Monthly Archives: July 2013

End of season presentation

presentationThe junior football season is capped off with a get-together, which fulfils a number of functions: celebrating success, reminding the parents of the club’s ethos, thanking coaches and helpers for their efforts, building a bridge across the four or five weeks until the season restarts. But really, as any junior footballer knows, it’s truly about one thing: bagging a trophy.

My boys’ club rewards every player with a trophy. They often get medals, too, for participating in a tournament. The American writer Gore Vidal observed, “It’s not enough to succeed, others must fail.” Not so, if you’re a junior footballer. There’s no devaluation of the trophy in these lads’ eyes, even if all their teammates pick up one that is identical.


A feature of the presentation evenings that no.1 son has attended for the last five years is that each player receives a dedication from the coach as they make their way to collect the trophy. The tradition began when the head coach was a particularly articulate and charismatic man. His anecdote about one of the boys has stuck in my mind. The lad performed a trick in a match and the coach turned to his opposite number and said knowingly, ‘his mum’s Brazilian’. A few moments later and the boy mis-kicked the ball. ‘But his dad’s Scottish’, he clarified.

Unfortunately, the bar was set too high by the head coach who has moved on. Typical dedications now are along the lines of, “He’s been consistent all season, particularly in the second half of the season when his game’s become really consistent.” There’s also a strain of comment that has the coach ascribing any improvement or achievement of a player directly to a tactical change or word of advice from the coach. The coaches do a fine job of running the team. I wish someone would free them (and us) from the awkwardness of them ad libbing in front of an audience about each player.

No.2 son’s group has a different tradition. The presentation is followed by a Dads v Coaches match. I took the precaution of coming straight from work last year so attended in suit and shoes. This kept me safe from the match in which unexpected levels of pent up frustration were vented – by both teams. The same trick worked for me this year, too.

These events see every player ‘trophied’, but some are ‘trophied’ more equally than others. Once each squad member has received their trophy, the coach announces three special awards; usually ‘most improved’, ‘players’ player’ and ‘coach’s player’. It’s hard not to be drawn into the before-the-event speculation and post-event dissection of these decisions. But in my experience the coaches have selected sensibly and sensitively and everyone has been pleased for the boys chosen.

That’s not the case at every club, as this Mumsnet thread starter shows.

My youngest DS plays for a local football team. They are still very young but as a team they are very good. Many people who’ve seen them play have commented that for their age they are a very talented team.

There are a couple of very good players. Boy 1 is very knowledgable about the game, a great team player and can play in all positions. Boy 2 is very speedy and scores lots of goals.

Next month there is a presentation evening where all the players will receive praise and a trophy. The kids have been asked to vote for their favourite player to receive a special mention and another trophy.

The majority vote has gone to boy 1.

Boy 2’s parents have called a meeting to ask why their son is ‘hated’ by the other boys. They’ve asked if the other kids are jealous of his ‘success’ of if the voting was rigged.

Then they phoned up the coach to ask if there was any other award available that he could receive as they were going to find it very difficult to explain to him that he hasn’t won the award they were fully expecting him to win.

As with most of the things that can go wrong with junior sport, it goes wrong when the parents get (over) involved.



Filed under coach says.., sport gives us..

Behind every junior sports player

judi murrayJudy Murray is Britain’s pre-eminent Touchline (or court-side) Mum. She played tennis professionally, has coached at a high level and is Great Britain’s Federation Cup Captain – a role that has meant she spends less time doing what most of us know her for: supporting her younger son, Andy. She did coach both of her boys, but stepped aside when she recognised it would benefit their development. And when Andy achieved the apogee of that development at Wimbledon, Judy, we were all pleased to see, was watching intently from the players’ box.

Mrs TL has no sporting pedigree, a result of her parents’ ambivalence bordering on resistance to sport. If one of the kids wants advice on a football trick, a gymnastics tumble or a cricket shot, their Mum is not an obvious source. Mrs TL kicks with the toe of her shoe – even when in sandals – and needs a lot of work on her off-drive. She is an occasional attender at the boys’ sports. Mrs TL has been known to turn up at a football match and, several minutes into the game, ask for clarification about which way her boy’s team is kicking. She finds us perennial Touchline dwellers ridiculous.

Yet, if Andy owes it all to Judy, sons no.1 & 2 and the 1&onlyD would be nothing on the playing field or in the gymnasium without their Mum.

Their kit, to begin with. I would follow naked or filthily attired children but for their Mum’s endless cycle of washing and drying of football kits – junior team and replica – leotards, school PE kit and cricket whites. She also knows when and where to replenish stocks of socks and trainers, City tops and Barcelona bottoms.

Nutrition next. One vegetarian and two meat-eaters, one of whom eats almost only ham; the other a bias towards chicken. The temptation would be to pander to their tastes and serve margarita pizza every night – or my preferred solution, starve them until they all will eat the same thing – but somehow Mrs TL offers a healthy diet with the limited choices accepted. Meals are prepared before sports and post-play hunger addressed, too.

The 1&onlyD has developed a sensible aversion to eating shortly before gymnastics into an obsession that means tea can be taken at 4:55, but cannot end a minute after 5:00 pm. And these minutes do matter. It’s all in the scheduling.

Friday: no.2 son’s football development centre and no.1 son’s cricket matches.
Saturday: no.2 son’s football.
Sunday: no.1 son’s football matches.
Monday: cricket practice (both boys).
Tuesday: gymnastics and school cricket or football (no.1 son).
Wednesday: gymnastics and no.2 son’s football practice.
Thursday: sometimes, nothing.
Interleaved with this calendar of physical activity, are found the piano lessons, school orchestra practice and play-dates.

The laundry, feeding, planning and transport fit into a precarious few hours between Mrs TL’s flight from work to the school gates and the start of play, conditioning or nets. And there they compete with homework, conversations about doing homework, conversations about the lack of homework; practice of piano, recorder, violin and spellings; and finding out what the children have done today, what they must have with them tomorrow, why they’re grumpy and what has made them fight each other.

Mrs TL is very unlikely to ever have her Wimbledon moment. But she knows that the three children get immense satisfaction and a great deal of their identity from their sports. And as readers of this blog know, I do, too. So from all four of us, “thanks Mum(my)”.


Filed under parenting, sport gives us..

Dan Abrahams – Sports Psychologist

Soccer-BrainDan Abrahams is a leading sports psychologist who has worked with players and teams at all levels to improve their performance on pitch, court and course. Dan has just published a new book, Soccer Brain. He has kindly agreed to answer some questions on sports psychology that my time on the touchline have prompted.

TL Dad: What experience and research is your new book ‘Soccer Brain’ based on?

Dan Abrahams: Soccer Brain is a book for soccer coaches. It comes from a decade of working at just about every level of football and with most age groups.  I have worked alongside hundreds of coaches and managers – experiences that have shaped my views on effective ways to coach and manage players and teams. With regard psychological underpinnings to the book – my passion is to demystify sport psychology for players and coaches so I try to avoid too much ‘dry’ stuff. There are lots of stories in the book related to the experiences of those perceived to be great managers and coaches. I love to bring this stuff alive for people. However there still has to be substance and all its tools and techniques are backed by research.

TL Dad: Do you find the psychological challenges of adult and junior players to be similar, or not?  If not, what tend to be the differences?

DA: Similar but in different forms and at different extremes. Parents must remember that their kids have different brains to them. What we know in neuroscience now is that the front, intellectual brain isn’t fully wired up with the emotional brain until a person is in their mid twenties. Emotional management for your footballers is very difficult. Many kids tend to be engulfed in emotion, especially after a poor training session or a loss. But you always work on the same things whether you’re working with academy players or men/women’s first team – areas like confidence, focus, intensity, motivation etc tend to resonate throughout the lifespan of a footballer.

TL Dad: One of my children (aged 6) went through a phase of not being able to tolerate losing football matches – even when in a non-competitive environment. What would you advise a parent in this situation?

DA: Losses are a great opportunity for parents to help their children manage adversity and subsequently provide effective schemas for adulthood. I’ve always given parents a basic process for post match losses. Firstly, don’t feel compelled to say anything. Allow your young footballer time to stew. You know it’s no bad thing if they’re disappointed. This means they’re competitive and they want to win (and as we all know, competitiveness is a valuable commodity in adult life, something that is thrust upon us no matter who we are.)

Once your young footballer is in a better mood then it’s time to be proactive. But avoid making statements, strive to ask good questions. For example, what went well today? What could you have done a little better? Asking questions helps a young footballer open up a catalogue of pictures. They are not judgmental and they help your child become a student of the game (and their own game.) If you want to add value yourself then mention a couple of things you thought they did really well. As a parent it’s useful to lay down tracks of success for your child to come back to as often as possible.

TL Dad: I have found some junior footballers play below par because of a fear of getting injured as the game becomes more physical as they get older. What advice would you give to support them?

A fear of getting injured is tough to overcome. You can provide all the rational advice in the world (for example, if you go in at 50% you’re more likely to injure yourself) but the brain works emotionally more so than it does intellectually. This is an art and not an exact science, so my best advice is to ask the young footballer what 100% looks like. Get them to see and feel the pictures. Try to help them equate these pictures to something different. For example “What kind of animal does this look like?” That might get a bit of an embarrassed chuckle, but if you elicit an answer of, say, a LION, then this is a very productive, emotional picture that the child can use when he or she trains and plays. If they can equate LION to 100% it may make it easier for him or her to compete at that intensity. But do bear in mind your question requires a whole chapter to answer properly.

TL Dad: Children tend to want to practise what they are already good at, rather than new skills they could develop? Do you have any psychological techniques for encouraging children to persevere and  acquire new skills?

DA: They often don’t want to practice something they are ‘bad’ or ‘weak’ at because of the fear of failure or the embarrassment of looking stupid. So my first advice there would be to work on a weakness individually away from others. Within that process, as your child starts to pick up the skill, reinforcing the notion of ‘can’ and helping the child identify improvement can help build their confidence in trying new things and working on weaknesses. Another idea is to try to make the drills as fun as possible whether it’s bringing a competitive edge or bringing a playful theme to proceedings. This is simply the art of good coaching.

TL Dad: Where junior players are having difficulty at sports, which have a psychological background, what role do you find the parents to have played?

DA: Parents can be a great influence or a lousy one. Pushy parents can be pushy in the right way or pushy in the wrong way. It’s a real mixed bag. Parental involvement is a very complex landscape. Many people say parents shouldn’t be involved and should keep a distance, yet there are numerous examples of parents who help their kids develop their sport and their personalities in a healthy competitive way. Just because a sports parent is firm doesn’t mean they are a bad sports parent. I’m unsure the job of the parent is to be their child’s best friend all the time. We live in a wonderful world but one that (in the words of Sylvester Stallone) can beat you to your knees. Parents who love their children also know that they have to help their children face adversity life throws at them. Sport is a wonderful platform to help this happen – so I don’t have a problem with the ‘involved’ parent. But it must be a healthy involvement.

TL Dad: Which sports player would you nominate as having the most thorough psychological preparation for competition?

DA: Ha, well this is a grey area because I would say that having a thorough preparation programme for competition isn’t necessarily congruent with being a ‘normal’ person with a ‘normal’ lifestyle. I think the best sportsman mentally is someone like Tiger Woods, but his off course antics show that, whilst his sports prep has been spot on it may have been to the detriment of him as a person. Novak Djokovich seems to have a great attitude on and off the course (but who knows!!).

TL Dad: Thank you, Dan, for sharing your experience and providing some practical tips for supporting junior footballers. We may also know a bit more about how effective Djokovich’s preparation is this weekend.

Dan Abraham’s new book Soccer Brain, is available on Amazon. Dan can be followed on twitter: @DanAbrahams77


Filed under interview, parenting, winning and losing

“Dad, I want to give up..”

I (and you, too, dear TouchlineDad reader) am very fortunate because Mark Richards, author and blogger has written a guest post. Mark’s multi-award winning blog, Best Dad I Can Be, charts his family’s antics, with the self-deprecating but dedicated Dad at the heart of matters.

Mark’s story is about one of the challenges any Dad or Mum, particularly perhaps one with touchline interests, can face.

laws of the gameWhen I was young I played cricket. Lots of cricket. How good was I? I was good enough to know that I wasn’t quite good enough – and if you play sport, you’ll know what that statement means. You have to be really good to know just how good the players are who are going to make it professionally.

No matter. I played a lot. I enjoyed it and wouldn’t it be fantastic when I had a son and I could teach him – and maybe he’d be just a little bit better than I was…

And yes. Child number one was a boy. I watched him in his playpen hitting a ball with his rattle and thought it looked pretty promising. Except when he went to school and started playing cricket it wasn’t. Tom was in the team. But he batted somewhere around no. 8 and he didn’t bowl much – and when he did it wasn’t very effective.

No matter. We practised in the garden. I taught him everything I knew. But he wasn’t getting any better. He tried and tried but he was never going to be any good at cricket. He knew it. I knew it. But he wanted to please me – and I wanted to encourage him.

Then one day Tom came to me. “Can I talk to you, Dad?” he said.

“Of course you can.”

“I don’t want to disappoint you. But I want to give up cricket. I’m no good at it.”

We talked about it and we agreed that Tom was right. Was I disappointed? No, I was full of admiration for my son. For a twelve year old boy, that was a courageous – and a mature – conversation to have.

So Tom stopped playing cricket. He went upstairs to his bedroom, where he downloaded a CAD programme and taught himself to use it. He started to design F1 cars and a little while later he downloaded a CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) programme and taught himself to use that. Then he imported the car he’d designed and ran virtual wind tunnel tests. At 17 he was invited to work in Red Bull’s aerodynamics department for two weeks; this summer – now aged 19 – he’s spending three months in Force India’s aero department.

I still remember that moment when he came to talk to me. I’m immensely proud of what he’s achieved – but I’m even prouder of the fact that he had the courage to recognise what he wasn’t good at, and pursue what he was good at. And that he wouldn’t let his Dad’s dreams stand in his way.

He taught me a lot as well. Trust your children. If they don’t want to do what you want them to do, that’s fine. Trust them to find their own way – and to know what they’re good at. After all, whatever they do, you’ll always be their number one supporter.

Have you faced the situation of your son or daughter saying they want to give up a pursuit that means a lot to you? How did you respond and what was the outcome?

Best Dad I Can Be is on twitter at @BestDadICanBe and available in book and e-book format.


Filed under Guest blogs, individual development, parenting