Play Strong, Have Fun | VA Revolution Soccer Club

Play Strong, Have Fun

Articles by Dr. Michael Oberschneider on how to get the most out of sports

January 17, 2023

Managing Weight and Body Image Perceptions and Pressures for Young Athletes

There are many benefits to youth sports.  Children who play sports get regular exercise, make friendships, and learn important social and leadership skills.  Research has also shown that team sports can improve a child’s self-esteem and mitigate social and emotional problems — depression, anxiety, attention problems, obesity, and an over reliance on technology to name a few.  But team sports can also put a lot of pressure on a child, and for some, an over focus on body image, appearance and performance can lead to eating/food and body image struggles.

The topics of dieting, calories, weight and body image frequently comes up for my athletic clients.  For example, a 14-year-old client of mine recently shared with me that he is not allowed to have a snack at his friends’ houses or eat certain foods because his mother would be upset with him and possibly punish him if she were to find out.  In talking about the foods he enjoys but “can’t eat,” he tearfully asserted, “I still need to lose about 5 pounds” and “My mom and dad told me that there’s no way I’m going to play college soccer if I don’t lose weight.”  Another child I met with recently shared with me that her soccer game would improve once she got her body fat content down to 8%.  Incidentally, both clients are already in excellent physical condition and play soccer at a high level, however, they falsely believe these things about themselves.

To the surprise of a lot of parents, research has shown that athletic youth are at a greater risk for developing eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder compared to non-athletic youth.  Athletes can also struggle with Body Dysmorphic Disorder – a mental health condition that involves a preoccupation with aspects of your appearance or a falsely perceived physical defect in your appearance that is minor or can’t be seen by others.

And while most athletic children don’t meet full criteria for a formal eating disorder, a lot of them still struggle with disordered eating, and that struggle can become unhealthy and problematic.

The following are some of the main indicators of disordered eating for your child:

  • Your child is preoccupied with food and weight in ways that negatively impact him or her socially or emotionally
  • Your child skips meals, diets frequently or has anxiety eating specific foods
  • Your child has rigid rules or routines around food choices and meals in relation to exercise
  • Your child’s weight frequently fluctuates
  • Your child counts calories
  • Your child rationalizes food choices, and feels shame and/or guilt after eating certain foods
  • Your child engages in compulsive eating habits to feel positively about himself or herself
  • Your child uses exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to “make up for bad foods” to feel in control

If you are concerned about your child’s relationship with food, I recommend that you try to locate and understand the source of the problem.  Is your child getting his or her bad ideas about dieting, weight or body image from his or her peer group or the media?  Have you as a parent modeled an unhealthy preoccupation with diet, exercise, weight or body image?  Are you putting too much pressure on your child’s athletic performance?  If you’re able to identify the source of the problem, you’ll then want to correct the things you can – e.g., messaging and modeling healthier ideas about food, weight and body image if you’re the source of the problem.  You’ll also want to normalize whatever false or distorted views about food intake, weight and body image your child believes.

Here are a few dos and don’ts:

  • Don’t label food “good” or “bad” inasmuch as food is just food; instead, do strive for a balanced diet, complemented by treats or desserts.
  • Don’t let your child eat most of his or her meals alone; instead, do have family meals as often as possible so you as a parent have legitimate control over what your child eats, as well as meal portion size. As a bonus, research has repeatedly shown that children who eat at least three dinners a week with their family have lower rates of social and emotional problems.
  • Don’t buy a lot of processed foods or foods with saturated fats and sugars; instead, do buy a lot of healthy foods. Making a large fruit salad every couple of days for your child to snack on as they wish is a lot better than their eating something tasty but non nutritious out of a bag.
  • Don’t talk about your own weight or body image negatively as a parent; instead focus on health over image, encourage a positive mindset, talk about poor messaging from the media or social media and compliment your child about how they look.

If your child’s body image concerns are minor, you should be able to correct things as a parent with productive conversations and by making changes.  If, however, your child’s problems with dieting, weight concerns, food intake and/or body image are more seveve, getting professional help is advised.  Seeing a nutritionist that works with athletic youth is a good start, and your child may also benefit from seeing a therapist trained in health psychology and eating disorders.

DECEMBER 14, 2022

The Benefits of Playing Soccer in the Winter

Playing soccer is fun, but for kids who play it year-round, the Winter months can be challenging.  Even for kids who truly love the game, playing soccer on a cold winter day or evening may not be desirable; sometimes simply getting kids geared up, out of the car and onto the field can become an arduous task fraught with a lot of resistance.  However, research has shown that playing soccer or other outdoor sports during the Winter months is actually beneficial.  And here are a few points to share with your son or daughter the next time they complain about it being too cold outside to go to exercise.

Playing a sport under the sun can combat low mood or depression.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as “The Winter Blues” or “Winter Depression,” is a type of depression that affects over 10 million Americans each year; and, research has shown that about 2% to 6% of children and teens may struggle from the condition each Winter.  SAD symptoms include: weight gain, oversleeping, having an increased craving for carbohydrates, irritability, having an increased sensitivity for rejection, sadness, anxiety, fatigue/low energy, having an overall sense of heaviness in the arms and legs, oversleeping and lethargy.  There are a few different believed causes for SAD, with a lack of sunlight being the main one.  With so many people having low levels of Vitamin D, and with shorter days during the Winter months, getting our kids outside to be active under the sun is a good thing.

And keep in mind that even playing a sport in the evening outside is a good for you in that exercise releases several hormones/neurotransmitters – e.g., norepinephrine, epinephrine and adrenaline – that contribute to improving one’s mood.

Physical activity is great for maintaining healthy weight during the winter months.  With the colder weather, even the most active and athletic children are more sedentary, which can lead to weight gain.  Research has shown that, on average, people gain 1 to 3 pounds over the holidays.  So, whether your child is kicking a soccer ball or engaging in other athletics this Winter, getting him or her out there and active will help with fitness.

Playing soccer means less time in front of a screen.  If your son or daughter are outside playing soccer (or another sport) what are they not doing? — Over relying on or over engaging in technology.  Balancing our children’s screen time can be particularly difficult during the Winter months where the days are shorter, the weather is less appealing and there is so much more down time.  So, keeping our children active and busy to promote balance with sports and in other ways (e.g., chores, social activities, family time) will help with screen to technology time overuse.                 

There’s always futsal.  For the kid who refuses to play soccer outside during the Winter months but would still love to play, there’s always futsal.  Futsal is typically played indoors and it’s a modified game of soccer that involves five players on five players.  Not only is futsal great exercise, playing it can serve to keep your son or daughter’s head in the game during the Winter months.  And, futsal is believed to improve game play in many ways —  it helps with ball skills and control, one touch, speed of play, creativity, adaptability and overall athletic intelligence.

Here’s to getting our kids outside this Winter for some soccer and for some active fun!

 

 

NOVEMBER 21, 2022

If You Want Your Kid to Get Straight A’s, Play Soccer

The benefits of soccer are tremendous.  Beyond the fun of the game itself, soccer teaches sportsmanship and teamwork, strengthens muscles, improves coordination and cardiovascular health, develops leadership skills, instills discipline, and increases confidence and self-esteem.  And soccer is as much a mental game as it is a physical game, with research showing a strong relationship between physical exercise and academic achievement.

For example, a longitudinal study involving 5000 children and adolescents revealed a strong correlation between exercise and test score success in Science, English and Math.  Interestingly, this study found that physically active girls benefited most in science, and children between the ages of 11 and 16 who exercise regularly garnered the greatest academic benefits.  Another study compared student athletes with sedentary students and the athletic students were 20% more likely to earn top grades in Math, Science and English.

And a metanalysis of 50 studies on the topic of physical activity and academic success, undertaken by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found a total of 251 associations between physical activity and academic performance; cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behavior and academic achievement were some of the main represented measures.

Study after study has shown that strenuous exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which in turn improves alertness and intellectual functioning; improvements in thinking, decision-making, learning, and processing information leads to better academics and grades.

And it’s not too late for moms and dads who want to get smarter and more active on the soccer field, with research showing that physical exercise is also correlated with mental sharpness for adults.  One study looking at older participants used MRI scans with sedentary people who then exercised strenuously to demonstrate increased volume in the areas of the brain that are associated with cognitive functioning, and more specifically, memory and learning (i.e. the frontal and temporal lobes and hippocampus) after increasing exercise.

Okay, okay so maybe playing soccer alone won’t result in straight A’s for your son or daughter, but the relationship between physical activity and academic achievement is undeniable.  Also, as the old saying goes, “Correlation does not imply causation,” so do smart kids play sports, or do sports make kids smart?  It’s probably a bit of both, but again, the research is clear that physical activity increases mental acuity and improved learning and grades across the most important academic subjects.

Lastly, research has also shown that coding activates the brain’s learning centers; It can improve problem solving and memory skills, among other cognitive skills.  Revolution is fortunate to have the Coder School as a sponsor and their after-school program at the Sportsplex is something parents may want to consider as an adjunct to improve learning.

Here’s to having fun and playing strong on the soccer field and to getting good grades in the classroom!

October 24, 2022

How to Support Your Child When Unfair Moments Happen In Soccer

 

As parents, it’s our job to protect our children from upsetting or harmful experiences, but it’s also our job to allow our children to work through their struggles toward great autonomy.  Knowing when to step in and when to not can be especially difficult to determine with youth sports given that unfair moments are painfully felt by children all the time.

The following are the main topics of unfairness that come up a lot in youth sports for kids (and their parents):

The coach’s kid.  It’s not uncommon in youth sports for the coach’s son or daughter to play the best position, to be on the best team, and/or to get the most playing time.  When this occurs, it can be upsetting to other kids on the team, especially when there are players who seem to be more deserving of these sorts of opportunities.  As a parent, the best thing you can do when this happens is to acknowledge your child’s feelings and support them through the problem.  Don’t disparage the coach or the coach’s child, as that sort of support isn’t helpful, and you don’t want to overprotect your child from something they need to figure out for themselves.  You can certainly let them know that you see what they see (if you do), that you understand their feelings, that the problem will pass, and that it’s something that they can manage.  I personally think that it’s best for youth organizations and clubs to not employ parent coaches, but parent coaches are often needed since there aren’t enough coaches (without a child on the team) to coach.

Favoritism.  Coaches should remain evenly available to all players, but it’s not unusual for them to have their favorites when it comes to the team.  In my experience, the players who are responsible, committed, try hard, demonstrate good sportsmanship, and steadily improve are the players coaches gravitate toward most.  When favoritism for other players becomes a problem for your child, it’s best to acknowledge their feelings and support them through the moment.  It’s also a good idea to encourage your child to focus less on comparisons and what they can’t control, and more on themselves and what they can control.

Playing time.  As parents, it’s difficult to watch your son or daughter not play a lot in a game or tournament, and it’s even more difficult for the child in these moments.  However, it’s important to remember that good coaches do their best to manage the many factors that go into each child’s playing time on a team – a player’s talent or skill level, the specific needs of the team during a game or tournament, a player’s readiness to play, etc.  Fair playing time doesn’t always mean equal playing time.  As parents, it’s best to acknowledge and support your child when they don’t get a lot of playing time; reassure them of how proud you are and encourage them to continue to work hard so that their coach can’t help but notice them.

Team placement.  Not making the team or being demoted from a higher-level team can be tough moments for a child.  Sometimes the coach’s reasoning in these moments will make sense to your child, and sometimes the decision will seem unfair.  When team placement seems unfair, it’s best to sit with your child to supportively talk through his or her strong, negative feelings.  Focusing on what your son or daughter can control or improve on in soccer is more productive than speaking negatively about other players who received better team placements.   

Injuries.  Injuries are an unavoidable reality in youth sports, and they can often seem unfair when they happen; your child may be upset to miss a game or two with an injury, or he or she may need to sit out the entire season, and that can be difficult to accept.  When your child gets injured, it’s important to empathize with their feelings and talk to them about their frustrations.  Also, helping your child to manage their stress, keeping them connected to their team and accentuating positivity and wellness are some of the other good things you can do when he or she is sidelined due to an injury.

Privilege.  On and off the field, your child is going to meet children who have more than they have and children who have less than they have, and discussing how financial differences feel to them is a good thing to do.  Some children can afford private lessons or elite soccer camps out of state or even out of the country, while most children aren’t able to do those things.  Reminding your child that while money can buy a lot of nice things in life and provide special opportunities in sports, it can’t buy talent, hard work, commitment or good sportsmanship.  Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi came from very humble backgrounds and grew up poor, and I think we’d all agree that they’ve done pretty well for themselves at soccer.

So, as a good soccer dad or mom, what’s the best thing to do when your child exclaims, “That’s so unfair…”  Of course, there isn’t a one size fits all answer to that question, but regardless of the situation, your child needs your support and guidance when this happens.  As parents, we can’t protect our children completely from the unfair moments they will be forced to contend with in life – perceived or real – but we can help them to manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviors when faced with hurt and disappointment.

Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it.”  Michael Jordan

September 19, 2022

How To Help Your Child Cope With An Injury

Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears ~ Marcus Aurelius

No matter how prepared and careful your child is, injuries are an unfortunate reality in youth sports.  And whether your child is playing soccer recreationally or competitively, if he or she is on the soccer field for practices and games, the risk of getting hurt is always there.  Thankfully, most soccer injuries for kids are minor, and while your child may miss a game or two, the disruption usually isn’t great.  There are, however, times when an injury can sideline your child for the season or even the year.

An injury sometimes requires a longer break from soccer, and here are some ways you can help your child to manage the situation when that occurs:

Seek professional help for your child ASAP.  If you’re concerned about your child’s injury, the first thing you should do is see a specialist for an evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment plan.  Patient First is great on the fly, but it’s important that your injured child see an orthopedic and sports medicine specialist as soon as possible. Elite Wellness Performance & Recovery is a partner of VRSC and a great place to start for quality and informed care.

Support your child.  Helping your child manage and process their emotions during an injury is important.  An injury is a form of loss, and like any loss, your child will likely experience a wide range of difficult emotions to varying degrees – denial, anger, sadness, anxiety – while he or she takes a forced break from the sport they love.  Talk with your child, listen to your child, and while they can’t play soccer, encourage your child to engage in activities and social moments that bring them joy. 

Help your child to reframe the moment.  Sure, an injury is a setback, but it also gives your child an opportunity to reset their thinking and improve on their mental growth during recovery. Taking a break from soccer gives your child a chance to develop greater resiliency, flexibility, compassion and mental toughness.  Preparing your child to return to sports after injury is also important, as your child could experience anticipatory anxiety about several things – missing so much time, being able to play again, getting re-injured, etc.  Visualization, relaxation, stress management, positive self-talk strategies and eating healthily and sleeping well are some of the best ways to manage emotional upset and anticipatory anxiety.

Encourage your child to stay engaged with the team.  An injured teammate is still a teammate.  So, as much as possible support your child’s continued involvement with the team.  Your child may not want to attend every practice or game if injured, but showing up for practices and games when possible, will help him or her stay connected to his or her team and the game.

Get your child help if needed.  Physical distress can cause emotional distress, so as parents, closely monitor your child’s emotional wellbeing during an injury.  While a therapeutic intervention (i.e. psychotherapy and/or psychiatric medications) isn’t usually necessary for an injured child, sometimes it is.  If you find that your child is struggling significantly across the important areas of his or her life post injury – his or her academic life, social life and family life – seeking a consultation with a child psychologist or child psychiatrist is probably a good idea.       

August 16, 2022

Helping Your Child Manage Hardship, Setbacks And Defeat On The Soccer Field

One day in late summer, an old farmer was working in his field with his old sick horse. The farmer felt compassion for the horse and desired to lift its burden. So, he let his horse loose to go the mountains and to live out the rest of its life.

Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences, and said, “What a shame. Now your only horse is gone. How unfortunate you are!” You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Maybe so, maybe not…we shall see.”

Two days later the old horse came back now rejuvenated after meandering on the mountainside. He came back with twelve wild younger horses, which followed the old horse into the corral.

Word got out in the village of the old farmer’s good fortune, and it wasn’t long before people stopped by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck. “How fortunate you are they exclaimed. You must be very happy!” Again, the farmer softly said: “Maybe so, maybe not…we shall see.”

At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer’s only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but the farmer’s son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. One by one, the villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer’s latest misfortune. “Oh, what a tragedy! Your son won’t be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You’ll have to do all the work yourself; how will you survive? You must be very sad,” they said. Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, “Maybe so, maybe not…we shall see.”

Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that all of the young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor’s army. As it happened, the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg. In the tea house, the villagers again commented “What very good fortune you have!” as their own young sons were marched away. “You must be very happy.” “Maybe so, maybe not…we shall see” replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.

As time went on the broken leg healed, but the son was left with a slight limp. Again, the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you”! But the old farmer simply replied, “Maybe so, maybe not…we shall see.”

As it turned out, the other young village boys had died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy,” to which the old farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not…we shall see.”

This ancient Chinese parable is believed to be over 2000 years old, but its message is as relevant today as it was then.  In my opinion, there are several important interpretations to the parable that are worthy of consideration, one of which is the idea that hardships, setbacks, and defeats are part of life.  And while we as parents can’t protect our children from many of the painful experiences they’ll encounter (on and off the field), we can do a lot to help them to consider the long-term view during upsetting moments.  Whether your child plays soccer recreationally or more competitively at Revolution, here are a few tips to consider when difficult moments occur:

  • Research has shown that parents’ beliefs about whether failure is a good or bad thing influences how children think about their own intelligence. For children, these studies indicate that it isn’t the parents’ specific view on capacity or ability that matters, but rather the parents’ responses to failure that the children internalize.  So, how should we as parents respond when our child fails?  When our child experiences a tough soccer loss, gets injured, doesn’t make his or her preferred team, etc., it’s important to remember that they are watching us for direction. The best thing we can do as parents in these sorts of moments is to love and empathically support our child and let him or her know that upsetting experiences are difficult, but they can also be important learning opportunities.

 

  • During a setback or hardship, we as parents can also help our child to think about past experiences, present experiences, and aspirational goals for the future to help them manage their strong, negative thoughts and feelings. For the past, we can remind them of their accomplishments and successes with the game, and all the work they’ve put into the sport to play well. For the present, we can encourage our child to think positively and to use positive self-talk to bounce back.  For the future, we can support our child to think about what he or she can get control over or improve on.  Also, sharing examples of how some of the world’s greatest athletes persevered through adversity and setbacks to become even better at their sport can be helpful.

 

  • Research has also shown that the perceived negative consequence of a failure is more upsetting than the failure itself for children. For most children, letting your team down by missing a game winning goal is more upsetting than simply missing the shot. Psychologists know this and posit that helping our children embrace uncertainty can be helpful when they fear failure on the field.  Thus, encouraging our child to lean into fearful or difficult moments on the field instead of avoiding them will help them to value effort and attitude over performance and outcome alone.  Catastrophizing – seeing only the worst possible outcome in a situation – is something that a child might do after a difficult hardship or setback with soccer.  Challenging our child to reframe their distorted and negative thinking when this happens will help him or her to better manage their feelings and start thinking more rationally again.

 

It’s easy for our children to worry about things that they can’t control in a given moment, and it’s also easy for them to react or overreact to mistakes they’ve made on the field or to bad things that happen to them in sports.  However, excessive worry, sadness, anxiety, anger or dwelling on a hardship or setback is a waste of time and energy, and if our children give into their negative emotions too much, things can become distorted and their problems can get worse. Keep in mind that while we often can’t protect what happens to our child in soccer, we can help them control how they choose to manage their thoughts, emotions and responses to problems that arise. So, the next time you find your child making a mountain out of a mole hill after a tough game, loss or something else upsetting, try to help him or her take a long-term view since today’s bad moment or event on the field can later become a blessing in disguise.

JULY 19, 2022

Supporting Your Child’s Grit And Emotional Resilience On (And Off) the Soccer Field

In the 1984 movie “The Karate Kid,” a teenage boy becomes disheartened when his karate teacher has him doing chores to exhaustion day after day. Instead of teaching the boy fighting techniques for his upcoming competition, the master instructs the boy to paint his house and fence, sand his floors, and wax his many old cars. The boy listens to his teacher but eventually grows impatient and expresses strong negative feelings. When the master commands the boy to show him the moves the boy learned to complete the myriad of boring and laborious chores—sand the floor, wax on/wax off, paint the fence, and so on—the boy realizes that he was actually being trained all along. He is then able to easily learn the formal karate moves that he wants and needs for the competition.

I suppose the above movie scenario could be interpreted in different ways, but the take-home message for me is that committing to hard work leads to growth and success. Sure, the boy finally learned karate, but more importantly, he learned the importance of patience, delaying gratification, concentration, self-discipline, perseverance, being in the moment, and selflessness.

As parents we strive to support our children’s success in life, and while several factors contribute to success — IQ, talent, good looks, physical health and social intelligence – developmental research has shown that grit is the number one predictor of success.  Grit has been defined as having passion, resilience, endurance, perseverance and conscientiousness toward the attainment of long-term goals.  Having grit requires a growth mindset, which we as parents can help our children to develop both on and off the soccer field.  By helping our children understand that the ability to learn occurs through effort, dedication and challenge, over time, it will become second nature for them to persevere when faced with hardships or failure.

When it comes to soccer, opportunities to develop grit as a player are ubiquitous.  Supporting your child to play as hard as they can through a cold or rainy practice or game, to run as fast as they can through exhausting drills, to stretch, to organize their gear and to plan ahead, are a few ways parents can help to develop a growth mindset.

Our children also learn from observing us as parents, so demonstrating grit is also good for our children to take in.  So, if you’re upset or distressed about something or are facing a challenge, modeling the steps you take toward the resolving the problem or conflict will be helpful for your child.

Praising effort and perseverance over outcome or performance is so important when it comes to helping our children develop a growth and winning mindset.  Of course, we’re happy for our kid when he or she scores a goal, or makes a beautiful assist or blocks a goal, and those moments should be enjoyed.  However, it’s the waxing on and waxing off moments on the field that we as parents should be praising most.

When it comes to developing grit and a growth mindset, allowing your child to struggle and to have setbacks or hardships is also essential.  Growth doesn’t happen when a soccer practice or game is easy, but rather when things are difficult.  Getting injured, losing a tough game, etc., are obstacles that our children need to get around or push through, which will in turn lead to more opportunities and increased grit for what lies ahead.

Lastly, supporting our children’s emotional resilience off the soccer field is also important, and here are a few helpful tips to consider:

  • Teach your child the value of a dollar
  • Give your child age appropriate chores
  • Encourage your child to go beyond their comfort zone and to take risks
  • Let your child scrape their knees and get dirty
  • Send your child to an away camp
  • Reward your child for hard work, good behaviors and accomplishments
  • Encourage your child to be selfless and to do good deeds

I start early, and I stay late, day after day after day, year after year.  It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success. ~ Lionel Messi

JUNE 21, 2022

How To Be A Good Soccer Parent

Male Emperor Penguins will stand guard to protect their baby eggs by covering them and balancing them on their feet in the freezing cold for a two-month incubation period.  And Emperor Penguin mothers will travel up to 50 miles to the ocean to retrieve fish for their offspring, which they keep warm in their pouches for long periods of time.  Elephant mothers travel in herds and encircle their youngest member to protect them from predators, and orphan children elephants are adopted by the herd.  After octopus moms lay thousands of eggs, they stop eating and will not leave the area and will guard their offspring for as long as needed; it’s documented that octopus moms have waited up to four and a half years before the eggs hatch.  Cheetahs, orangutans, polar beers, kangaroos are also known to be fiercely protective of their offspring.

And then there’s the soccer parent, arguably the most protective parents of all in the animal kingdom.  When these parents are encountered by a threat or challenge, like other mammals, they will inherently defend their children, and there is a myriad of threats to defend against – a bad referee call, struggles with other coaches, players, or parents, not being on the best team, not being able to play a preferred position, not getting enough playing time, etc.

Okay, okay, so not all soccer parents are overly protective, and certainly behaving poorly as a sports mom or dad can happen with any sport.  But to keep from being “That guy” when it comes to your child’s soccer experience at Revolution, I offer the following “Dos” and “Don’ts” to consider:

Do encourage and support your son or daughter’s efforts.  Research has shown that parents who praise effort bolster their children’s perseverance and performance for challenging tasks.  Research has also shown that children do better when their parents demonstrate their involvement and interest in activities in supportive and encouraging ways.  Our children want us to be proud of them, so smiling widely, cheering positively, and helping your child develop a strong work ethic on the field as they have fun is good medicine.

Don’t pressure your son or daughter to play better.  Don’t over focus on output, as that can put a lot of pressure on your kid.  Your child’s success on the field shouldn’t be measured by the number of goals they scored or assists they had in a game, but rather, their success should be based on their effort to play well and to learn and grow.  As the saying goes, “Teamwork makes the dream work,” so being a helpful, patient and kind teammate are important ingredients for success that you want to encourage as a parent.

Do promote sportsmanship.  In addition to supporting your child’s sportsmanship with other players, speaking respectfully as a parent about other parents, officials, coaches, teams/organizations, and players is also recommended.  Speaking positively is always a good thing; whether you’re on the sidelines during a game or driving to or from a practice or a game with your kid, focus on the good, and try to avoid negative statements or comparisons.   

Don’t become overly competitive and reactive.  As a psychologist that works a lot with child and teen athletes, I’m often asked, “Why do parents become so upset at sporting events?”  The reason is that we as parents want the best for our children, and we also want them to be happy and successful.  Our children are an extension of ourselves, and thus we identify with them.  When we perceive that something or someone is a threat to our child or that something is unfair, it’s normal to feel badly with and for our kids and to want to jump in to protect them as much as we can.  However, problems occur when we over identify with our children as they struggle to manage unavoidable real life challenges.  Sure, there may be times a parent needs to jump in to help their child during a practice or game, but those moments are far and few between.  If you find yourself becoming angry or overreacting emotionally in relation to your child’s soccer experience, it’s more likely the case that something triggered you and that you need to make sense of what that is; screaming, taunting, or cursing at parents, officials or players during a game will likely only lead to more problems.  It’s okay to be angry, but how you manage your anger as a parent – on and off the field — is what’s most important.

So, when faced with an upsetting or triggering moment, being aware of your tone/voice level, being careful with what you say, turning to other parents for support and disengaging to regroup, if necessary, are a few things to try when you find yourself becoming too angry.

Do communicate.  Revolution is a great organization, and the coaches and staff are committed to making sure your child has a great soccer experience.  However, no soccer club or organization is going to get everything right for your child (or you as a parent), and they will likely not manage your expectations at times.  In my opinion, if your child is old enough to work through a problem on his or her own (e.g., resolving a conflict with a teammate, asking the coach if he or she can play a different position), it’s best to encourage that.  If your child is younger, or a problem occurring for you as a parent is more complex, it’s best to communicate calmly and respectfully and at the right time.  I always recommend that parents wait 24 hours after an upsetting event or problem before emailing or calling your child’s coach; that extra time will give you the space to cool off, and it will in turn allow you to focus more sensitively and logically on the issue at hand when you do communicate.

Don’t keep things inside.  Often problems in soccer, as is the case in other areas of life, go away on their own, but avoiding problems that don’t go away could make things worse for your child and/or you over time.  There’s a very old idea in the field of psychology that strong, negative feelings turned inward can cause depression.  Not addressing a problem that needs to be addressed can lead to a host of problems such as, talking badly about a coach or others, quitting the team or feeling badly are a few things that unfortunately can happen when parents don’t communicate directly and effectively.

Do volunteer.  Parent involvement helps to make a team soccer experience more enjoyable.  When you volunteer or help as a parent on your child’s team, you’re building connections and modeling the importance of cooperation and giving back in relation to others.  These sorts of socialization moments are important for your child to observe and internalize, both on and off the field.  By making yourself more available to the team, you’ll also get to know more parents, which is good since you will be spending time together at practices and games.

Don’t be a stranger.  In my opinion, when your child is on a team, you’re on a team.  And while you may not agree with some of the things you hear other parents or players on your child’s team say, or some of their behaviors, when we’re on a team we’re in it together.  I’ve yet to meet a Revolution parent that I didn’t like or didn’t enjoy spending time with; we all want our children to have a great time and to get the most they can from the sport and the experience, and that’s a shared and universal reality for all soccer parents.  So, the next time you have a little free time, don’t sit in your car and wait for practice to end, instead, get to the sidelines where you can connect with other parents and watch your child play and have fun.

I hope you enjoyed (and benefited from) this article, and please keep an eye out for next month’s article, “Grit is Good:  How to Foster Emotional Resilience In Youth Soccer.”

MAY 17, 2022

Using Mental Strength Strategies for Soccer

What do Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have in common?  Yes, they’re both considered two of the greatest soccer players of all time, but a lot of people don’t know the importance they also place on mental strength strategies as soccer stars.  Messi and Ronaldo, both huge fans of yoga and meditation, use these methods to stay in great physical and mental shape, calm their minds and help heal their physical strains and injuries.

Research has shown that mental strength strategies are effective for athletes in several ways, but for kids and teens, understanding how to utilize them isn’t immediately apparent, and it can seem weird.  How many kids want to master a yoga downward facing dog pose or sit quietly meditating to the sound of “Om.”  Not many.  So, what are some of the ways your child or teen can benefit from using mental strength strategies?  Let’s start with the concept of mindfulness.  Mindfulness basically means paying attention to something fully; being 100% present in the moment while accepting all aspects of what that moment is or what it brings.  As simple as it sounds, being fully present — slowing down, not being distracted, not multitasking, not rushing and focusing fully on one thing– can be difficult, and when you add smartphones and devices into the mix, it becomes even more difficult for our children.

Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is a wonderful way to introduce mindfulness to your child or teen, and it can be done anywhere.  The strategy involves sitting or lying down quietly and breathing in as slowly and as deeply as you can through your nose all the way to the top of your breath.  Your belly will protrude out as you’re breathing in fully.  Once you reach the top of your breath, hold the full breath for a moment and then let your breath out through your mouth until your stomach flattens again entirely.  Picture slowly filling as much air as can in a balloon and then deflating the balloon of all the air; that’s diaphragmatic breathing.  While you’re breathing in and out, it’s best that you don’t control your thoughts; rather be aware of your thoughts, observe them, and bring your attention back to your deep breaths and to what your body is feeling.  Breathing slowly and deeply like this over and over, even for just five minutes, will serve to relieve anxiety and stress and promote relaxation.  This is a great strategy to practice before a game, during a game (i.e. when you’re on the sidelines waiting to come in) or after a game.

Visualization or mental rehearsal is another great mental strength strategy for children and teens who play a sport.  This strategy involves your child or teen seeing what they want or need in their mind; by mentally watching and planning in your mind in this way, much like watching a movie, your child or teen will be in a more prepared and better position to actualize that success later in real time.  Like deep breathing, your child can close their eyes and practice visualization anywhere and at any time before, during or after a game.

Wayne Rooney, another world class soccer player, values the importance of visualization, and he’s relied on it since his childhood days of playing soccer.  On the topic, he asserted, “I always like to picture the game the night before. I’ll ask the kitman what kit we’re wearing, so I can visualize it.”  He added, “It’s something I’ve always done, from when I was a young boy. It helps to train your mind to situations that might happen the following day. I think about it as I’m lying in bed. What will I do if the ball gets crossed in the box this way? What movement will I have to make to get on the end of it? Just different things that might make you one percent sharper.”

And visualization isn’t just for competitive or professional soccer players.  A child as young as 6 years of age can sit down, close his or her eyes and visualize themselves dribbling the ball down the field and going for a shot on goal and then get up and try what they just imagined in the moment with the possibility of increased success.

Positive self-talk is another important mental strength strategy for soccer players.  When your child is thinking, “I’ve got this” or “stay with my guy” or “relax” or “stay loose” “or “that wasn’t great, but it could’ve been worse,” they’re practicing positive self-talk.  It can also be helpful for a child to come up with positive affirmations or mantras that are personal and unique to who they are.  “I am a naturally talented soccer player” or “I have phenomenal ball control and make the best passes” or “I’m an amazing shooter,” are a few examples of mantras children or teens could think to themselves or say aloud in private.  Similar to positive self-talk, instructional self-talk can also be a great mental strategy for soccer.  This involves positively instructing yourself to be aware of where you are and what you’re doing in your mind (e.g., positively reminding yourself or your spacing on the field as you’re playing).

I invite you to also keep in mind that practicing mindfulness doesn’t only need to be something your child or teen does for soccer; focusing well across the other important areas of life – school, home and social life — will also serve to bring about positive change and increased success.  Whether your child is eating, doing homework or a chore or socializing, encouraging him or her to be fully in the moment is a good thing.  Sure, your child can wolf down an orange in three bites while he’s swiping through TikTok videos, but did he even taste or enjoy the orange he just ate?  Doing one thing at a time, and doing it fully, is a good way for your child or teen to foster a winning mindset for soccer and for activities and relationships beyond the game.

In summary, mental strength strategies are very important, and whether your child or teen is playing soccer recreationally or competitively, practicing deep breathing, visualization and positive self-talk are just a few simple methods you can start right now.  Over time, and with practice, research has shown that these strategies can improve focus and mental clarity, self-control, and emotional regulation.  Studies have also shown that areas of emotional intelligence (e.g., kindness, compassion, acceptance) are experienced at higher levels for those who practice mindfulness.  Regardless of how you choose to practice mindfulness, in my opinion, it’s best to think of mental strength strategies as just more tools in the soccer toolbox to add to your child or teen’s positive experience with the game.

I hope you catch my article next month, How To Be A Good Soccer Parent.

APRIL 2, 2022

The Many Benefits of Playing Soccer for Children and Teens…At Revolution!

With warmer weather arriving, this is the perfect time to play soccer.  In addition to being fun, there are many other benefits to playing soccer for children and teens.  Soccer is excellent aerobic exercise and it’s great for motor skills and hand eye coordination.  Soccer also fosters children’s social skills, perseverance, and communication skills.

We know from the research that children and teens who participate in team sports do better in a variety of ways.  Athletic children and teens display greater self-confidence and self-respect, possess significantly more leadership skills and graduate at higher rates.  Some research has even shown that athletic teens end up earning more money later in life than their non-athletic peers.

As a child psychologist, I have seen first hand the many ways that these past two years have negatively impacted our children’s social, emotional, academic and physical/athletic development and functioning.  And in my opinion, the social impact of COVID-19 is what concerns me most.  Children can always catch up academically (i.e. their hard skills and content learning), but getting back to a solid social self isn’t going to be easy for some.  Research in this area has already shown that, over the past two years, children have missed out on learning durable soft skills that make it necessary to succeed.  And those delays or gaps are occurring for children of all ages with some studies showing that even babies born during COVID-19 have higher reported rates of social and motor delays.

So, how do you help your child actively cultivate the soft skills they need to do well again after a global pandemic?  Extracurricular activities.  By reintroducing your children to clubs, camps (at home or away), sports teams, enrichment programs, etc. this Spring and Summer, you will be providing them with experiences – very important ones – that will serve to get them back on track.

Soccer is the most played team sport in the world, and it’s unbelievably popular in Northern Virginia.  In just over two years, and during a global pandemic, Niko Eckart, Revolution’s Technical and Travel Coach, impressively launched and developed the area’s fastest growing and premier soccer club for children and teens.  While there are other fine clubs in our area, Revolution’s approach to develop strong player skills, alongside nurturing positive social and leadership qualities and skills, separates them from the pack.  Being “Creative. Collaborative. Competitive. and Committed” isn’t just their motto, it’s something that Revolution players and parents experience at every practice and game.  And whether your son or daughter wants to play soccer recreationally or competitively, there are plenty of opportunities for both at Revolution.

So, let’s join the Revolution where our children and teens can play some soccer, have some fun and improve on the important soft skills of life (i.e. communication skills, leadership skills and social skills).

Please check out my article next month, “How to Practice Soccer Mindfulness.”

Dr. Michael Oberschneider

Dr. Michael Oberschneider is a highly accredited clinical psychologist and the founder of Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services. Dr. Oberschneider has spent the past 22 years working as a psychologist in a variety of capacities with children, adolescents, and adults.  In particular, he enjoys supporting athletes (of all ages), and he has worked with several Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 athletes, as well as professional athletes.

Dr. Oberschneider has received numerous awards as a clinical psychologist (e.g., the Washingtonian Magazine ‘Top Psychologist’ honor), and he has been featured on CNN Nightly News, Good Morning America, NPR, WTOP, as well as other popular media spots, as a mental health expert.  Dr. Oberschneider has also written numerous articles for several newspapers, including the Washington Post. He currently writes a monthly advice column for the Blue Ridge Leader and Loudoun Today.

Dr. Oberschneider has two children with the VA Revolution Soccer Club, and we are thrilled to have him on as a sponsor and a contributing author for his column “Play Strong, Have Fun.”