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My daughter is playing soccer. She's not bad but she won't practice as hard as she needs to because she has a completely skewed perception of her abilities. She thinks she is really good but she is actually either worst or second-worst on her team. Any advice on talking to her about this?

Also, I'm not trying to be one of those Dads that push their kids to be the best at everything. SHE says she wants to be Mia Hamm. If she said she just wanted to play and have fun, then I would just leave it at that. Also, she gets mad that her teammates won't pass to her and thinks it's because they don't like her, but it's really based on her skill (or lack thereof) and has nothing to do with how much they like her.

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How old is she? –  Javid Jamae Apr 11 '11 at 22:05
    
8, almost 9 years old –  Kevin Apr 11 '11 at 23:15
    
It takes 10.000 hours of practice to get good. But I know I wouldn't have listened to that when I was nine. :-) wisdomgroup.com/report/10000_hours_of_practice dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1078842/… –  Lennart Regebro Apr 12 '11 at 7:38
    
Also note that as an attacker getting the ball relies mostly in being at the right place at the right time. This is a trainable skill. If you are a defender, well, your job is to get the ball from the other guys in the first place ;) –  drxzcl Jun 15 '11 at 23:24
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8 Answers

One way to handle it is to not say anything negative about her performance at all. A parent telling a child that they are not good at something can be very hurtful.

If she has passion, then that's a great thing; encourage it and try to find clever ways to get her to practice without making it seem like it's "boring practice". Have her help coach younger kids, or see if some of the other kids want to play a smaller pick-up game where she's forced to get the ball more often.

When she comes to you complaining about how she doesn't get the ball, you can take a lesson from the book How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk and accept her emotions. This means that you don't say things like, "oh, sweatheart, you shouldn't feel down." This type of response is actually denying them of the way they feel, and saying that they shouldn't have negative emotions. Therefore, they never really learn to cope with their negative emotions. Instead, you should respond by saying something like, "I can see that you're upset. It's not fun when nobody passes the ball to you." This engages more conversation, makes her feel less defensive, and teaches her to verbalize and work through her negative emotions.

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+1 for how to listen and acceptance of feelings. In order to help guide her in learning this lesson, start with , "I can see you are upset" and follow it with, "how does that make you feel," AND THEN, "can you think of anything you could do to make it more likely they will pass you the ball more in the future?" If she can't think of anything, let it be. If she can, JUST LISTEN - she'll figure it out. –  balanced mama Nov 16 '12 at 20:00
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I would explain that different skills require certain amount of practice and if she wants to see more action on the field she will need to put in more time to increase her skill level.

Don't say it like: 'If you try harder people will pass you the ball'. As this is negative and largely not true. Soccer is about trust and other team members expect that you have the ability (skill) to proceed once the ball has been passed.

Explain how her hero Mia Hamm would have practiced daily to build her skill and trust within the team. Just like studying math, soccer requires certain skill and some people have a better base skill than others.

You can make it fun by spending some time with her kicking the ball around in your back yard or local park doing some simple drills. If you don't know these then ask her coach for appropriate exercises.

Once children reach about 12 years of age those kids with good base skills will start to drop off against those that have a better understanding of the game and have developed their skills over time.

You can also read some articles online about soccer theory and discuss with your daughter.

Make this about her development as a player and her future as a proficient soccer player, rather than about her trying to fit in.

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+1 for spending time practicing with her –  Rory Alsop Apr 12 '11 at 8:02
    
Being good at soccer is not about being the best on your team - if she gets to be the best, that doesn't mean she should stop practicing as much, and if you're the worst on your team, it doesn't mean you're necessarily bad at soccer. It's probably worth trying to explain that, too - "Liking/being good at (soccer or anything else) means liking to play/practice soccer regularly" –  blueberryfields Apr 12 '11 at 15:36
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When my kids run into situations like this, I usually try to emphasize two things:

  1. For most people, (probably including the others on her team) being given the ball is thought of more as a reward for hard work than necessarily giving the ball to the best player.

  2. Being passed the ball doesn't depend as much on her real skill level as on how her teammates perceive her skill level. No matter how good she is, she has to spend time practicing with them before they'll realize/understand her skill.

At least in my experience, both of these are entirely true1, so it's not like you're lying to her or anything like that. You're just emphasizing some parts of the truth a bit (or a lot) more than some others.


1 Not just in soccer either -- in life in general.

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Based on the research I've read about from sources like the Greater Good Science Center, I would emphasize how proud you are of her when she practices and works hard, and how little it matters to you how her skill level compares to the skill level of others--at least in terms of your approval.

If she wants to be Mia Hamm, you might point out that Mia Hamm practiced every day of her life for decades and was never satisfied with how good she already was. See if you can take her to a college or professional soccer practice so she can see how hard the women at the top of the game work to get just a little bit better.

Ask her if she is totally satisfied with every aspect of her game... does she think she could improve her corner kicks? Can she, for example, put the ball in the net from the corner? Because Mia Hamm could (probably still can).

How long can she juggle the ball? Does she think she could learn to juggle the ball for a little longer if she tries?

Specific goals and particular things to work on might help her focus, not on what her team thinks of her skill level or what you think of her skill level, but on what she thinks she can learn to do that she can't do right now.

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If she enjoys doing it, she will continue to play and get better. Many people started out terrible at something but because they loved it so much and spent so much time on it, they eventually excelled. Is it possible your daughter knows she isn't that good, but is acting like she is because of ego? When you are not so great at something, do you openly admit it, or try to gloss over it? She will do the same.

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I think the problem is that when she started, she really was better than most of the kids. However, she took a year and a half off to do other stuff, and thinks she is still better than everyone. –  Kevin May 11 '11 at 19:54
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That's a tough situation... how to wake her up to a hard truth without discouraging her. But if she's serious about wanting to be really great, I guess the truth is your job here.

One possibility is to try to quantify some aspect(s) of performance (something that isn't so subjective she'd just argue them)... passes completed, passes received, defenders passed, possessions taken... something you could count from the sidelines and relevant to what she needs to improve. Then together you could compare her stats to some of the better players, so her belief about her performance isn't fantasy. Hopefully she can draw the necessary conclusion herself without you needing to say anything like "this shows you're actually not as good..."

You probably don't want to compare her against someone she can't possibly compete with, but someone who is just a little above her level, so she has some attainable goal to achieve. (And you may not want to name who you're comparing... it could be the average of a couple of better players or the unknown person playing her position on the other team) Then hopefully you and/or her coach can help her exercise those specific skills more until she succeeds. Then set another goal. Low frequency stats can be very jumpy from game to game, so if you're mathematically inclined at all it may be better to plot her average, and focus on raising her running average, not a specific per-game target.

You can use different stats and comparisons over time. When she gets to the point where she doesn't need the cold water of direct comparison and is willing to just work on improving stats, then you can stop making comparisons explicit and just give her stat goals to shoot for (behind the scenes you can determine what those numbers need to be).

It's also much harder for kids than adults to imagine how it's possible to improve if someone is better than you. You can't just tell a kid to "try harder" because that doesn't really work... if it's going to take an extra hour of passing practice a week, or training for more physical power, or some change of technique, then you and the coach have to be able to be quite specific about what she must do to improve a skill, and then make sure she succeeds, so that she learns it is possible. Sometimes kids will resist any talk of need for improvement because they simply don't see how to do it.

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I like this idea. I might not even need to compare her to anyone. If I just start keeping track of a few simple things like "% of passes completed" and "% of shots that were accurate" and review after every game, she's the kind of kid that would want to see those numbers getting better. –  Kevin Jun 15 '11 at 17:14
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Can you find something written by Mia Hamm or filmed by her on someplace like Youtube? Perhaps your daughter's coach would know of some resource like this. Alternatively, you or your daughter could write an email or letter to her asking her about how she practices/prepares for games. You could also ask her how she assesses her own level of play--she may have some suggestions along the lines of what Kilo suggested and ways of keeping track of stats.

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I have a 9yo who has been playing basketball for 2.5 years. Frankly, for the first 2 years she sucked. She should have been great (at 9, she's already almost 5'2") but was slow, afraid of the ball and did her best to be exactly where the action was 3 seconds before. Many games were just embarrassing for us. I didn't care that she couldn't play, my problem was that she wouldn't try.

My wife and I addressed this in a few ways:

  • we told her that her playing wasn't up to scratch and why. We can he hard on her.
  • we told her that if she didn't want to play, she didn't have to. We offered to move her to another team since she was having personality issues with the other players.

  • we practiced with her to show her what she needed to be doing

  • we send her on basketball training camps (2 or 3 days) each holidays
  • we persevered
  • we told her that she doesn't have to be the best, she just needs to be the best that she can be.

Now she plays well. She's not the best on the team but she's not the worst. More importantly, she is playing at about 80% of her capability. We'll just keep going.

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Really great! I think the best things you did were: tell her she isn't as good as she thinks she is, but she can be if she tries, then you helped her try and according to your report she is nearly there. Great job. –  bobobobo Oct 9 '12 at 20:29
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