The Kids Coach: What's in a word?

What we say to children can have a huge effect on how they feel about themselves - and football is no exception. The Kids Coach Naomi Richards looks at the kind of language we should be using with young footballers to help raise their self-esteem.

Words are power. They can make a child or they can break a child.

I have seen many children in my private practice whose self-esteem has been on the floor due to what someone else – a peer, mainly – has said to them.

A couple of these children have been aspiring footballers and they have really taken to heart what a parent or team mate has said to them.

They have internalised the words – they have believed them to be true.

Words are power and therefore we need to choose our words carefully so that our children continue to feel great about themselves, even when we have to point out to them that they have room for improvement.

So what kind of words and language should we use to keep their self-esteem high?

We can use words of encouragement that point out to them that we recognise the effort they have put in. Not just the words "Well done" but words that describe what they did well, otherwise known as descriptive praise.

Descriptive praise tells your child specifically what they have done well and it makes them feel great about themselves. No matter how big or small the action was, mention it.

Some examples of this in relation to football are:

"That through-ball was amazing"
"That position you took up there was perfect"
"You showed great skill when you…"

Other encouraging words you could use are:

"Your skills are really improving. You’ve outdone yourself today"
"You are really getting the hang of it. Your practice is certainly paying off"
"I really enjoyed your performance. No one could have done x better"

We can use compliments. Compliments are a wonderful way to make children feel good and confident about what they are doing.

A great indirect way of complimenting your child is by talking about them in front of them. For example, when they are standing near you and you know they can hear, you could say to a friend: "Did I tell you how well my son did in his last game? I am so proud of him."

We can tell them that we believe in them and that we love them. These are words that will boost and make them feel better, maybe after a disappointing game or a practice.

Knowing how to provide children with encouragement and support is an acquired skill. Just before you say something to them think about the response you will get when you say it.

Are you giving them a backhanded compliment that they will understand? Are you being sincere? Words spoken from the heart can be felt and children know when we don’t mean it.

If you are not the kind of parent who feels comfortable telling your child how you feel perhaps use another way – take an interest in their football, in their friends and school life.

Get them involved in activities you are doing; show them you trust them and want to spend time with them.


Naomi Richards is The Kids Coach – a life coach for children. Her first book, The Parent's Toolkit, shares key life tools for you to help your children successfully navigate their own childhood problems and grow up into happy, confident and resilient young adults.

The Parent's Toolkit was described by The Sun as “clear and to the point... a must-read for parents”. It is published by Vermillion and is available to buy at

Put your questions to The Kids Coach

If you are a parent or coach and would like Naomi's advice on any issue that might affect a young footballer, then please leave a comment below. Alternatively, please email or tweet @thekidscoach.

Any enquiries will be treated confidentially and could well be featured, anonymously, in next month's column. We hope to hear from you soon!


Other articles by The Kids Coach:

* How to reduce football stress
* Keeping the balance
* What if my child wants to quit?
* Does your child respect their peers?
* Keeping the belief going
* Football crazy, football mad
* It's the taking part that counts
* Giving young players confidence to try new things
* Parents: To shout or not to shout?
* Young footballers must see respect to show respect

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