What to do About Mean Kids on the Soccer Field

Updated: 5 days ago

Thank you for reading, liking, and commenting on our blog posts about youth soccer and youth sports. This post really hits home for our family as I'm sure it does for many parents and players out there. We certainly don't have all the answers when it comes to dealing with the mean kid(s) on the team but hope our experiences will inspire and encourage parents and players who are struggling with what to do when encountering these types of kids.

As our oldest daughter who played soccer and our youngest daughter who played tennis will testify, good and bad things come from encountering mean kids in sports and in school.

We talk here about their personal experiences in youth soccer and youth tennis as well as how it affected us as parents. We will also hear from one of our younger soccer players who gives his story about what happened when he encountered mean kids on his team, how he dealt with the situation, and what he learned in the process.

We will also delve into a parent's role in helping our players (and ourselves) when we encounter these frustrating and emotional situations. When should parents get involved or should we stay out of it and let the kids figure it out on their own? What we've learned is that every situation is different of course in terms of severity and sometimes you have to go with your gut on what's normal and acceptable. It can also be a case of safety. You can ask yourself...is this a normal, although emotional situation where it would be better for my child to figure this out on their own, or is it time for a parent to be involved? As coaches of youth soccer players, we believe that giving your youth players guidance on how to talk to their teammates and how to build camaraderie is best instead of talking to the mean kids on your child's behalf. It can also build a player's confidence to speak out on their own.

Coaches can also be a great intermediary if they set clear boundaries on what's acceptable on the team in terms of how players interact and deal with each other. However, if mean kids are allowed to run rampant on the team and create chaos without a coach's intervention, it may be prime time for parents to meet with the coach (who may choose to involve the mean kid's parents) to discuss viable options and potential solutions. Sometimes parents may ultimately decide to remove their players from a team which is creating more harm to the child's psyche than the overall physical and mental benefits of being on this particular team. As a sports organization, we highly recommend putting youth players on teams where the kids are having fun, even at the expense of being on the best, most competitive teams. Anson Dorrance, UNC Women's soccer coach, is well known to recommend that players follow the best coaches instead of chasing the best, more competitive teams. Sports are supposed to be fun but are your kids having fun playing?

According to Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., a psychologist with 25 years of experience and the author of, “Why Good Kids Act Cruel", the ages of 9-13 are a particularly vulnerable age for kids as they are striving to move from childhood to becoming more independent and therefore, creating their own social circles outside of their parents. As children try to build their own self-worth during these middle years of childhood some will resort to negating the self-worth of others and go on the attack so as to stake their own social place at school, the soccer field, or wherever groups of adolescents mingle. These middle school years are the prime time when athletes and students may experience bullying, harassment, and other forms of social cruelty from their peers. However, in our experience, this can also take place in the high school years and beyond.

Let's look at one of the toughest challenges my older daughter faced in youth soccer. She joined a new team and experienced bullying almost immediately when she tried to get playing time by working harder and being the best player she could be at soccer practice and on the field. One girl told her right away that this wasn't "her" soccer team because they'd already been playing together for some years and this girl wasn't even the main bully.

It was hard for me to believe that sometimes these athletes can be seen by others as nice kids. I remember talking to another soccer mom who knew a bully on my daughter's new soccer team. The verbal harassment and cruel teasing of my daughter by this girl were happening not only in soccer practices but even in games where she would yell at my daughter in frustration if all did not go as she wanted. This player even developed a posse of sorts where 2 of her other friends would also join in. The other kids on the team knew it was happening, but were too scared to intervene. We talked to the new coach and our daughter even talked to the players in question to try and reason with them, but nothing helped. Luckily these kids aged off the team in a couple of years. Should we have removed our daughter from the team and placed her on another team? Perhaps. Our daughter didn't want to give up because she'd seen similar experiences before and because this was the only ECNL team in the area. She thought it would get better. Should the coach have intervened? Definitely. He tried to help and even saw it happening, but in the end, he was more afraid of trying to remove the troublemakers and having to replace them than of us leaving the team. Sound familiar?

Imagine my amazement that same year when the soccer mom I mentioned above spoke of this main soccer bully in glorious terms. The mom praised the kid's kindness on their high school soccer team and said she was a wonderful mentor to her younger daughter who had just joined the high school soccer team as a freshman. What were we missing? Why was this kid so kind to others, yet she had singled our daughter out to vent her frustration? Was our teen doing something to aggravate her? Were we in the wrong? My daughter had tried multiple times to befriend this girl and soothe the tensions between them but the girl would not budge. I've had to content myself with the fact that we may never know the issues this girl had and hopefully, she has outgrown her bullying ways, but our daughter certainly learned from the experience. As an adult, she now realizes that this kind of behavior has to be nipped in the bud immediately. You can&#