Gothia Cup

Dennis Andersson: ”Let the youth play!”

This is youth football and it is time for all parents to give back the ownership of their experience to the youth. At the same time, we might solve the issues with adults threatening the joy in youth sports.

In one week our referees will kick off the first matches on our 103 pitches and Gothia Cup will for the 45th time fill Gothenburg with joy and youth happiness. We are in the middle of a championship summer where the World Cup for women and the Copa América for men just finished, while the African Championships are in the midst of their playoffs. But there is nothing that boils down and channels the feelings of football into concentrates in the same way as when youth plays.

The joy, the expectation, the disappointment – the football feels the most in our youth and that is why it is a pleasure to enjoy it every year through their experiences during the Gothia Cup. Thank you, all parents and leaders who engage and give so many children memories for a lifetime. We are many adults who can look back and note that the genuine joy in football was the greatest in our young years.

But it is not like that for every youth. Today, we can take part of studies and reports from various parts of the world, which alert that children stop playing sports at an early age because of negative pressure from adults. A problem that takes on different expressions and is attacked from different perspectives in different countries but which is universal in its existence. Parents who screams and give instructions from the sidelines will not only kill the joy of the children, but also choke their space to develop by finding their own solutions and making their own decisions on the pitch.

Now you think I’m in the “anti-competitive ring corner”. Not at all. We don’t believe in participating awards. But the fact that so many adults cannot handle their engagement and behaviour at the sidelines, doesn’t make our youth better. It makes them bitter. They are dropping out.

A study at Michigan State University asked children the question: Why are you playing?

The answers were clear – because it’s fun, because they want to learn, be with their friends and because they like the excitement. They want to win – they value winning – but that’s not why they show up. It doesn’t even make top ten.

Similarly, “winning” will be far down the list in studies on why parents want their children to participate in sport. Instead, it is about learning hard work, determination and how to deal with defeat.

And if the truly goal is the life lesson – that’s going to occur through the good and the bad.

So it’s rather about educating and developing parents to give our youth the right support to learn how to handle both victories and losses, than about changing the conditions in youth sports. It is out of joy that success is born.

Gothia Cup has been working with the fairplay project Celebrate the Game for four years, where we in association with our Official Partner Länsförsäkringar want to create a positive, fair, supportive and kind environment during a match. This year, we focus on the football parents by giving the youth a voice to share what they want and need of their parents when playing, under the hashtag #letusplay.

If you know that you find it difficult to be silent at the sidelines, or if you want to help another parent in the team struggling with their commitment – try to focus on other children than your own and find good things they do in the match. Learn when to discuss a match with your child, don’t get in to that post game analysis so quickly. And when you talk about the match – ask how the team did, not just your child.

But above all: give the youth football back to the youth. They have coaches who instruct and lead them – just be their mothers and fathers. Encourage them and give them your love – not your advice.

They want to find their own solutions out there. Take a step back and let them learn by using their creativity.

Let’s do this together. Let the youth play.

Dennis Andersson

General Secretary, Gothia Cup