My son (aged 9) played really well in pick-up football games and community recreation, then we joined a competitive league. Around competitive players he holds himself back, he gets rid of the ball too quickly and makes bad decisions.

Coaches are perplexed, he has all the ingredients to be a dominant player, but on the field he does not play freely.

How can we transfer good mental performance to the competitive games?

UPDATE: As an experiment I had my son be a sub for another competitive team in another league, and he played back at his normal high level. I noticed the following characteristics in the team and the coach

COACH Spends a lot of time in groups and in one-on-one sessions with players. He spends time during practice and during games pulling my son aside and giving him feedback. Ends feedback with encouragement always.

Players New teammates are more inclusive and warmer towards my son. The pass the ball more, provide helpful directions at times. Some of this is mandated by the coach. Kids are respectful and more disciplined.

2 Answers 2


Have you considered how you may put pressure on your son playing competitive? This is just a question you should ask yourself in how your son perceives the game and your reactions to it. Everyone, and especially children are different this way. In general here in The Netherlands the competitive style of soccer (football) games is played down right now. Sure, you're at a club and play matches. But no referee, score is recorded but no league standings. At age 9 they should just love the game. Having said that... I would want to win! Most kids would want that but mostly they want to feel appreciated by their team mates and parents.

Small edit: Non-competitive style only for the younger players (up to around 10-11 years). Some day we want to win the World Cup ...

  • Yes, thank you for that. I will definitely consider the role we as parents are playing. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 23:06

I took my son to practice yesterday, and did not pay attention to how it went. Did not speak to him about sports or how to perform at practice. Nothing at all, we spoke about dinner and what to do after practice. Turned out to be a really strong practice...coach came up and told me it went really well. Thank you again for your answer. I think it may have been how we (parents) were handling the situation.

  • 1
    This is not an answer to your question. Please add this as a comment to the answer you accepted.
    – gdrt
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 18:19

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