Situational Self-esteem

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, etc.

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.

Situational Self-esteem 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 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 concerned.

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 entire life.


Marv Fremerman

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