EVOLVE YOUR GAME
“This is the tragedy of modernity: as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
As history has proven, the most elite and successful soccer players were the ones that grew up in the most uncomfortable ways. Ronaldo was poor with an alcoholic father. Messi left his home and family at the age of 13 to take a chance with Barcelona. Zlatan grew up on the streets of the immigrant-populated district of Rosengard. A single mother raised Marta - she worked all day to support 4 children. And on top of that, it was frowned upon for females to play soccer in Brazil at that time. Lucy Bronze grew up playing on boy’s teams because there were no local girls teams. Farah Williams was homeless for 7 years. Ashlyn Harris grew up in a family that struggled with drug and alcohol abuse…the list goes on and on.
In present day, especially in America, parents are extremely involved in the development of their child as a soccer player. In a lot of ways this is great! So many young athletes/soccer players have the love and support of their parents and families giving them so much more confidence and, a lot of times, more opportunities and resources to become better players/athletes. However, when this love and support gets detrimental is when players become “protected” by their parents from certain things that I believe not just every player, but every human being, should go through – pain, defeat, embarrassment, exclusion, and even injury. Why, you ask? Because this is what challenges players. This is what puts them in uncomfortable situations and being uncomfortable is what helps us as humans and athletes GROW.
This year, I officially made the switch from player to coach and it has been an eye-opening year. Sadly, more often than not, I have had to deal with the parents more than their players. Whether it be due to them feeling their child is not playing enough, being singled out, their concern of me encouraging for their players to play against older players that may injure them, etc… But here is the reality – if we want our players to succeed, if we want them to become mentally and physically stronger and technically more equipped – we must let them go through the moments that some parents may consider “unfair” or “situations where they might get injured.” These players need to learn how to pick themselves back up, how to keep their heads up and stay positive, and it is much more difficult to do this when there is a safety net for them to fall into every time that they don’t get their way or they feel mistreated.
I grew up with extremely supportive parents. However, one thing they never did was get involved with the coach of any of the teams I was on. Furthermore, my dad would take me with him to play in his adult pick up games where I would have to fend for myself and figure out a way to play without getting pushed off the ball or hit in the ankles – this is where I learned the value of being extremely technical. Growing up and even in my professional career, I have been benched, yelled at on multiple occasions, lied to, and excluded quite a few times. I tore my ACL at 17, had a bad groin and ankle injury in college, torn my meniscus at 27, cried many times, and lost my self-confidence during many moments throughout my playing career. I went through times where I thought I hated the game, where I thought, “this isn’t for me.” BUT, eventually, I always picked myself back up, dusted myself off, and pushed forward.
Looking back, I don’t regret a thing. It made me the player and human being that I am today and if I did not learn those lessons on my own – I would eventually have to learn them later in life. Life isn’t fair and you don’t always get what you deserve and work so hard for. But you can’t control that – what you can control is your attitude and perseverance. So my question to all the parents is this: how do we teach our players this mentality if we don’t allow them to face on their own even the smallest obstacles such as not enough playing time or not getting invited to a specific team/training?
WE ARE THE PROCESS