How Not to Coach Soccer: A Lesson From Minnesota

iStock_minority girls soccer_XSmallWhen I’m not writing about gender, the other part of my research, teaching and outreach pertains to youth sport—mainly studying and trying to improve sport parent sideline behavior, and helping coaches be more effective. When a story broke last week about a Minnesota club soccer team, many of my colleagues and former students forwarded the story link to me which got quite a bit of press here in Minnesota and around the country.

In short, two of the Minnesota Thunder Academy (MTA) teams played each other in the State Cup final to see who would advance to the Regionals—it was the 12-and-under girls v. the 13-and-under girls. The game ended with penalty kicks, when Coach Abboud asked the younger girls to pass the ball nicely to the opposing keeper, in essence throwing the game to the older U-13 team, instead of taking the penalty kicks to win the game. Chaos, tears, frustration, confusion, emergency meetings at all levels, commentary, opinions, anger, a public apology from Abboud, and parental support for the coach ensued. To read all the details go to, the Inside Minnesota Soccer article, the Star Tribune article, and Coach Mark Abboud’s own contrition on his blog.

Let me put this incident into a broader context of youth sport trends. The MTA is one of the most elite of soccer clubs, for “serious soccer players”, meaning they hand pick the best kids from other clubs around the state. In fact, the MTA girls recently joined the inaugural Eilte Clubs National League…yes, “national” league for 13-year-olds.

Winning_iStock_000005893466XSmallSome would argue this type of sport club is the poster child for everything that is wrong with youth sports-specialization, not developmentally appropriate, a win at all cost philosophy, year-round training, privatization, overuse injuries, burnout due to high stress and anxiety, dropout, overzealous parents, highly paid coaches with big egos, treating children like “mini-professional” athletes, and highly structured and governed adult-run clubs and organizations (to name a few).

red card_iStock_000003976608XSmallSport provides many “teachable moments”. Good coaches teach athletes to give full effort, focus on what they can control, treat opponents with respect regardless of the situation, and accept the outcome with grace. One decision by a coach does have an impact on everyone involved, and this is a cautionary tale of how not to coach because, simply put, it taught the wrong lessons. In soccer terms, this coach deserves a red card, and possibly more severe sanctions.

P.S.-A critical gender note. Notice the Minnesota Thunder Academy that houses both boys’ and girls’ teams is the namesake of the men’s team (the Thunder), and not the women’s team (the Lightening).thunderightning

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