Words of Advice for Soccer Parents

Before I launch into my semi-rant about soccer parents, I fully admit that I have crossed the line on each and every one of my suggestions below. I am just as competitive and excitable as the next parent, so this post is just as much of a reminder for me as it is for those out there who are slightly oblivious to their scary soccer parent ways.

All three of my daughters have played soccer at some point in their lives. My oldest daughter played through third grade, but soon discovered that she really didn’t LOVE soccer and moved onto other activities. My other two daughters love the game and will probably stick with it a little longer.  They are both on solid teams and we are grateful for another extension of our village helps them to grown and thrive.  And while we parents have had our differences about things such as time-commitment, coaching, etc., on all of these teams we have tried to hold in balance the need to keep the game fun, teach fundamental soccer skills and give the girls a healthy experience of competition and team play.

This past weekend one of my daughters played a game where I am confident in saying that the other team modeled ways not to be helpful soccer parents.  The other team looked like they had three coaches, which one could argue is a little overkill for 8-year-old soccer, but they were actually fine and it is well within any team’s right to have a coaching team. What I had a problem with was the army of parents who apparently thought their role was to act as de facto “assistant” coaches.  Sure parents, yell, scream and be obnoxious as you want, but at least do it from the place where the league has asked us to remain, on the designated sideline parent area.

The other team had three parents or grandparents in some rotation standing behind their goalie, constantly in her ear telling her what to do, and at one time chastising the other defensive players for making X do it all by herself. And yes, loud enough for the rest of us to hear. Then there were the five or so parents who decided that the rules about who could be on the team side of the field did not apply to them. Our coach has been very clear that only official coaches with a league coaching card are allowed to be with the team during the game. This makes a good deal of sense as it allows the team to focus on one person and one set of directions. Apparently the other parents did not hold this view as illustrated by the parental coaching cadre who strategically situated themselves on the team side of the field and offered coaching wisdom throughout the game.  The best part was when one of the other team’s parents was so bold as to walk right IN FRONT of our coach as he yelled out directions to his team.  Now our parents are far from quiet and reserved, but even from the official parent section on the other side of the field we were speechless.

But it gets better. After our coach realized what was going on she called him on it.

COACH – Excuse me, are you a coach? Only official coaches are supposed to be on this side of the field. Do you have your coach’s card?

PARENT – I’m not going to answer that.

Seriously? Did you just plead the Fifth Amendment at an 8-year-old soccer game?  Now unless your team is sponsored by Solyndra, I think this should be a clue that you might, just might, have crossed the line.  So, in order to avoid booking my own ticket to Crazy Soccer Parent  Town, let me offer a words of advice for soccer parents…

It’s just a game

After the game – which we lost - a few parents were talking about how it sure would have been nice to win this one. Of course, our girls were pretty oblivious to the parental sideline antics of the other team or our own reactions. They were disappointed by losing, but 10 minutes later had moved onto making plans to bake cookies when they got home. Obviously, I do not let such things go as easily.

You’re not the coach

I have coached before and know that, even with the best of intentions, parental coaching is not helpful. Not only do you send mixed messages to the players, but you unintentionally chip away at the authority of the coach. It is important in team sports for the players to develop trust in their coach, for the coach to instill big-picture strategies and not have to deal with parents make matters more confusing. Parents can work on skills at home, help the kids process winning and losing and support the coach, but unless you really ARE the coach, you are NOT the coach.

Competition can be healthy

Parents have to help their children to discover the joy of healthy competition. Sports is a great way to develop discipline, character and commitment, but competition taken too far, can lead to an attitude that everything is a competition, everyone is someone to be beat and worth is based on winning and losing. This shows up mostly in how parents act on the sideline. Do we give credit for a good play by the other team? Do we use language that is appropriate for the age group? Do we play by the rules that we agreed to? The list goes on and on in how we can teach our kids that winning really is not everything.

“Taking a knee” is important

Whenever a player on either team is hurt, our girls place one knee on the ground and wait until the player is back up before clapping for them. This show of courtesy and sports[wo]manship is a crucial part of life and sports. No level of competition takes precedent over the health and well-being of another person. “Taking a knee” in life, politics and work even when our deepest professional or ideological enemy is in pain helps us to see everyone as a complex being and not as some anonymous humanoid on the other team.

This should be fun

At some point we can push our kids too far. Yes, we all want our kids to thrive and sometimes they do need to be challenged to keep moving forward, but knowing the difference between parenting that sucks the joy from an activity and parenting that helps them improve in ways to unlock new experiences is crucial. I know far too many adults who, as children, enjoyed playing an instrument or participating in an activity only to lose all enjoyment because of parental pressures to succeed. Sometime, our kids just need to do things because it’s a fun thing to do.

Now I am sure there are many more tips we could offer one another, but this is a start.  Please feel free to share your own soccer parent story and/or offer up any more tips for healthy parenting from the sidelines.

10 comments

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  • Bill Chow  

    I am a witness to this unusual soccer game where some of the parents of the opposing team were standing directly behind the goals and coaching the players.  The next thing that happened, I believe a Grandparent (White Hair) was joining the parents behind the goal net and coaching his grandchild.  I’m a grandfather too and I enjoy watching my granddaughters and their team play, develop their skills and hopefully score a few goals which they have been.  But I would not even approach the tactics of what the other parents were doing.  I thought that the most unusual incident was actually another team parent moving into our parents’ area and cheering her child on among us – I thought it was a bit strange. I was only hoping that the parent did not want to have one of our team’s post game refreshments.

  • Amy  

    It’s also a brain-development thing. Young children simply do not process competition well. As they get older, they start to understand it, but still need guidance from us to process what it means and how it is important in their lives. I think it’s one of the hardest things to do as a parent. Not just in soccer, but in anything they do that might be competitive. Academic, music, whatever. How do you use the experience of losing to learn something? How do you get past the emotion of losing? How do you win gracefully, and SINCERELY admire the other team (not demeaning them because they obviously weren’t good enough, didn’t practice enough…whatever)
    And how do you encourage your child to participate, to be there fully for his/her team, without burning out with the intensity of the practice schedule or tournament schedule? This is my most difficult balancing act. Commitment to the team is crucial, so don’t get into it without knowing that you will have to be tired, hurt, frustrated, emotional, and that IT’S OKAY to do all that! It won’t kill you to work hard!
    But also, if you want to put that energy somewhere else, now is the time to figure that out and make a choice, try other things. It’s a big world. Soccer is just one part of it…
     

  • Jim S. (soccerref214)  

    I have refereed over 600 soccer matches, from U-8 to High School, and have stories. Stories of deeply moving shared humanity and dignity and grace. And stories of competition gone awry.

    Some excitable parents had been screaming at their U14 boy all game. Finally, he got the ball at midfield with no one in front of him. An easy goal, we all assumed. Instead, he got up to top of the area, stopped, and gently kicked the ball right at the keeper. His parents were fit to be tied, and when they screamed, “What the hell are you DOING?!?!?” He calmly but loudly shouted, “I am not doing this for YOU!” The rest of the game, dead silence on the sidelines.

    On another game, a penalty was called in the area, as the attacking player had gone down. They protested to the referee that they had not been fouled, but had only tripped. To no avail. Their team was down by a goal, and time was running out. The player lined up to take the kick, and then just kicked it slowly towards the keeper.

    Lastly, a U12 girl was taking a penalty kick, against her best friend, who was the keeper. She scored what turned out to be the winning goal, but was inconsolable! Her best friend, the keeper, wound up trying to comfort her best friend after she had scored! Not a dry eye on the pitch, really.

    As a referee, I always tell the teams, especially at the beginning of the season, that players play, coaches coach, and parents cheer. In AYSO, we have an acronym that coaching should be positive-instructive-encouraging. So early in the year, I buy small pies for the coaches to remind them.

    A good friend of mine always says to the parents of very young players, “If you think this is more than a walk in the park with a uniform, you are mistaken.”

  • Preston  

    I can share numerous tales as a soccer player/coach/parent/official… but one additional reminder that I would make to parents is to realize that — unless you are the one on the field in the yellow/black/red/blue/green jersey with a flag or whistle — you are not the official and trying to act as one doesn’t help.  It would be GREAT if you — no matter your age — took a USSF officials class and committed to helping the situation, but until then realiize that very few U8 or U10 games have a FIFA official on the field.  Most new officials are there because they love the game and most of us long-time officials are there to because they want the kids/adults to have the chance to play.  They might get paid, but they are not professionals!

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Yes, that is another great one. “You are also not the referee or side judge . . . unless you are.” . . . Part of the reason our last game was a little out of control is that at this level the refs are still pretty young. They do a great job, but the game plus parents is quite a bit to ask. Safe to say this does NOT happen at my older kids game as we have see the refs really hold the line with parents.

  • Shawn Coons  

    My favorite soccer parent moment was the mother in our five year old girls beginners’ league.  Score wasn’t officially kept but that didn’t keep mom from yelling out the score for everyone to hear whenever a goal was scored.

    Is it wrong that I was happy when her team lost?  Ok, how wrong?

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      That’s what we were feeling after this game as well. Wrong, but just a little . . . Just a game. Just a game. Just a game ;-)

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