How do you walk back anger in front of an audience of little kids?
Catherine Pearlman, PhD, LCSW
| 4 min read
When my son was 4 years old, a local dad decided to offer an introduction to soccer for some of the neighborhood kids on Sunday mornings. We signed our boy up and went to the park to get started.
What I saw was one of the funniest and maddening sights I’d seen as a parent. No matter how many times the coach put kids into positions, all of the kids — on both teams — hovered around the ball and ran as one big mass down the field. I looked at the coach and said, You deserve a medal.
Sure, the kids were young, and this was just a fun introduction to soccer. But I had the same feeling watching my husband coach my son a decade later in basketball.
Teaching young children how to play a sport they know absolutely nothing about can feel Herculean. They don’t know how to put their hands up in defense. They have no clue how to cover their position. Half the time, they don’t even understand the words coming out of the coach’s mouth. And what happens when coaches coach and teach and instruct and their players still don’t get it?
Yelling, that’s what happens.
Coaching is incredibly rewarding. But it’s also incredibly exasperating — and it’s the exasperation that can lead to yelling. Often, coaches handle the frustration well. But coaches are humans. Maybe Coach was having a bad day at work or had an argument before the game. Maybe Coach isn’t feeling all that well. Maybe the difficulties of coaching, on one particular day, are just too much — and you lose it on your players.
While it’s never great to yell at children, it’s actually an opportunity to add an additional lesson to the season. The ability to show humility and remorse – to apologize – is a vital life skill (and one plenty of adults still need to learn).
It may feel uncomfortable to look your young players in the eye to say you are sorry, but you need to do it. Accept responsibility for losing your cool. Show your players that mistakes are not the end of the world. In fact, mistakes are a growth opportunity. Let the players know you will work on doing things differently so it doesn’t happen again.
And for the future, try these tips to help avoid yelling at your players in the first place.
It can be helpful to think about what led you to lose your cool. If the players inability to follow directions is killing you, it might make sense to break things down differently. If you brought your stresses from the day into your coaching role, find a way to disconnect before rounding up the team.
Sometimes, with the best of intentions, coaches expect miracles to happen on the field. When those miracles don’t materialize, frustration can bubble up. Try to remember your players’ skill level when they first came into the season. Look for small improvements and mini-wins rather than focusing on the overall scorecard.
Find a saying that you can repeat in your head to keep you calm when the frustration level begins to rise. For example, say, It’s only a game or Look at the effort.
In my practice as a family therapist, I see a lot of fractured relationships. Often, issues arise around sports. Most coaches take on the role to spend time with a son or daughter and engage in a different, fun way. I tell parents, Remember that.
How to Reach the Reluctant Player
Why Empathy Is Your Coaching Superpower
The Importance of Positive Feedback
Catherine Pearlman, PhD, LCSW, is a therapist, avid youth sports parent and founder of The Family Coach.
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