Monday, June 25, 2012
When Jimmy Kimmel placed colanders on the heads of seven year olds and convinced them the apparatus let him know when they were lying, he showed the natural trust and unsophisticated view of the world these youngster had. Such naiveté goes hand in hand with the lack of knowledge that comes from inexperience. While we parents could see immediately that their head gear was not a truth machine but a common kitchen tool, the kids had no frame of reference and readily accepted what the adult they looked up to told them. It’s not really so different with soccer. We parents, even those of us with limited soccer experience, have learned the vocabulary of soccer. But we understand far more than our kids do. So when we try to communicate using that vocabulary, it can lead to some serious frustration and misunderstanding.
In general, teams don’t deal with the offside rule until U12 or U13. Yet parents continually want to point out to referees that they missed the offside call. Of all the rules in soccer, I think offside can be considered the most confusing, which is why it is all but ignored until players are older. There are two aspects to the offside rule. Most of us understand the first one that you can’t be beyond the last defender when the ball is passed. Of course, we naturally argue about where a player was when the ball was passed. The second aspect of the offside rule we often forget or don’t notice is that a player who is in an offside position and moves to an onside position can’t be the first to receive a pass from a teammate. So what happens when we parents choose to point out offside for our younger players? Total confusion! At one Under-8 game a parent was admonishing his son that he was standing offside. "Get onside," he bellowed. His son threw him a bewildered look, which the parent totally ignored and repeated, "Get onside," as if saying it twice would suddenly provide the young player with an instant definition. Again the boy looked at his father and this time totally deflated with frustration shot back, "I do want my team to win." Apparently the boy felt his dad believed he wasn’t on his team’s side. Or at least that’s the best he could come up with. So dealing with the complexities of actual offside conditions certainly wasn’t yet in his skill set.
When ordered by her coach to get in the goal mouth, a player looked with complete confusion. After some thought, she moved herself right in front of the keeper and put her hand over the keeper’s mouth. If she couldn’t get inside it she would be darn sure no one else could! The coach had a moment of his own confusion and then burst out laughing realizing what the player had heard. In the meantime, the keeper slapped the player’s hand away, precipitating a howl of indignity. So the game had to be halted while everyone got some quick education on basic soccer terms, and some hurt feelings got pacified.
When we see some obvious plays that could improve the efforts of our child’s team, we tend to shout out instruction. Naturally we shouldn’t, and naturally we do. It’s hard not to resolve the problems we see that could be helped by a simple adjustment. Nevertheless, we should leave all that to the coaches. One game a player was constantly losing the ball to the defender the moment it arrived on his foot. Parents, seeing this happen time and again, decided to helpfully point out to him, "Screen the ball." When these admonishments did nothing to change the player’s behavior, the parents began to demonstrate on the sidelines by turning their bodies, spreading their arms and looking down at their feet. This odd behavior coupled with continued pleas to "Screen the ball" left the poor player totally perplexed. When he next received the ball he jammed his arm out right into the stomach of the defender, which pushed the defender off the ball, but also earned the player a foul. When the referee told him he couldn’t use his arms to push a player away, he looked immediately at the parents on the sidelines with total venom, "Hey! Screen the ball is a penalty."
I’ve told this story before, but I think it’s a great example of how easily miscommunication can occur when parents posses a far more sophisticated vocabulary than their tiny players. A team got a free kick just outside the box, so the coach of the defending team called over two of his players and told them, "Macy you protect the near post and Brittany you protect the far post," and he sent the girls onto the field. Macy trotted up to the goal, but Brittany quickly ran across the field to the goal at the opposite end of the field which was, of course, the "far" post.
When a player was getting several passes in the air, he was having trouble controlling them. The passes would often hit him on the chest or stomach and bounce away to a defender. Watching this happen again and again eventually gave way to uncontrolled frustration on the part of the coach. "Teddy, you’ve got to trap those air balls." With a look of total relief, Teddy nodded to his coach with a complete "thumbs up" attitude. We all awaited his immediate improvement and watched with baited breath as a pass soared overhead straight to Teddy who promptly clasped the ball against his chest with his hands, dropped it to the ground and kicked it away. When the whistle blew, Teddy was dumbfounded. This really difficult game that required him to develop skills with his feet had just gotten easier, and now the referee insisted that in fact he couldn’t use his hands to "trap the ball." Frustration had given way to relief, and now gave way to even worse frustration with tears. "I did what you said." It would take a long, consoling sidelines conversation to rectify this miscommunication.
In the end, we parents need to keep it simple. Pass, kick, run and score should be the basic and for up through Under-9 necessary soccer vocabulary. Before you try a phrase, be sure you and the players are on the same page; that you’ve introduced the phrase to them and they understand what it means. Otherwise you all may find yourselves totally frustrated. The definition you know may not be the definition the kids create in their own minds. I once spent twenty minutes arguing with my first grade daughter that women could be doctors. She had had a career day at school and came home excited because she wanted to be a nurse. I mentioned that she could also be a doctor like her daddy, to which she stomped her foot and said, "No. Only men can be doctors and only women can be nurses." I reasoned with her, cajoled and even found myself getting angry, but she couldn’t be shaken from her conviction. Finally I pointed out a female doctor in a book and Deana responded, "She’s not a doctor; she’s called a nurse." And that’s when the light bulb went off in my head. She thought the profession was the same, but that men were called doctors and women were called nurses, just like actors and actresses. We all know how frustrating it is not to understand what’s being said or to have what we’re saying misunderstood. Our kids have enough to handle during a game just figuring out how to pass while running and how to keep from falling down while dribbling. They don’t need the added frustration of constantly feeling out of the communication loop. So if you can’t find common ground, you may end up unable to effectively shout any soccer instruction from the sidelines. Then again, you probably should leave that up to the coach anyway.