I recently bumped into a friend walking with her two kids, who had just finished playing soccer, one in under 9s and the other in under 7s. I asked politely, how did you go boys? One quickly stated with a smile, “we won 7-0 and I scored 4 goals” and the other boy slumped with his head down and said, “we won too, but I didn’t score”. His mum then told me that he had cried after the game because he didn’t score any goals, even though his team won.
The week before I was with another friend and his 12 year old son, who had also just finished a game of soccer. Before I thought about it I blurted out a common question, “did you win”? He responded with disappointment, “no we only had a draw, and I didn’t score”.
The questions we ask, feed the culture we are creating.
These two incidences reminded me of how important our questions as coaches and parents are, particularly with younger people. Asking that question, “did you win”, sends a message that winning is all that matters. That winning, and in this case scoring goals, is what we care about, focus on, acknowledge and reward. Yet, this isn’t the culture we want to create is it? I have made an intentional decision not to ask the “did you win” or “did you score” questions, but I don’t always get it right.
When we understand and clarify what’s important, and know the culture we are desiring to create, our questions should support these two things. Winning is not what’s most important (not that winning is a bad thing at all), but playing your best, being courageous, having fun, trying new things and playing your part in the team, are way more important to the character, attitude and longevity of a kids football development. Yet often, our questions as parents, friends and coaches don’t reflect this.
Change “did you win” to “how did your team play”. This doesn’t two things. One, it takes the focus off the individual, and two, it focuses on playing your best instead of simply winning.
Change “did you score” to “did you give your best today”
Other questions that are helpful are: what part did you play today? How do you feel the opposition played? What can you learn from them, or from today? What was fun about today’s game? Often a young person will align scoring goals to having fun, and this is because they think that’s what we think. They respond to what they think their parents or coach reward or highlight the most. Yes, celebrate a goal scored, but focus on the team contribution, the team effort put in or play before the goal that made the goal possible. Shift the focus from the goal scorer to the team, and reward effort not results.
Sometimes as coaches and parents our questions come out of our frustration and emotion in the moment. As the adults, we need to learn to be in control of this, and ask questions that empower and not humiliate or disempower.
Yelling from the sideline, “Why did do you do that” or “why didn’t you shoot .. or pass” etc. These questions infer they did something wrong, failed or made a mistake. Which maybe the case, but asking “why” questions out of frustration and emotion create fear in a young person. They will stop trying new things, being innovative and thinking for themselves. Most of us, including kids, don’t need to be told when we make a mistake, we know we did. The challenge for parents and coaches is using that to help grow and develop them, not create fear. If it’s something that needs to be addressed, use “what” and “how” questions after the game at training during the week. “What could have you done differently”, “how can you learn from that”. Etc.
Questions are powerful, either negatively or positively. Use them well and wisely.
Player / coach development at BBFC
Founder of Sports MindSHiFT / Be Leadership