Recently our young under 14 teams competed in their first international tournament. The tour was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. The game of football brings nail-biting action and you go through so many ups and downs in just a matter of minutes. The point is to do your best and learn from the game.
After being in this business for so many years, one thing that has never failed to surprise me is the expectations that parents have and the way they react when their children lose. This puts a lot of pressure on the kids who are just in the learning phase of the game. At this stage, parents need to have realistic expectations and a supportive attitude. They should understand that it is a learning process; winning and losing should not matter much.
Having a sportsman spirit is very important for an athlete. You learn about it as much through failures as success. Even if you lose it should be taken as a learning experience. If parents correct their approach and do not put pressure on kids, then children can perform better. The approach should be to play the game honestly and have a positive attitude even in the face of failure.
Parents also need to have a realistic approach and consider the fact that Dubai football is not very strong. When you step out of the small football bubble of Dubai and compete against international teams you realize where you stand. And the Gothia Cup is the world’s biggest youth tournament, where you play against Norwegian, Swedish, German, and other teams from different countries. When you compete against these teams, you realize that you have a long way to go. And that is precisely the point of taking these kids on international tours.
Firstly, the experience tests you against other international teams. You get an idea of how you measure up and which areas need attention. Also, it is a test of how the team can perform when under pressure or in a different environment. The numbers like five against nil and so on, do not matter. The experience and exposure do. The second most important point of all this is to give the young team exposure and a new experience. They not only play football, but travel, meet new people, and exchange ideas. The exposure gives them the confidence to play against talented teams and interact with different people.
In 2016, when I started FA, I took my team to the Gothia Cup and I must admit the team went through a similar pattern as these boys. We did miserably in the first game. The surroundings were new and the boys were nervous. In the second game, we did better. Battling on, we finally qualified for the knockout round and defeated a very strong team with one/nil. This was achieved with resilience and a fighting spirit. I do not remember any pressure or unrealistic expectations from the parents. Winning or losing is immaterial. As long as you give your best, it should be good enough. That's my message for parents as well.