Developing Realistic Expectations and Finding Timely Teaching Moments:

Each of us brings our own unique perspective about parenting and competition to our child’s athletic endeavors. At some point along the way, many of us unfortunately create unrealistic expectations of our child’s soccer capabilities to some degree.  We focus on things like playing with intensity, having tactical awareness, committing to hard challenges, ball winning, sprinting for every ball, maximizing every scoring opportunity, and recognizing defensive cover situations. Often unrealistically, we desire and expect our children to win each and every one of these mostly individual competitions on the field.

One recurring problem is that we parents too easily forget that our kids are playing the child’s version of the game, and doing so from a child’s perspective.

We all desperately want our children to succeed and show well both for thier sake, and sometimes, even for the wrong reasons, as if we should allow our child’s performance in a game to reflect our parental abilities. Yet, how can we expect a 7-11 year old child to sprint for every ball when they literally do not yet know what it means to sprint, and when they are only now attaining the motor skills and physical developmental capabilities necessary to even be able to change pace?

Unrealistic expectations and wrong standards can damage a child’s self worth and overall development, let alone their sporting experience.

If you are even thinking about whether your child has what it takes to play at higher levels, no college coach we have encountered has ever rendered a final decision on whether to scholarship a player based on whether that prospect won State Cup as a 12 year old.  In all reality, it is highly unlikely any college coach will even see, hear, care or remember what accomplishments your child achieved prior to being able to demonstrate that type of capability at the college showcase level.  In fact, the quote I remember most vividly from my college coach as a freshman was; “Son, you gotta a lot of potential – you know what potential means, right?  It means you ain’t done $%#@ yet!”

The fact is, most of our kids simply won’t play sports for money – in college for a scholarship, or otherwise.

The statistics bear this out.  Coach John O’Sullivan notes that less than 7% of all high school soccer players will receive free education for playing in college.  Consider the following numbers directly from the NCAA’s website, as recently as May, 2016,


Even if your child is one of the lucky few to be considered for an athletic scholarship, be ready for the revelation that there are far fewer full-ride scholarships offered in the soccer world as opposed to say, an SEC football program.  Accordingly, expectations should be checked at all levels.

Ultimately, competition as adults perceive it will be learned over time as children start to learn the adult version of the game – if they don’t burn out and quit first.

Having FUN, and improving social/physical fitness must remain the primary objectives of the child’s game – which should not be lost on any of us.

So, how and when do we try to help our children progress and learn from mistakes?

A solid starting point we recommend is Coach Johnny O’s The Ride Home: Not a Teachable Moment, which can be accessed in full at


Check out related content on Coach O’Sullivan’s Changing the Game Project website,, including his very compelling TED talk.


For more information about the first four titles of LearnSport Books’ iplaysoccer! series in our on-line book store, click here.