Ask The Experts
Disconnected: Helping a young athlete feel a part of the team
Q: My son is playing his first season of U10 soccer and a lot of the kids played on this team last year. He sees the coach joking around with a lot of the other kids, so I can tell he’s feeling left out and doesn’t feel like he’s a part of the team. Is there anything I can say to the coach – I’m afraid however I word it the coach may get offended and take it out on my son. Or is there anything I can say to my son instead to help him get through the season?
We spoke with Dr. Becky Clark, a renowned licensed psychotherapist and Certified Mental Performance Consultant who operates a private practice in New York City, to get her thoughts on this question. She has worked with athletes, coaches, sports administrators, institutions and organizations from more than 100 countries as a consultant and sports diplomat in the areas of youth sport, deaf and disability sport, gender equality, empowerment and inclusion, leadership and mental skills training. Clark is also an internationally published author, freelance writer and motivational speaker.
DR. CLARK: I’m sure this question is being asked by a concerned parent. The first thing I would take into consideration in this case is the developmental stage of that child. If a child is playing U10 soccer, they are no older than 10 years old, and they are at the age where friendships begin to develop and peer pressure can start. Something else to take into consideration is that this young athlete is playing on a new team. I would encourage the parents to speak with their child to see how they are feeling. In the question, the parent says they ‘can tell he is feeling left out’ but the parent doesn’t know for sure because they have not heard it from the child’s perspective. So, I would definitely encourage the parents to speak with their child and validate those feelings.
Parents are very protective of their children, so validating their feelings is important because if you just dismiss the situation then there will be no resolution for the child. Remember, the child is on a new team where most of the players have already played together. So, if the child is anxious because of that, they might automatically withdraw from the situation right off the bat and it takes time to build friendships and trust the other players may have with each other already.
If the child ends up saying that they do feel left out one thing parents can do is try to connect with other parents on the team and try to get him connected with the other teammates. Get to practice early so he/she can kick the ball around with one of the kids that are already there.
At this point, I would not confront the coach. Trying to connect with other parents and kids would be my main concern. If things do not get better, then I would consider talking to the coach and learning their coaching style. Giving them a heads up that your child is feeling left out and not a part of the team could be a wakeup call for the coach because they should want all of their players feeling like they are as equally as important as everyone else.
Dr. Becky Clark
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