I was very fortunate in my youth to have a coach with vast experience and knowledge, who instilled in me a love and respect for the game. We would spend hours on technical work, play endless games, but even so, not every player moved to another level. The players who did so were the ones who were not only extremely combative in the game but also calm on the ball.
I saw players who never grasped the theory that emotion controls your decision making. My coach explained that we have a switch somewhere inside us — one side is the red zone, the other the green. When we are confronted with possible contact, adrenaline is flowing and our mind is in the red zone — i.e. win a tackle, take a shot. We then end up with the ball at our feet and have to make a split second decision. At that point our mind needs to be clear, and firmly in the green zone to make our next move. The switch has to be instantaneous.
I witness every weekend parents shouting “first to the ball,” only for the kids to thump it down the field. This is usually accompanied by “GO, GO, GO!” with every activity in the red zone.
I see an emerging trend of parents, and even coaches, who have never played. They can hire trainers and show technique videos, but unless you have been in a game situation and made countless decisions with the ball (and yes made mistakes), your knowledge is limited.
So what can a parent who has never played do to best develop their young player? Firstly, choose an experienced coach who has plenty of playing experience.
Coaches, particularly with the younger groups, are in the position to develop players: 80% of a player’s total lifetime soccer knowledge is learned between eight and thirteen. They do not have to concentrate on tactics, game shape etc. but must be very clear how to lay a foundation for the most success as the players grow up. And the best means to gain that teaching experience is through knowledge learned on the field, not through sitting in the stands watching a favorite team.
For example, my sister is an avid Arsenal supporter and goes every weekend. She is very knowledgeable about the team and club history, but does that make her a coach? No. Why is that? My theory is that she enjoys the highlights, goals, tackles, passes etc. She does not follow a pattern of play, movement off the ball, team shape tactics etc. And watching games is very valuable but you also have to know what to look for from the perspective of a player.
The knowledge of the game is gained from watching whole games not highlights. With game analysis and slow motion replays you can sit with your player and not only help them but educate yourself. Encourage your player to educate themselves as well.
Private lessons or camps are another outlet for a parent who cannot demonstrate, but again, these are only as good as their coaches.
You must become a student of the game, visualize the next play in your mind, encourage young players to find that green zone. I see, unfortunately, more emphasis on the red zone, accompanied by direct play, over the top, bigger stronger players, and the like. As kids, they can go into the red zone quite naturally, particularly in our society of entitlement where throwing a fit seems to be acceptable.
Football is a cruel game and calls for mental strength — sometimes you do not get what you are entitled to. The only component a player controls in a game is their performance. All else is secondary until you are lucky enough to get paid, when losing could cost you your job.