“I hate it when they pass backwards!”

How many times have I heard that or something like it – even from parents who have been around the game for several years, watching child after child play the game at various levels.  It’s as if the parents have never watched older children – or (gasp!) a professional game – to see that the ball travels in multiple directions.

All too often I hear parents making comments regarding a young player’s decision on the ball during a game.  A child will make the best decisions he can based on several variables.  These may include his knowledge of the game, where he is on the field, the location of his teammates and opponents, instructions from coaches past and present, and his understanding of his own ability.  Negative comments from parents on the sidelines only serve as a detriment to a player’s future decision-making ability as the player becomes afraid to assess a situation on his own and use his own creativity.  

Put another way, if a child were painting a picture and a parent came upon the scene after one part was finished, would it make sense to make a negative comment about what color they used?  To the child, the criticism isn’t the choice of color – instead the criticism is directed towards the child’s own perception and ability to solve problems on his own; it’s as if the child’s ability to assess situations is questioned, leaving significant long-term impacts.

During a game, players (at every level) have options, and must process a lot of information very quickly in order to make a decision.  Young players must have some freedom to make their own decisions during games; this is vital to their long term development.  Even when coaching, I focus more on directing kids off the ball rather than redirect a child’s thought process when he has the ball.

Back to the original statement – the reality is that passing the ball backwards (even to the goalkeeper!) is a normal part of the game.  Unfortunately, many parents – especially in America – think the best course is to keep the ball as far away from their own goal as possible (regardless of possession).

In a recent game I overheard a coach direct a young defender on the far side of the field (where the parents sat) to pass the ball back to her keeper.  From the parents’ section you could hear a loud adult male voice instructing her to kick it out of bounds, which she dutifully did.  I happened to hear the coach mutter under his breath, “…or you can do what your dad wants you to do…”

It never made any sense to me why a young defender – who is running towards her own goal – should turn with the ball and face a barrage of opponents chasing her down – when the easiest, simplest action is to pass the ball back to the keeper (who has more time and space than anyone else on the field).  Players need to have the confidence to make a decision, even if it is contrary to parental opinions.

When parents complain about the back pass to kids, guess how that impacts what the kids do?  It’s just something to think about the next time you’re watching a game.

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