YOUTH SOCCER PLAYERS DON’T JUST DROP OUT. IN MOST CASES THEY LEAVE A “TOXIC ENVIRONMENT!”

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Toxic environment for children is nothing different than it is for us adults: It can lead to stress, burnouts, and serious disruptions in their “Off-The-Field” life. 
A toxic youth soccer environment is like having all of the above on repeat, without a break. Toxic environments also breed serious competition and in no time you’ll see players leave, teams dissolve and coaches having to find another club. All of this rarely stay at the sports complex. They typically follow your children home and at school.

let’s dive into some obvious signs where your soccer environment might actually be toxic. 

Scattered communication is the reason of so many problems on the field. In fact, communication skills are the most vital skills needed for any successful soccer coach. Yes, technical and tactical programs and drills are essential, but alone are nothing. Why? So much falls under the coaches communication umbrella. So, how can we actually tell if bad communication is leading to toxicity? Here are a few examples of bad communication.

  • Constant lack of clarity around drills and layouts 
  • Different players receiving different messages 
  • Passive or even worse aggressive communication
  • Failure to grab the athletes attention
  • Working more with one than the other 

Communication is the cause of why many youth soccer clubs in the US are seeing numbers drop. I’ve seen and still see quality youth soccer clubs operating poorly because of bad or little communication.

Bad communication always leads to lots of confusion and a lack of purpose for mom and dad to keep their kids playing at your location.

In Italy, there’s an old saying, “You don’t leave a job, you leave a bad boss.” Bad coaching can seep into every fiber of a team, and I hate to say it but…very often it does. Sometimes a bad Coach is the product of their bad Director of Coaching, Board Members or Club President

If your soccer team doesn’t seem to offer any learning opportunities, or challenges, they are likely not invested in the growth of their players. Once the parents recognize that their child has nowhere to grow, they will change the soil. When your child feels completely stuck with nowhere to grow, it might be time for you to move on, don’t wait till they’re taking a total disinterest in the sport, the move needs to be taken prior to that. 

A rapid player/roster turnover is a serious sign that a coach/club is toxic. When you notice that several parents are making that decision, then something is seriously wrong. High player turnover in nearly all cases means there’s massive disorganization, lack of direction, very bad leadership, or like in many cases little opportunity. Pay attention to the turnover rate in your soccer club.

How can youth soccer clubs fix this? Working on player safety, growth and goal attainment. These environments are most conducive to a successful team/club as they encourage players to perform to their highest ability. Youth soccer clubs can achieve in almost everything by focusing on their overall culture, supporting player growth and making single athletes feel comfortable.
When a player is comfortable and motivated on an individual level, they’re more likely to support and encourage others on their team and/or inside the club. This if practiced among coaches can also lead to improved professional relationships, exchange of techniques, drills and other information vital for the improvement of each coach. The greater the bond is between players and their coaches, the better chance a club has of achieving its short- and long-term goals. This is because teamwork is often the foundation of youth soccer club success.

The biggest “Red Flag” is when a coach is leaving a lot of practice sessions to his assistant, coaches that take off too often are simply there just to pull the cash, liner their pockets. As a director of a goalkeeper academy myself I like to observe my coaching staff, I’ll watch them work with all age groups, to see if they’re complete coaches or just limited to a certain age group. Their language/communication, how to handle the 8 years old’s and not just the keeper that is about to leave us for his college adventure.

In 4 years of activity our goalkeeper academy has had a dropout rate of 6%. Out of that 6% two thirds had to relocate to other states.

Parent’s input is very important, they also contribute to a good or a toxic environment. They need to be kept in the ring on everything that happens within the team and also the club. They shouldn’t be asking where-and-when the next training session or game will take place. It needs to be posted or better still said in person!
Every coach, DOC and Board Member should always communicate in a cards-on-the-table manner, solving all difficulties parents may run into, and the “Staff” need to do it in a positive way. I’ve witnessed over the years coaches playing nasty revenge games when given negative feedback. However there are some that view feedback as an opportunity for growth, not just for the player, team or club, but mostly for themselves.

Coaches should always keep things in perspective, have fun, tell a joke, prank players and parents here and there and laugh. Laughter generates endorphins, our natural antidepressants. I do it all the time and our academy parents have gotten to know me well, not only as a coach on the field. I ask my staff to do the same, to be themselves! It works! My coaching staff is respected and admired by the mom’s and dad’s of our academy, they work very hard in keeping the goalkeeper school a place where our students can’t wait for Friday to come.

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