Playing matches for development

To play or not to play? What if we lose? What if my kid gets upset? They’re still so young, is it beneficial?

As coaches and parents, we worry. Sometimes, a little too much. Kids will be kids. Can they tell the difference between playing a mini game at training and a “real match” against another team? Probably not. They will be kicking, dancing, rolling around the same. They will be bragging about the goal they scored in the car ride after and they will be crying the same way when they lose.

What’s different is how the adults around them behave and react. Kids want to please their adults. If they see you screaming on the sidelines when they miss a shot on goal, they will recognise the disappointment. If they sense your anxiety, they will feel the pressure. If they hear your complaints, they get frustrated. So let’s just sit back and relax, cheer them on and let them have their moments, good or bad. The Pros far outweigh the Cons when we go into matches with the right mindset.


  • Family bonding – After a match there is plenty to talk about. Let the kid talk mostly, and you listen. Ask questions  like “Did you have fun?” , “Was it tough to run so much?, “What was that move you did when you beat the defender to score?” , ” That pass you made to Rory was incredible, did you guys work on it in training?”. Most importantly, always let them know how much you enjoyed watching them play.
  • Social skills – When kids play matches, they are put in an environment where rules must be adhered to. They need to work with others in their team, and show respect to opponents they are challenging. Matches also give us the opportunity to teach them that cheating, abusive and violent behaviours are wrong. Not by lecturing, but by modelling those behaviours on our own.
  • Healthy competition – Just because we ignore the results of a match does not mean that the match itself is not important. The desire to succeed and the willingness to work hard consistently is a quality we want to encourage, but we must be careful that it does not become an obsession to win. When the whistle blows, regardless of results, we must recognise the efforts of our team and the opponent’s. We have both become stronger because of the practice we put in and the experience we gained.
  • Technical skills – In matches, a player’s dribbling, passing, shooting and defending skills are tested under pressure. It gives them a better idea of how those skills can help them succeed and motivates them to practice during trainings. Coaches can also use matches as feedback to plan their trainings.
  • Tactical understanding – In matches, players get to experiment and make decisions independently. They have to process information about the position of the ball, team-mates and opponents constantly and make quick decisions on where to move, how to dribble, what move to use, who to pass, and when to shoot. A coach’s job is 90% done at practice. At the matches, the less you coach, the more they learn.

So dear parents, if you are still wondering whether to sign up for the league or not, please just take the leap and say yes! We can’t control the outcome of the matches but we can always make the best out of it. And for those of you want to be the perfect football parent, please read the following links. 😉

Sideline guide for parents:

Guide to analysing the game:

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