An Asset or Liability for Your Child (You Decide)

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I coach two youth soccer teams. They’re just recreational teams, so we’re not grooming future Premiership players or anything. I just focus on having fun and learning teamwork, and the boys, including my sons, seem to enjoy it.

As the roster of one team expanded this fall, we added a few players. This is a tale of two of them.

If I were a betting man, I’d wager one of them is headed to a lifetime of success and happiness, and the other may have a pretty tough row to hoe. 

And I’m willing to make that bet after about 60 seconds of 1:1 interaction with each of them. 

Player 1 is quiet and shy, which is generally not a bad thing, but I realized that this facade was hiding some pretty dark stuff. At our last practice, I gave him some advice on something he was doing wrong (delivered in a very positive and happy tone), and suddenly the demon was unleashed. He gave me a look of cold hatred and said, dripping with contempt, “I did it right in the game, so who cares? This is just practice.” Whoa. Nice first impression, kid. I wonder what Vince Lombardi would have said to that? I didn’t explode (sorry, ghost of Lombardi) and just encouraged him to get it right in practice, too. Later, during a scrimmage, he started to loudly complain about all of his new teammates, saying they were no good and couldn’t even pass (not true, and pretty shocking to their ears). Then when we finished practice and I called the team together to say some final words, he just walked off. I called him back, and he said, “It’s hot and I’m going home.” He came back after I gave an ominous, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you…,” but if looks could kill, I’d be dead.

Player 2 has taken a different approach. I gave him some feedback, and he looked very receptive and thoughtful and said, “Yessir!” Whenever I speak to him, he looks me in the eye and smiles. He’s already working hard to fit in with his new friends, and he matches his play and passes (he’s quite good) to each player’s ability. Whenever I ask him to do or remember something, he’s quick with “Yessir!” (he really seems to like that word). And when Player 1 did his diva thing and I gave the whole team just a peek at the volcano I can become – talking about how teamwork & respect are non-negotiable and I’m benching anyone who thinks otherwise – guess who responded with the loudest “YESSIR!!!”? Oh and during our first game he picked up some trash from the field and threw it away when he was subbed (I’m not making this up). 

Maybe Player 1 couldn’t stand the hot day, or his brother broke his favorite toy, or his pet rabbit just died. Maybe. 

Maybe Player 2 just got a new video game, or he was headed for ice cream after practice, or he just won the lottery. Maybe. 

The point is, a pretty nice and reasonable adult (that’s me!) has an extremely poor opinion of Player 1 and an extremely high opinion of Player 2. After 60 seconds of interaction. Somewhere along the line, Player 1 discovered that it’s OK to speak with extreme disrespect to an adult. Somewhere along the line, Player 2 learned it was not. 

I also discovered that at this age (these are 12 y.o.’s), I’ve stopped fully blaming parents for bad kids and started blaming the kid himself. When Player 1 showed his teeth, I didn’t think, “Ah – a troubled lad whom I can support and help overcome whatever shortcomings he’s suffered from poor parenting.” My thoughts were more like, “This kid sucks.” I was mainly worried about his influence on the team, and I wasn’t alone. One of my assistant coaches said we needed to keep his bad attitude from spreading like cancer. Yeah. He used the word cancer.

I’m going to be super supportive and positive with both of these kids, ‘cause that’s the deal I accepted when I made the questionable decision to start coaching youth soccer. And who knows? Maybe I’ll have some amazing breakthrough a la Good Will Hunting with Player 1 and we’ll be buddies for life. But with limited time on my hands and an obligation to the entire team, I’m going to see the best returns working with the positive, respectful kids. I promise that teachers, other coaches, and (eventually) bosses feel exactly the same way.

I’m already looking forward to helping Player 2 develop as a player and a person. I’ve even written his mom and said how much we love having him on the team and how proud they should be for how he behaves. He might even get an ice cream out of it. 

I’m already hoping Player 1 doesn’t return next season. If he keeps up his bad behavior, especially after my dire warning, I will broach his lack of respect and negativity with his parents, but right now I’m simply assuming that’s the way they’ve raised him. Ouch.

If you’ve ever worried about how your kids interact with others and how much respect they pay to their peers, teachers, and coaches, keep worrying. It matters. People will make snap judgments on a kid’s upbringing, likeability, and character based on a very brief interaction. While that sounds unfair, perhaps it’s not. Learning respect – or disrespect – is not something that happens overnight. I imagine years of lessons and reinforcement went into prepping these two players for their first interaction with me. 

So as you optimize your kids’ grades, social status, sports, friends, other activities, college, and future career, don’t neglect developing one of the most important aspects of their character. Learning to respect others is not complicated, but man is it hard. It doesn’t cost a penny, but it is nowhere close to free. If you do it right, though, you will be giving your child one of the most valuable assets in the world, one that will give them an easier, happier, and better life. 



8 thoughts on “An Asset or Liability for Your Child (You Decide)”

  1. One of the things I love about sports is how it’s such a microcosm for the world. The best teammates (not the same as the best players) almost always grow up to be successful in one way or another.

    I’d venture to guess your judgments are right about these kids futures unless player 1 makes some drastic attitude changes later in life.

    1. You are spot on MW. I wish more parents and kids would realize that we play sports to prepare for life. Teamwork? Helping out people who aren’t as skilled? Feeling pressure when you’re not the best on the team (and hopefully using that as motivation to improve)? Keeping things in perspective? Those are all things that will help you in work and life later on. The goals and wins / losses from youth soccer won’t matter quite so much.

      I hope Player 1 figures it out, especially when he sees that his friends are having more fun and they earn the praise from Coach Paul, which I think we can all agree is just about the best thing ever 🙂

  2. Sounds like he’s channeling his inner Allen Iverson.

    Already looking forward to the follow-up post with the (now) inevitable confrontation with one or both parents of player 1.

    1. Yeah, you may want to grab your popcorn ’cause if that happens it’s going to be entertaining. And the bonus is that I think there may be 3 or more parents / guardians involved here – always fun navigating that when figuring out who lives with whom and who hates / loves each other. Stay tuned!

  3. Great post Paul — I’ve got to say it though, “Raising kids is hard”. Sorry you’ve got a difficult kiddo to coach.

    I used to think it was always the parents fault “raising them wrong”… until I had kids of my own. Then I realized there’s a lot more to it . You can teach good lessons and set good examples, but the kids are eventually going to develop into their own unique person.

    So it’s really hard to raise a good kid, and it’s not just the parent’s fault. Often I see this in kids when they’ve been raised with proper consequences for their actions. They’ve only lived in a padded world with no real consequences where throwing a tantrum gets them what they want.

    Totally OK by me if you give him the bench.

    1. I definitely agree with you – it feels like you can do everything (or nothing) right and there’s still this question of free will. Almost every kid knows deep down what is right and respectful, and it’s always enlightening – and a little scary – when you look in their eyes and see the decision on which way they’ll go hanging in the balance.

      I’ve dealt with some wild ones so far, but this kid may be tops on disrespect. Fingers crossed he’s figured out I’m that guy who’s not going to cave, but time on the bench is always a nice tool to have in the arsenal!

      And the silver lining to all of this is that Player 2 (and the rest of the team) watch and learn – they’ll get an easy lesson, and Player 1 will get the hard one.

  4. Hi Paul,

    Very nice post. I can imagine how challenging can be coach young kids. From what I see around, the respect that my generation use to have in front of teachers/coaches is somehow lacking into this generation. But maybe my grandfather’s generation thought the same about mine…

    Raise a kid is not an exact science. We try our best but sometimes the result is not as expected. I constantly ask myself how can I improve on it.

    Respect others is something that I always talk to my kids. Especially being an immigrant, we always have to respect and understand the differences between our ideas and the ideas from others in our society. This is a way to enhance as human being.

    For the moment I’m struggling with the fact that my elder kid has severe difficult to admit when he is wrong, always having a point of view in which others are responsible for his mistakes. SO far it has not been easy… Have you faced something similar?

    All the best. Cheers!

    1. Thanks Odysseus. Coaching young kids is tough, but I’ve found that the parents are often the biggest problem. Parents who can’t / won’t read emails, who are rude and inconsiderate, who lack common sense, and who of course have not taught kids to respect coaches / teachers make the job the most challenging! The kids are a cakewalk compared to the parents.

      I can imagine that being an immigrant heightens the risks and concerns with respect – sometimes immigrants are held to a higher & tougher standard, and others are just looking for any chance to judge someone disrespectful. But with that higher standard comes a deeper appreciation of people and a much stronger sense of empathy for others.

      Both of my sons have had trouble admitting when they are wrong – we have had many tears and rough times when they blame everyone / everything in the world for something bad that has happened or something they have done wrong. I can’t say that we have solved the problem, but the missus and I are very strong-willed and will not tolerate the behavior (even though it can sometimes ruin an entire weekend!) – over time, they’ve both improved and will hopefully continue to do so. Parenting is a grind!!! But we’ve always assumed that we can choose between a hard job today or an almost impossible one down the road. If you discover the secret, let me know 🙂

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