One summer evening, about 3 and a half years ago, middle child “accidentally” joined a football team. There we were, having a family game of boules in the park, when James spotted a group of boys his age playing football and made interested noises. We wandered over, asked if he could join in, and the rest, as they say, is history.
3 seasons later and we’re about to step up to the slightly scary world of 7-a-side. James has received the “Most Improved” award twice, and the team have progressed from being the league’s whipping boys in their first “character building” season to making a decent match of it most of the time.
The reason for this post is to try to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learnt as a “Football Dad” over the years. Maybe your 4 or 5 year old is showing interest, and you want to know what you’re letting yourself in for. Well, read on…
1. Make sure it’s fun.
No, not for you. You’re probably not going to enjoy the cold / wet / hot / dull training sessions and you almost certainly won’t enjoy the early weekend mornings on match days. That’s not the point. Make sure it’s fun for the aspiring footballer. If they’re not enjoying it, try to find out why and see if there’s anything you can do. Is it the position they’re playing? Maybe some issues between the kids in the team? Do what you can to sort things out. Remember, though, that you’re going to have hard sessions now and again – training sessions where everything goes wrong, or matches where you just don’t get to touch the ball and end up losing 12-nil. It happens, but if there is no enjoyment at all, week after miserable week, maybe (just maybe) football isn’t for your child.
2. Prepare for the weather!
Your child probably won’t care about the weather very much – they’ll be keeping themselves warm enough, thanks, running around on the pitch. You, on the other hand will be stood still for the most part, with just some occasional nervous pacing to keep your extremities from falling off. Warm coat, gloves and a hat for the winter, and a flask of a warm caffeinated beverage will make you the envy of the touchline.
3. Winning 10-nil teaches ’em nothing.
They’re playing to learn at this age. If your team is beating the opposition easily, don’t be surprised or disheartened if your best striker gets put in defence or in goal, or vice versa. Winning easily doesn’t add anything to the kids – and although the odd “easy win” may be good for the morale, they won’t learn very much, if anything at all. The best games are the ones you win (or lose, it matters not) 5-4 in the dying seconds. They’re the ones the kids talk about and they’re the ones they get the most out of.
4. Let ’em get on with it.
Tricky one this, and I fall foul of it most weekends. Don’t stand on the touchline barking orders at your child. Let the coach do that – that’s their job. You are there to support and encourage. “Well done! Keep going! That was excellent!” are all perfect. “Get goal side! Mark number 6! Pass to Wayne!” are not. At best you’re doing their thinking for them and at worst you’ll be one of about 17 conflicting voices. More often than not, the poor kid will freeze or hoof the ball out of play, just to stop the shouting.
5. Don’t take it so seriously.
They’re kids and they’re there to have fun. They’re going to mess around, be stupid, and generally make it look like you’re wasting your precious weekend, but you’re not. Remember number 1 above, and that you’re there for the kids, not necessarily your own amusement. Try not to be too scathing when it looks to all the world like your footballer is pirouetting between the goalposts (yes, he probably is – it can get boring in goal) or just chatting to his mate in defense (again, yes, he probably is – let the coach deal with it).