As the youth soccer season unfolds, highly competitive all-star, select or ‘rep’ squads are taking their game outdoors. This means, of course, that many of us – those who fall into that often-maligned “parent” category – who have been in hiding through much of the winter make an appearance.
Anyone who has spent any time in a local hockey rink knows things can get a little tense in the building, and my reference point is not simply what is happening on the ice. Off the ice, some parents are jawing – at each other, at players, at coaches, at game officials. The temperature is a little too high in the building, and some parents can be a little too tightly wound.
The soccer pitch, like its hockey rink counterpart, can bring out some of the worst instincts that we have. We all want our sons and daughters to play, to play hard, to play well and to have fun. We want them to be well-coached, play on a team that is competitive in its category and benefit in a host of ways from being involved in competitive athletics. Yet we, as parents, sometimes undercut how much fun our kids have, and how much they will actually benefit. This happens by and through our behavior, especially during games.
So here is a primer, a reminder, of little things that we can do on the sidelines this spring and summer to make this soccer season more pleasant for all concerned – most importantly, for the kids.
Some points to keep in mind while watching from the sidelines during the coming season:
- Let the coaches coach. If you are telling your son or daughter – or any other player for that matter – to do something different from what the coach is telling them, you create distraction and confusion.
- It is very unnerving for many young players to try and perform difficult tasks on the field on the spur of the moment when parents are yelling at them from the sidelines.Let the kids play. If they have been well coached, they should know what to do on the field. If they make a mistake, chances are they will learn from it.
- Do not discuss the play of specific young players in front of other parents. How many times do you hear comments such as, “I don’t know how that boy made this team….” or “she’s just not fast enough…”. Too many parents act as though their child is a ‘star,’ and the problem is someone else’s kid. Negative comments and attitudes are hurtful, totally unnecessary and kill parent harmony, which is often essential to youth team success.
- Discourage such toxic behavior by listening patiently to any negative comments that might be made, then address issues in a positive way. Speak to the positive qualities of a player, family or coach.
- Do your level best not to complain about your son or daughter’s coaches to other parents. Once that starts, it is like a disease that spreads. Before you know it, parents are talking constantly in a negative way behind a coach’s back. (As an aside, if you have what you truly feel is a legitimate beef with your child’s coach – either regarding game strategy or playing time, arrange an appointment to meet privately, away from a soccer field.)
- Make positive comments from the sideline. Be encouraging. Young athletes do not need to be reminded constantly about their perceived errors or mistakes. Their coaches will instruct them, either during the game or at halftime, and during practices. You can often see a young player make that extra effort when they hear encouraging words from the sideline about their hustle.
- Avoid making any negative comments about players on the other team. This should be simple: we are talking about youngsters, not adults who are being paid to play professionally. I recall being at a rep baseball game some years ago, when a parent on one team loudly made comments about errors made by a particular young player on the other team. People on the other side of the diamond were stunned and angry. Besides being tasteless and classless, these kinds of comments can be hurtful to the young person involved and to their family as well.
- Try to keep interaction with parents on the other team as healthy and positive as possible. Who’s kidding whom? You want your child’s team to win. So do they. But that should not make us take leave of our senses, especially our common sense. Be courteous until it hurts; avoid the ‘tit for tat’ syndrome.
- Parents on the ‘other’ team are not the enemy. Neither are the boys or girls on the other team. We should work to check any negative feelings at the door before we hit the pitch.
- What is the easiest thing to do in the youth sports world? Criticize the referees. Oh, there are times when calls are missed, absolutely. And that can, unfortunately, directly affect the outcome of a contest. That said, by and large those who officiate at youth soccer games are hardly over-compensated, and put forth an honest – and often quite competent – effort. At worst, they at least try to be fair and objective.
- On that note, outbursts from parents on the sideline made toward the referees only signal to our own children on the field that they can blame the refs for anything that goes wrong. Blaming others is not a formula for success in sports.
- Yelling out comments such as “Good call, ref” or “Thanks ref” may only serve to alienate an official. The refs always believe they made the proper call, that’s why they made it. Trying to show superficial support because the call went ‘your’ way is simply annoying to the officials, and to anyone within earshot.
- Walking up and down all game long along the sidelines, following the play, is unnerving to players and totally unnecessary, particularly so if you are trying to yell out instructions to various players, including your own son or daughter. It is likely embarrassing to the players involved and simply counterproductive. If you want to coach, obtain your coaching certification and apply for a job.
- We all feel things and are apt to be tempted to say things in the ‘heat of the moment’. But we don’t excuse athletes for doing inappropriate things in the ‘heat of the moment’ (there are penalties, suspensions, etc.), so we should apply similar standards to our own sideline behavior. Quickly check yourself and ask: “Will I be proud of what I am about to say or do when I reflect on it tomorrow?”
- The parking lot is not the time to ‘fan the flames.’ Whether it is a coach’s decision, a referee’s call, a comment that was made, let it go. Don’t harass the coach, an official or a parent on the other team after the game is over. Go home, relax and unwind. Talk positively with your child. The ride home is sometimes as important as the game itself. Make that time a good memory for your son or daughter by discussing as many positives as you can about him/her, the coach, teammates, etc.
Michael Langlois, founder of Prospect Communications Inc, is the author of“How Well Do You Communicate? A Guide to Better Communication with Players and Parents for Youth Soccer Coaches”. For more information, visit http://www.beyondthegame.net.