Are Sideline Comments and Instructions Counterproductive in Youth Soccer?

As the team breaks the huddle and runs out on to the field, mom says, “Timmy work hard and have fun dear.” These are some of the usual comments that are said as youth players start each and every game but what about the comments during the game, “shoot” “switch the field” “send it” “kick-it.” These are also comments and instructions that are given to our young players, the difference between them is that one is inspirational to the child while the others can be counterproductive in performance. Why are these comments counterproductive?

As youth players (novice) learn the different techniques that are essential in the game of soccer, dribbling, passing, receiving to name a few, their cognitive abilities develop faster if they are given adequate time without interruptions to imprint the mechanics of the techniques being learned. For instance, when performing an inside of the foot pass the body must go through certain proceduralized motions in the right sequences to have the technique be effective. When there is a break in these procedures or a distraction, the motion will break down and the technique can suffer. We can think of this situation in the form of a young player getting ready to take a shot, when from the sidelines, parents or coaches yell out “shoot.” This disruption usually causes the player to inadvertently strike the ball incorrectly causing the shot to go astray.

Now why can that same situation, involving a professional player (experienced), go on goal or possibly in the goal with 80,000 yelling fans? The answer is professional players have these proceduralized motions in their subconscious mind, that is well-learned skills do not appear to require constant controlled attention during execution.

Sian L. Beilock and colleagues tested this theory with an experiment on novice and experienced soccer players. In the experiment, players were asked to dribble a soccer ball threw a slalom course while performing skill-focused conditions and dual-task conditions. The skill-focused conditions required both novice and experienced players to concentrate on the surfaces of the foot that contacted the ball at a certain time. In the dual-task conditions both novice and experienced players were asked to dribble the soccer ball threw the slalom course while listening for target words that randomly occurred from a tape recorder. The results of the experiment found that novice players’ outperformed experienced players in the skill-focused conditions, where the players’ had to concentrate on the technique of dribbling. In the dual-task environment, where players’ had to listen for a specific word while dribbling through the slalom, the experienced players outperformed the novice players.

As stated by Beilock, “ One could infer from this framework of skill acquisition that novices might benefit from conditions that prompt attention to task properties yet not profit to the same extent in environments that divert attention away from the primary task at hand.”

From these findings youth players can benefit more and develop skill acquisition quicker if provided an environment that let’s them have full concentration on the specific techniques. Allow your players to work on their techniques in trainings and give them the opportunity to apply them in games with as little distractions as possible. Once players are more competent with the techniques of the game their execution will become more precise and rewarding.

So to answer the question, Are sideline comments and instructions counterproductive in youth soccer, YES they are. Parents and coaches need to tone down the comments and allow our young players to play; the pressures of playing against the opponent are distracting enough.


Beilock L. Sian, Carr H. Thomas, MacMahon Clare, Starkes L. Janet; When Paying Attention Becomes Counterproductive: Impact of Divided Versus Skill-Focused Attention on Novice and Experienced Performance of Sensorimotor Skills

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