Texting & Team Sports Don’t Mix


As the wife of a house league soccer coach, I get first hand knowledge of both the victories and frustrations of coaching a team of thirteen and fourteen year old girls.  Not only is my husband coaching his thirteen year old daughter but he is also responsible for training and supervising 15 other prepubescent teenage girls.  This in itself makes me chuckle.  This would have to be his greatest challenge yet.  

Going from the younger division of girls he worked with last season, who would look to him for coaching advice and seek his praise for their efforts and teamwork; to a group of older girls who are battling their need for independence, personally establishing their rank within this new team of girls and complaining about menstrual cramps.  He knew he would have his hands full but what he didn’t expect was that his greatest competitor this season would be the girls’ cell phones.

Now, working within the York Region District School Board, the whole texting thing was not a surprise to me.  In school, they eat while texting, they walk down stairs while texting, and they even text under their desks while the teacher is giving a lesson.  But during an organized soccer game?  Really?

There is an expectation that you will be engaged in either a game or a practice for a maximum of an hour and a half.  That is not a lot of time to be focused on something other than what your boyfriend’s new facebook status is.

Unlike school, you cannot pretend to be doing what you’re suppose to be doing.  Tweeting behind a biology book is much easier than trying to hide the fact that you are texting while your teammate tries to get your attention to pass you the ball.  It also doesn’t affect anyone else’s marks but your own.  However, when you are a player in a team sport, the choices you  make and the way you conduct yourself can affect the outcome of the game and the morale of the entire team.

Understandably, in the classroom, they would much rather text their friend who is sitting three desks away and discuss what they should buy at the Hollister sale rather than pay attention to the monotonous ramblings on American history.  If I had a cell phone when I was in grade 7, I would probably be doing the same thing.  Spending six hours in classes at school can be challenging for many, especially for students like myself with ADHD.

With a team sport, however, if there is an expectation that I pay attention and be actively involved both physically and mentally for a short period of time, wouldn’t it just make sense that the soccer field, the lacrosse arena, the baseball diamond, or anywhere else that depends on each and every player to play their role, is not the time or place for texting or checking facebook?

It is the hope of every coach that each player is there for the same purpose and working towards the same goal; to play well as a team, to learn new skills, to have fun, and hopefully win the game.  At last night’s game, when my dear husband was trying to give instruction as to who will be playing which position, a selected few were more concerned with responding to their text messages than what they should be doing out on the field, and it showed.  Of the 16 girls on the team, the 12 who were really working hard, exerting themselves and clearly demonstrating that they were there to play soccer, were not able to engage the other four players and come back from their 5-1 loss.  During the game, those same four girls were clearly unsure as to what position they were playing and showed little interest in working with the rest of their team.  It must make my husband’s volunteer coaching position seem very thankless and unfulfilling.

In the end, he asked for my feedback as to how he should handle the issue.  The majority of the girls on his team were on board and excited about learning and playing soccer.  He felt it wasn’t fair that the few who were clearly preoccupied with texting and socializing could potentially ruin the experience for the rest of the team.  Not only did they not play the positions they were told to play, they also paid no attention to the rest of their team mates, on or off the field.

My suggestion to him was that he ask the parents to have a discussion with their girls about respecting the coach and the other players, reminding them that there is no “I” in “team”.  Also, it would be beneficial for all involved if he respectfully requests that the girls DO NOT bring their cell phones or digital devices on their person and do not have access to them from the time they start, to the time they are finished.

I even suggested that anyone found to be using one during that time would be given the opportunity to put it away immediately and if they chose not to, they would be asked to remove themselves from the game or practice.  Unfortunately, being only House League and not Competitive, he felt he could not instil that last one.

I think, being that it all comes down to respect, which is something that encompasses so much more than just a soccer team, it will be up to the organizations themselves to put clear and enforced rules into effect with respect to cell phones and other digital devices in team sports.  This would make it easier for all our volunteer coaches and each and every player that loves their sport.

  • Isaac Lazar

    I agree that the main issues are ones of respect and reasonable expectations. Respect for the coaches, players and the activity and the reasonable expectations of engagement and support.
    I think communicating the issue of what is the expectations is the key here. When the players signed up for the team were they given a list or letter communicating what they are expected to have and attend in terms of equipment & schedules? In addition to this, I would expand the expectations to include that electronic equipment should not be brought onto the field.
    Participation in an activity is the result of being motivated to participate. Motivation comes from within the individual, it is not external and can not be imposed. Therefore, if the individual does not want to be there or participate in the first place, their attention will very quickly be diverted, texting today, a side conversation tomorrow and before long abstentia. Having said all this, one must also realize that assuming that 16-17 year olds know all these things and will support these expectations is itself an unrealistic goal. Clarity in communication and sensitivity in coaching style will most often create a positive outcome.

    • Kimberly Smith

      Very well put. Unfortunately, when dealing with House League, it is very difficult to instil and enforce strict rules around the use of cell phones. Being a coach in competitive sports, your goal is very different then that of house league, as are the rules and team dynamics. As you mentioned, you would hope that they are there because they want to be, hence, the motivation end of it. However, there are many situations in which parents “strongly encourage” their kids to get involved and its definitely questionable as to what their motivation to be there is. Look at it this way, rules as such may be a good way to wean out those that are serious about having fun playing their sport versus those that are not.

      Thanks for the feedback Mr. Lazar! : )

  • Terri

    What if the approach to no cell phone was from a safety aspect. Aren’t there rules as to wearing shin guards, etc. Why couldn’t there be a rule regarding cell phones in that respect. Can the girls play without shin guards? So if they insist on having their phone, for safety, they can’t play.

    • Kimberly Smith

      That’s a great idea! However, depending on the sport, I’m sure it could be argued. Mind you, can’t everything when you are 14 years old? LOL

  • guest

    House league or not, Enforce the sit out rule. As Coach you can help them get past personal things like this… This is bigger than the game… and parents have probably paid into the sport to have their kids sit around, or be ejected for attending to texts?
    I’d bet a discussion with parents, followed up with pulling players for texting in game would resolve 90% of the issues in the way you want, and see another 9% of the issues simply leave.
    I coach Jr rookie baseball, and if I am coaching my sons team when they are older, I would do the same …
    We run grade 6-12 small groups and each volunteer leader starts the year with a group agreement on respect for others in the group (talking over others, attention and cell phone use etc) and almost weekly students put their phones aside in a collective basket for the duration of the gathering.

    • Kimberly Smith

      Thank you for the input. Hubby is going to try the collective basket thing. You are now the third person we’ve heard who had success with that. : )