If you're a soccer parent or caregiver, you've almost certainly experienced the post-game stress of how to approach your player. All of us at Techne played youth soccer, and three of us went on to play in college and professionally. We've all had different experiences in terms of how our parents interacted with us regarding our soccer journeys, and how that may have impacted us.
Every player has a different personality, so of course there isn't a "one size fits all" approach, but here are some scenarios you might encounter with your player, and some tips of how to approach them:
Most athletes can at times be dissatisfied with their performance, but we certainly hope your player has days when they do well and are feeling confident, too. In almost all scenarios, the best approach you can take is to follow your player’s lead. If they want to talk about the game, first listen, and only then ask questions or make comments. If they'd prefer to talk about something else, or not talk at all, that's okay, too!
Just be aware, if you are riding the emotional roller coaster of your player’s journey -- getting too excited when things are going well or too down when times are tough -- you are not only going to be in for a rocky personal experience, but you will also not be best equipped to help your player through key moments. Regardless of whether your player scored a hat trick and their team won, or they scored an own goal and their team lost, your basic approach shouldn't vary too much. Encouragement and support are the key to the attitude you should maintain.
A good first step is to concretely defer to the wishes of your player. "Do you want to talk about the game?," you can ask. If so, there are two key components to every post-game talk: the reassurance and the takeaway. An example would be, for the reassurance: "I love watching you play!" The takeaway: "What did you do today that worked and that you can replicate moving forward?" or, "What could you do differently next time?" Remember that in these moments, you are not their coach (if you actually are their coach, then that's a slightly different situation. But the principles are the same). Steer clear of tactical or technical advice, and focus more on how you can communicate beneficial thought processes to evaluate performance and emphasize feeling empowered to continue to enjoy playing and working toward a goal.
The disappointing result
The biggest mistake that parents can make is to try to force their player to have a conversation when perhaps what they may need is some time to decompress. Again, follow your player's lead. If they want to talk, listen to what they have to say or offer some feedback. As a general rule of thumb, even if you have a lot of knowledge of the game, this is not a coaching moment. It is a parent moment, and calls on your experience and wisdom in that role.
Remember to be supportive of the coach and the other players on the team. What you say about others indicates to your player how they should speak about them as well. Don’t place blame on others following a disappointing result. Always make the conversation about your player and the things they can control. Were they a good teammate today, even when it was difficult, or they weren't happy? It's also ok to acknowledge when their opponent did something really well. Losing is not always someone's "fault." Sometimes the other team deserved to win, and you can use that as a moment to encourage good sportsmanship.
The playing time conversation
One of the most difficult soccer parenting conversations is the one that revolves around less playing time than you or your player would have hoped for.
There are a couple of crucial rules in this scenario:
1. Never assume that your player is upset or disappointed because you are. Allow them to express their own feelings.
2. Always encourage the player to take responsibility. What can they do to increase playing time?
Quite often, players are looking to their parents for cues after the game. Do you seem angry, disappointed, concerned? How you react and approach disappointing situations in your player's soccer journey will teach them how they should approach all types of life situations which did not go as they hoped. Through disappointment, you have the opportunity to teach a very important life lesson. It's vital that you remain level-headed, and that you bring thoughtfulness and reason to the conversation. Try to remove your own emotions and to focus instead on how your player is feeling. Maybe they are more resilient than you realize, and for example, are happy to support their teammates from the bench. Maybe they understand that they need to improve, or that they haven't done what it takes to earn more playing time.
Soccer is a wonderful opportunity for you to enjoy family time, and teach your player the many values that sports offer. And sports can be quite enlightening in teaching parenting skills.
In the end, it’s worth keeping things in perspective. The bottom line: keep in mind that the post-game talk is an art, and one that you can master as a parent. It can take practice, and sometimes you may not get it right. So take it easy on yourself; you’re learning, just like your player is.