be mindful of when that happens and make a correction. Let our children know that what we said or how we acted was not appropriate, because chances are, they noticed.

The most rollercoaster emotional time of my youth career was after a match. Whether it was club games, ODP tryouts, high school matches and even college matches, I was tough to be around. I expected perfection and was single handedly my worst critic. Trust me, my parents knew this. God-bless them for trying to help however, we had a couple of #familyfails along the way. I remember after losing a U13 game, I started to cry. My dad pulled me aside and said sternly, “Stacy Renee, if you cry one more time after a loss, we are done with sports!” Of course, this sent me further down the emotional waterfall. What I missed was, “this is supposed to be fun. And when you are crying, you are not having fun”. Sports were my world and my identity. Needless to say, as I matured, I got better handling my emotions. It doesn’t mean that I was perfect. I remember my senior year of college, my sister (9 years younger) begged my parents to drive to Ohio State to watch my game. Coming from Madison, Wisconsin, this was a 10 hour drive. They executed the drive and made it to the game.  We lost in the last minute of over time and I didn’t say a word to them after the match. Looking back, this is one of my biggest regrets of my entire soccer career. Again, I was not perfect, but they still supported me. We look back now and laugh and I think about how I would have handled it differently. Hindsight is always 20/20.

As you can see, my parents were pretty cool. However, they were not perfect. During car rides home, comments were hardly about my play, as they found out quickly not to go there. But that didn’t stop them from having their own conversations in the front seat about this player and that player, and why the coach made the decision he did. Heck, after raising two division 1 athletes, they still watch my matches and question things. I remember sitting in the back seat thinking, why are they talking about my teammates and coach this way. The worst part was that sometimes it got me thinking, wow, they are right, why did he or she make that decision. Just like that, my trust in those around me started to waiver.
As a parent, you may have a plethora of questions throughout your son or daughter’s seasons. These questions might pertain to his or her coach, teammates or even your own child. We must do our best to remember that how we frame our questions or figuring out whether they should be asked at all is extremely important. Even comments such as, “I can’t believe coach did this…or played so and so. Wow, Susie struggled today” can affect the trust in which our child has for their teammates and/or coach. We will not always agree with the choices our coach, teammate or child makes, but we must be mindful of the way we react to these choices. (This is all provided that the coach, teammate and/or child never places anyone in danger or in an unsafe environment.).

As mentioned several times throughout this article, we as parents AND coaches, will never be perfect. The key is mindfulness. There will be plenty of teachable moments (for all of us!) along the way. We may get confronted by another parent, a referee or as my team knows, your coachJ It is important to take the emotion out and listen to the message. We have all been guilty and with a little self reflection, we can learn how to be an awesome supportive role model for our child. Am I worried about my behavior when our son reaches the age when he can play sports with friends?  Yes! (I mostly worry that I will embarrass my husband or even child! Sorry Eric!). But I am hoping to be surrounded by optimistic, fun-loving parents in case I need a good smack or a lollipop inserted into my mouth! Hopefully, you do too!
Best of luck this fall! (I have extra lollipops if you need them!)

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