Written by Gordon MacLelland 

Having sat this evening to watch the much acclaimed documentary ‘No Hunger in Paradise’ I felt it important that we look at what parents, coaches and any adults involved in sport could potentially  take away from it.

Although the programme was focussed upon the professional game and academy program there are many underlying issues regarding young children’s sport and the attitude of adults that surround themselves in it.  This does not apply just to the professional game but also to grassroots sport.

At WWPIS we have a lot of sympathy for many well intentioned parents who set their children out in sport without any real underlying knowledge of the system that they are going into.  Many are peaceable human beings who just get swept along and in  many ways become a product of the environment that has been put in front of them.

Book and documentary by Michael Calvin

Many just want what is best for their child and anything that they do is out of sheer love!  We need to find ways to channel this love and emotion in far more productive ways as opposed to some of the ‘bashing’ and negative criticism that is currently aimed at parents from coaches and organisations.

There is going to need to be a culture shift.  All stakeholders are going to need to evolve in some form or another and I include organisations, coaches and parents in this. Greater education and resource needs to be in place for parents from organisations, without parents living the fear that if they challenge or are unsure of their behaviour that it will have a negative impact for their child.

Coach education needs to include some of these personal and social elements of the growth of the child away from just the technical aspects of the game. Coaches need to be developed to have some of these other skills and not just the ability to put out cones and coach the session itself.  The coach role should be about developing character and life traits amongst young sportsman and women as well as having the ability to make them better on the field.

If young and inexperienced volunteers find this daunting or just believe that they are there just to coach the children then perhaps each organisation could have someone in place who takes on this role within a club to mentor these coaches and support where appropriate.

My good friend in the USA Coach Reed Maltbie sums this up beautifully when he says, ‘many coaches have the hardware in coaching now but often struggle with the software to run it efficiently.’


From the documentary itself as a current sporting parent I took away the following:

Try to ensure your child gets the opportunity for unstructured play – The ‘cage’ football reference was particularly interesting.  Parental involvement has increased as there is far more organised sport now, often replacing the park football or sport that happened a generation ago.  As parents we need to encourage creativity, make sure the back garden in particular does not become an extra coaching session.  Allow play to flourish!

Create an environment that fosters a great love of the sport and encourages hard work –  Steven Gerrard spoke about love, working hard and learning every day. If we criticise our own children at a young age, verbally bash them in the car on the way home and live our life through our child then the chances of this great love flourishing diminish.  Likewise, we should be praising the hard work and effort, not how many goals they scored or whether or not they won at the weekend.

Try not to adultify the process too soon –  As adults we lose sight of the fact that the version we see on TV is the end product.  It is not a success getting a 7 year old to play this way at the expense of all else.  Great work is already going on in a number of sports changing the formats of the games to make them far more child friendly as opposed to some of the older versions of sports that benefited adults more than children.  This needs to continue and sporting environments need to be as child centred as possible.

Beware of the scout – It will be human nature that as a parent if somebody tells us something nice about our child that we will let our guard down and want to hear more.  Scouts have the easiest job in the world telling parents that a child is good – job done!  As a parent try to learn more, ask lots of questions and ensure that what you are signing up for is going to be in the best interests of your child.

Inform yourself more and ask for help and support – If you are unsure about  the system you are going into please ask questions or ask for help and advice in the best way to support your child.  Here at ‘WWPIS’ we have created an independent portal for parents to visit without fear or ramifications to try to assist in this.

Keep it in perspective – Family events are important, missing one training session or a match should not mean that you will never be selected again.  It is not a lack of commitment.  I personally have to admit that we have already done this on an occasion where we missed a major family event for a game of football a few years ago and now very much regret it.  We would not do this again.

Have a plan B –  We have the stats…. the chances of getting to the other end are slim.  However, that does not mean you should not have a damn good go at it!  It is better for children to have a dream than none at all.  As parents however we need to manage this expectation.  Ensure there are other things going on in the child’s life. Think now, if it ended tomorrow have I given my child plenty that they could also get their teeth stuck into?

Try not to fuel their ego – We have discussed this before in a number of articles on this site.  If we give them too much too soon and help fuel the dream, then without actually realising we are potentially diminishing their chance in the long run as where does their real desire come from particularly when the going gets tough?  Do they need to have the most expensive boots, be glorified on social media and put on a pedestal?

Keep external voices quiet – Try to make sure that the people giving your child the advice are doing so for the right reasons and are appropriately qualified to do so. Too many people delivering different messages can cause significant harm to young sportsmen and women.

Ensure they work hard at school – Arsene Wenger made a valid point that a generation ago parents would issue the threat that if you were not working at school, you would not be allowed to play football!  Keep it this way, never let the dream overtake the academic studies.  Try to make sure they are working hard at school. Could higher education attached to some decent level of football be an option such as college opportunities in the USA?Many footballers now are getting great GCSE and A Level results whilst still finding the time to train professionally in the football clubs.  It is all about attitude and time management.

We very much hope that you have enjoyed this summary of the documentary and the messages as parents that we could potentially take from it to make sure that our children are still allowed to dream big, but we have it all under control for them if perhaps things don’t quite go according to plan.

Guest Blog by Gordon MacLelland – All copyright reserved for WWPIS 

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