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The 'Unknown Damage?' caused from the touchline | Coaching Children (Ages 5-12) | ConnectedCoaches

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Home » Groups » Coaching Children (Ages 5-12) » blogs » Gordon MacLelland » The 'Unknown Damage?' caused from the touchline
Coaching Children (Ages 5-12)

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The 'Unknown Damage?' caused from the touchline

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How much damage is being done from the sideline by well intentioned parents and coaches? This blog is a result of a live experiment carried out on the side of a grassroots football game, although I hasten to add it would show very similar results in a number of other sports.  It examines the data showing the negative impact that this kind of environment is having on children playing sport today.

Every weekend all over the world millions of parents, children and coaches set off for their weekly sporting ritual 'Match Day'. Many will follow the same process each week and will never question their routine or behaviour.

Many of these parents and coaches are well intentioned, trying to support their child and their team through match situations totally unaware of the damage they may be doing by overly involving themselves before and after but crucially during the game itself.

I say that they are unaware because if they are not the current climate on the sidelines is far worse than I currently fear.

This morning I carried out a little experiment at an Under 8 grassroots football match in the UK.  I counted the number of tactical instructions yelled from the sideline by parents and coaches to the children.  There were 134 yelled out in 40 minutes of play.  I must stress that this did not include positive praise.

unknown damage image 1

Now imagine as adults if we were embarking on a task and during this time we were being yelled new instructions, in this case approximately four a minute.  Now imagine on top of that, that some of these instructions were also contradictory.  I believe that not only would we struggle to concentrate but we would struggle to make the correct decisions that we were originally carrying out.  Just think how this must feel for a child actively involved in a sporting situation?

If parents and coaches are not aware of the damage they are doing by directing play and yelling tactical instructions from the touchline then I hope that this article will give them something to mull over.

Caught up in the excitement and emotion of a game, many parents and coaches feel that they are really helping and supporting their children whilst watching by shouting technical or tactical instruction.  Whilst this may on occasions in the short term prove successful there are major long term implications of this for the player.

  1. It reduces problem solving skills
  2. It decreases decision making skills
  3. It reduces creativity in young players
  4. It reduces the child's enjoyment
  5. It increases the pressure on the child
  6. It increases anxiety in the child
  7. It prevents children from mastering life skills
  8. It decreases the ability of the child to cope independently (particularly if the parent and the coach are not around)

Bearing all this in mind it is important that we then generate an understanding of how all of this is linked together with the behaviour that we are displaying.  The following infographic from our friends at believeperform.com gives us a very powerful visual image (more of their great coaching children infographics have been shared here).

believeperform infographic

My message to parents:

Are you shouting tactical instructions on the sidelines?

If your answer is, “Yes,” then stop. Stop now.

I can already hear you justifying why. I can already hear you rationalising your particular approach. I can hear you because I could be you. I am you. I want to right the wrongs for my child. I want him to score. I want him to feel joy in victory. I want him to avoid the pain of losing. I want him to know I am there, that I love him, that I am his biggest fan.

But, let me ask you:

Do you think it helps?

It does not.

No justifications, no intelligent counter arguments. No nonsense. Screaming and shouting tactical instructions is bad. It is that simple. I did not make it up.

My message to coaches:

The above still applies however there can be a little bit of flexibility if you are trying to assist your team and individuals but it should be a very measured approach.

We have a number of parents who contact us who have been told by organisations what they would like them to do and how to behave but then they have to watch the coach do exactly the opposite.  Coaches must be great role models for parents and help create the right environment for the children by leading from the front.  Parents will then follow.

With positive support only on the touchlines can we regain control of an environment that is in real danger of spiralling out of control.  In its current climate the only people who are suffering in the long term are the people who we love and want to achieve the most; the children.

What did you think of the blog? Please leave a comment below.

If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here. You can find out more about me by visiting my profile.

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Comments (2)


I think there is a bit of this bad practice lurking in every coach/parent especially on match days. Knowing it is there waiting to raise its ugly head is a good way of reminding yourself to limit sideline vocalisations to positive affirmations. I am tempted on many occasions to send a reminder out to the players such as 'there is a lot of space here or there'. In reality, topics such as this (recognising and using space) should be built into practice games so that the players can take these skills into the match. Conditional games designed to let the players find solutions for themselves could save many a coach a strained voice and from appearing like an idiot. Players in a fast moving dynamic team game do not really hear instructions from the sideline in any event, at restarts you may get the attention of one of them but in fact, they will be too engrossed in their game to listen to instruction from the sideline; encouragement, however, will find a way of being heard.

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Could this be a reason why some of our team games are struggling to win? It the players aren't given the freedom to think for themselves and play the way they think a play should go. Often we see that other teams, Portugal, Barcelona to name two .. Seem to play almost by instinct, find space pass in to a spot the other side hasn't seen until it's too late. Could it be that the kind of behavior described above is in fact suppressing our up and coming players creativity? It certainly has a negatives effect.

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