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“Nice try”…”un-lucky”…”next time”…”don’t worry”…are statements all of us hear on the field during a soccer game, especially in North America.    These words act as a support mechanism when things don’t work out how we would have liked.  Rather than feel discouraged by a bad pass, you’re quickly consoled by coaches and fans alike: “it’s ok John, better luck next time buddy.”  I’d like to be the first to say it’s not ok.

For whatever reason, North American culture has been determined in creating a picture of life that is rainbows and butterfly’s.  We’re left to think that a garden only contains beautiful flowers and wonderful plants.  Wrong: garden’s are home to all types of bacteria, weeds and fungus too.  The longer you pretend the weeds aren’t there, the larger and faster they’ll grow.

This destructive mindset has translated into the world of soccer.  Rather than tell players when they have made a bad decision, coaches, fans and parents alike optimistically cheer on as it is only a soccer game. How is someone supposed to get better if they don’t know they’ve screwed up?  How is someone supposed to know the difference between wrong and right if no one will tell them?  Avoiding weeds does not make them go away; in order for the weeds to go away you have to address them directly.  To cure any problem you have to attack the root cause.

Sports need to be a means by which athletes can learn about life.  Athletes need to learn that bad decisions yield bad results.   Athletes need to learn that they aren’t the only player on the field – they are part of a larger system and a larger cause.  Sports need to serve as a utilidor through which all athletes can learn that life will throw you down if you’re not prepared to fight.  Many are worried about damaging the self-confidence and feelings of players if they are reminded about mistakes.   In the short term the player might be discouraged, sure, but helping the player develop will ultimately be something that makes them flourish, not languish.

Stop encouraging mediocrity.  Telling players it’s ok when it isn’t is doing more harm than good.  Captains and coaches, you have a responsibility to tell someone who has screwed up that they’ve screwed up.  Never, ever, should you be disrespectful in your approach, however when you need to be stern, be stern.  When you need to raise your voice, raise your voice…right Mike?

Learn how players re-act to criticism and then act accordingly.  Help your team and your teammates understand that you care and that’s why you want more from them.

This blog isn’t intended to degrade the value of encouragement.  You need to find the right balance between encouraging your players and making them take responsiblity for their actions and faults.  Not only will you help them become a better soccer player, you’ll help them become better equipped for a world that can be vicious.

Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don’t?  Post your comments and we can create discussion around a topic that, I believe, is very serious.

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