Ask the Staff

What is your stance on a coach/parent that pays their child money to score goals during a game? I came from a league that frowned on this to the point of removing coaches/parents that acted in this manner. I feel it is something that takes away from the team spirit and teaches one to become a one-man team. However, I have recently become involved in a league that not only allows this, but — I was surprised to find out — nearly all of my fellow board members practice this same act with their children. - Coach Ken F.

Staff Response by George Avakian

My first response is "Accordingly, who then pays whom on an own goal??!!" Some local bank should start marketing debit cards to goal-scoring children; the poor central defenders, I suppose, will have to collect recyclables.

To address the issue head-on, the immediate thought that comes to mind is that an individual that accepts and assumes the role and the responsibility of being a "coach" MUST have a clear understanding of his/her motives for accepting such an honorable title.

I am of the conviction that any circumstance in which the coach and his/her personal needs take precedence over the learner/athlete/player's well-being is a compromise that is intolerable, and must be unacceptable.

I must further clearly define, "well-being ," which I consider inclusive of any and all mental, emotional, psychological, physiological, philosophical, lifestyle and sport-specific skill sets which will be molded and sculpted positively by the presence of "The Coach" in an athlete's life, regardless of the age spectrum.

What this means is that every single moment, every action, response and behavior by a coach in the presence of the athletes, creates some sort of irreversible, or permanent, mark. This should not leave any unanswered questions regarding the importance of the coach's role, and should absolutely clarify the coach's priorities.

Having approached this from an umbrella perspective and with the assumption that you accept my philosophical statement and definition, let's address the "why." What is the desired end result by rewarding a youngster with money when he scores a goal?

It must be clearly stated again that every lesson plan, every training session, must have a desired goal achievement (i.e., a training session entirely themed for in-swinging crosses from the flanks). If the coach/teacher has no specific goal for the player/learner for each action/lesson plan, then what is the purpose of having a coach/teacher?

I believe that the monetary reward to a youngster for a preferred action implies the wrong message and pattern of behavior. A couple of weeks ago, while I was leaving my Fitness Club, a mother approached and proudly informed me that her son had scored 11 goals so far this season, and Grandpa owes him $11. I don't need to share my response completely, but I asked her if Grandpa had issued her son a debit card. What if Grandpa passed away? Would there be a dry spell of goal-scoring for this child?

Let's go into the child's head for a moment — when he receives the ball in the box, among all the intelligent mental, technical, tactical and physical processes that he/she must go through to deliver a goal, we now add the factor of … one dollar? To score a goal or perform any skill in soccer is a complex and all-inclusive process. The execution of that process must be the child's focus. Adding a bribe to this process overrides its execution.

I grew up in a poor family and I knew how much money meant to us as a family. Just to have a meal on the table was a great day. Then, now and forever, I will take a hug and a kiss and a, "I am proud of you," from my mother any day, or even just the fact that my father was at the match. I would rather my father carry me on his shoulders after a good performance than give me a buck.

During my coaching tenure, my student-athletes clearly understood this, the reason being that the process was defined for them in advance, and reinforced throughout their season. As an example, when the team performed well or an individual had an outstanding performance, they —the team and the individuals — would say, "Coach, let's have another one of those hard sessions, because it helped us to perform well."

Likewise, when they did not perform well, they would beg me to punish them (as positive means, as a medication for the ill) through a similarly hard training session to help them perform better.

The game is and must be used as a reflection of the realities of life itself. The lessons, attitudes and behaviors learned and practiced in an athletic endeavor help to create the people who will become the next generation of adults in our world. It is not just a soccer game that a coach or parent must orchestrate, it is one of the most effective and permanent means of teaching young people about life, citizenship and all things that will ultimately help a man or woman develop into a "Well Being."

Soccer can play a large role in character development. I know from experience that once the character is taken care of, all the rest of the chips all fall in place — goals are scored, there are no profanities on the pitch, the attire is worn well, there is team unity … and, oh, by the way, we also won matches.

My personal theme was and will always remain, "I am your Coach — this means I have and will do the best, within my God-given abilities, to provide a stepping stone for you to advance to the next life level. Shame on you if you do not use me to become a better human being and shame on me if I do not deliver on my promise."

To be a coach/teacher is a pleasing, fulfilling and honorable position. To use it in any form or fashion that becomes an obstacle for the learner's advancement in every category of their life is an abuse of the position for selfish fulfillment of one's personal desires, and it is shameful.

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