I have a 17 year old son who has played soccer since he was
4 years old and club or "select" soccer since he was
10. Last year as a junior he had some issues with his club coach
and got benched for most of the season. Not to make the story
too long, but he disagreed with his coach for the coach not disciplining
several players who drank and stole beer during a travel soccer
tournament. When my son spoke up to the coach about this he was
benched. When his father and I tried to talk to the coach things
just got worse. This went on for several months and his self
esteem just took a nose dive. Some games he never got off the
bench - despite continuing to make every practice, scrimmage,
Needless to say he changed teams at tryouts and seemed to
be so much happier. He is practicing hard, playing hard and having
fun again. The new team went on their first out of town tournament
last week and when he didn't start the first game he went back
to his old ways of playing scared, being timid and afraid to
make a mistake. The coach took him aside and talked to him and
then called us last night. However, the coach asked us not to
tell our son that he had called to tell us what happened. He
is going to try to work things out, but he is afraid that our
son's self esteem is pretty damaged.
Is there anything we can do? I will go out and buy your book
(Mind Over Sports), but getting a 17 year old to read it during
school (they start on Monday) might be hard. Any suggestions
would be appreciated. Personally, I don't care if he ever plays
soccer again. However, HE is the one that wants to continue playing
and had hoped to play in college. I just don't want this to affect
him in other ways throughout his life. I may be being too dramatic
here, but he is my child and I love him and want to help him
before he leaves for college.
Your letter was very interesting and your son is fortunate
to have a mother like you...
His first coach is probably the worst kind of coach (and I'm
sure, the coach, himself, has a low sense of self-worth to have
responded to your son the way he did.) Your son was absolutely
correct in approaching him...that coach should be relieved from
his job since he is affecting the lives of many young people.
Your son's new coach sounds excellent, but it's wrong for him
to call you and ask that you not tell your son about your conversation
with him...in effect, he's encouraging you to "withhold"
(which is a form of lying) which is not good for your own self-esteem.
You must be completely truthful with your son and I would suggest
that you call his coach back and ask his permission to discuss
your conversation with him with your son. I'm sure he will agree.
I think you and your son should then have a nice long honest
talk (if you haven't already) and discuss your concerns about
how he feels about himself and the fact that his coach is also
It's difficult to determine from your letter if your son actually
has a self-esteem problem or has a belief regarding his behavior
as it relates to his coach and teammates. If it is a self-esteem
issue, it's just a matter of time before his strong feelings
of self-worth kick in and he'll be his old former self. But if
it's a behavioral issue, I've found that "every behavior
has a purpose" so if your son is "playing scared, being
timid and afraid to make a mistake" it's possible that he's
getting some kind payoff for this type of behavior...I don't
mean to sound insensitive, but his not playing up to his capabilities
may be the result of his using his past experience with his former
club coach as a crutch, or a justification for him to fail on
his new team. He can always say "I'm playing badly because
of how I was treated by my former coach." But he needs to
understand that was then, and this is now. And he also needs
to understand the importance of putting that entire episode in
his life behind him.
Also, if he's not already doing it, I would encourage him to
visualize himself playing prior to each game. If he has the skill
level (and I assume he does) and he knows his new coach genuinely
cares about him as a human being first, then as an athletic performer,
it's just a matter of time before his strong feelings of self-worth
return and he once again becomes part of the starting line-up.
Your son is experiencing what I often refer to as "situational"
self-esteem, which is not long lasting. "Basic" self-esteem
come from being reared in a family (such as yours) where there
is much love and nurturing. And the basic self-esteem a child
receives is the foundation that will help him throughout his