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steve long coaching blog 2

A good coach will know how to put shy children at ease, photo by Alexia Linn

By Steve Long, InterSoccer

“I never wanted to be one of those dads who drags his son to football,” said a friend to me the other day. “Yet here I am.”

He watched frustrated as his five-year-old son ran around the outskirts of the pitch, played with a ball on his own, trailed after the sister of a classmate who was on rollerskates, and basically did anything possible to avoid taking part in the local club lesson.

“I used to be a football coach,” went on my friend. “I hated those dads who forced their kids to take part. What do you think I should do?”

I took a moment to think. While I’ve experienced pushy parents trying to force their child to do a sport he or she is not comfortable with, my friend didn’t seem like one of them.
Many children are reluctant or shy the first time they try football. No matter how much they enjoy the lesson once it starts, for the first few times it is likely to take some careful persuasion for them to get ready and raring to go.

But at what point is it okay to have to employ negotiating skills to encourage their participation, and when should you call it a day and let them give up?

A key point to consider is your own reasons for wanting them to play. Is it because you think that once they get over their initial nerves they will enjoy and develop through the lessons, or is it because you like the idea of having a child who plays in a football team?

David Beckham famously has allowed his three sons to stop playing football, though he said it was “heartbreaking” to accept that they did not share his passion for the sport. Happily, his daughter is keen to continue.

For many children, from the first moment they try football, they love it and have no problem settling in to lessons. But others can be naturally shy of trying something new.
Through my years as a coach I have seen many children timid and reluctant to join a session, only to become among the most enthusiastic and willing players as the season went on.

I have also seen children who clearly do not want to be there, with a defiant attitude against playing that only increased week by week. The coach’s job in this situation is to employ as much diplomacy as possible to talk to the parent about whether their child wants to continue the course, and to suggest gently that it might be better to withdraw and try again in 3 or 6 months.

A lot depends on the child’s previous exposure to football. If the first time they try the sport, they have enough time and space to explore the game without too much pressure, they are usually left with a good impression.

If they are too rushed, for example if the parent turns up late to a lesson when all the other kids are already there, or they are placed into a group of much older children, they are less likely to have a positive experience, which can impact on their willingness to play again.

The younger children start football, the more likely they are to be open to trying new things.

I would recommend that parents handle a timid or reluctant child by turning up 20 minutes early before a football lesson, and spend 20 minutes kicking the ball around with them one-on-one to help build their confidence.

Once the lesson begins, leave the instruction to the coach – children who have parents sideline coaching can feel under pressure, and it is difficult for them to relax and forget they are being watched.

If you’ve tried your best and your child is still adamant that (s)he does not want to play, let them watch others doing the lesson instead. And if all else fails, go home and try again another day when (s)he feels ready. This might be in a few weeks, or even several months. Forcing the issue could put him or her off football for life.
As for my friend, he gave up and took his son home.

The next week I spotted his boy happily playing with the rest of the group!


Author's Bio 

steve long 2

Steve Long is CEO of InterSoccer, which offers football courses and holiday camps for two to 13-year-olds in Geneva, Vaud, Basel, Zug and Zurich. Steve first came to Switzerland in 2001 as an event and grassroots manager for UEFA, before co-founding InterSoccer in 2007. He loves all sports, especially football, snowboarding, tennis, golf and mountain biking. Originally from Nottingham, UK, he still supports The Mighty Reds - Nottingham Forest.