[UPDATED: October 1, 2015]
A few years ago I wrote a post about soccer parents, but at that point, I did not imagine that we would now be one of “those” families, driving to soccer games in different cities, spending the night in hotels, and paying buckets of money to play a sport that many of us just went out and played in the park after school.
Yes, I’m old. #getoffmylawn
Honestly though, I do love watching them play. In fact, I love watching my kids do anything that helps them grow as human beings, sports or otherwise. I love seeing them work through struggle and disappointment. I love seeing the excitement and joy that pulses through their bodies when something goes well. I love that they are each finding their way and building community as they do so. And I especially love being right there on the sidelines, seeing first-hand a beautiful game played most often with beautiful spirits by all involved.
What I do not love are the times when we parents ruin it.
Oh you know what I mean. Every youth activity has them: stage parents, dance moms, soccer dads, etc. These are the people whom we each believe we ARE NOT, but more often than we would like to admit, probably ARE. We believe that our child is the center of the universe, we know all things about all things, and we are not afraid to share it . . . loudly on the sidelines.
You know you might be one of “those parents” if you notice that, over the course of the game, the other parents slowly back away from you as if to say, “That guy? Have no idea who he is?” You may also be one of “those parents” if you find the referees glaring at you, shacking their head at you, or saying things like, “Ma’am, please don’t talk to the referee.” So just in the event that you find yourself in this position – yelling from the sidelines while no one around you joins in or makes eye-contact – I would like to help with a few tips for soccer parents that I have gleaned over the past decade of sitting on and cheering from the sideline.
10 tips for soccer parents on the sidelines . . .
Truth be told, I wanted to just have one tip, “Don’t be an a$$hat” and then each subsequent tip would be, “See rule #1.” While this would be kinda funny, this is not actually helpful for those who are actually trying to figure out helpful sideline behaviors. Besides, do most of us actually know when we are being jerks? Probably not. So to pre-empt your sideline YouTube fodder, here are, what I hope, some helpful suggestions for those of you who stand on the sidelines watching your child kick the ball around the pitch.
1) Cheer — don’t coach.
Unless your child is on your sideline, she probably won’t hear you anyway — and odds are you don’t really know what you are talking about, so you will just confuse and distract them doing what their coach wants them to. In fact, even if you DO know what you are talking about, “Shhhhhh . . .” because part of the game is for them to learn how to communicate with one another and implement strategies as determined by the coaches.
2) Cheer as if you were an NPR Producer.
Just as NPR tells five stories about other topics for every one story about themselves, cheer for the other kids on the your team. “Great defence Asha!” and then “Good thinking Anna!” and then “Woohoo L.T.!” and then “Sweet move Chloe!” and then “Way to be aggressive Alivia!” and finally, “Super, fantastic job being you, my awesome offspring!” See, doesn’t sound QUITE as obnoxious and parent-braggy when you are also encouraging the other players on your team.
3) Don’t address players on the other team.
I still can’t believe how many times I have seen a parent yell at a player on the other team. Seriously, please do not dress down an 11-year-old kid no matter how much you want to. Just remember how much you LOVE it when someone confronts or disciplines your child and refrain from from doing the exact same thing. Also, shock of all shocks, that 11-year-old many not have perfect control of his body, so that body contact, may have actually been an accident. And even of that kid is flopping like an international men’s team, let it go. Unless it’s to offer a “Good game number 5!” in the parking lot, go to the other coach, but never get at the kid.
4) Acknowledge when the other team does something well.
A good “Great job keeper!” after she goes horizontal for a sweet save or “Nice defense #12!” after a particularly stellar play goes a long way to reinforce good play and remind folks that soccer and team sports is so much more than the game, but an amazing way to build community.
5) Stay in your area.
If you play in a city like San Francisco where the fields are less than spacious, you cannot always avoid sitting right next to or being interspersed between the parents from the other teams. While it would be ideal to have some separation, it is not always possible. No, what I am talking about is the parent who walks up and down the entire sideline coaching (see #1) and does so in front of both sets of parents. It takes all of my willpower NOT to “accidentally” stick my foot out and trip him in on his 10th time walking in front of us yelling something out to his kid. I have yet to actually stick out my foot. Yet.
6) Think it, but don’t always say it.
Generally a good rule in life, if I had a dollar for every time I have said something that I should probably have kept safely locked up in my mind vault, I would be rich. Sure, you may think the other player is slow, or that your kid should be starting over another kid, but you really don’t need to share that with the rest of us – the rest of us who may or may not be the parent of the kid over whom you think yours should be starting over. Awkward.
7) Don’t assume that every call is against your team.
Now I am not saying that every referee gets every call right, but unless there is some elaborate bookie scheme going around with people making money on youth soccer games, I highly doubt that any referee is out to get a team. Plus many of the refs you will see are kids themselves, so seriously, chill out. Refs are doing the best they can, trying to keep your kids safe and helping them to learn how to play the game of soccer. And on the rare occasion where there is some question of referee competency or approach, each league probably has a mechanism to file a protest or leave feedback.
8) Don’t rush onto the field.
I have been there. It is oh so tempting to rush onto the field and pull your kid into your arms when they go down. Resist the urge to do so. Remember, soccer is a physical game and sometimes they just need a minute to find their breath, shake off the sting of a ball to the face, or just walk off a cramp. Parents rushing the field often make things worse, and odds are that the child will be embarrassed. Trust me, if it’s bad, the ref and coach will call you over.
9) Maintain perspective.
Hate to break it to you, but your kid is most likely NOT going to play in the Olympics. Oh, I’m sorry Mr. Offended, I mean every kid except for YOURS! But seriously folks, even if your kid is exhibiting great skills at an early age, talking about college ball when your kid is 11 seems a tad bit over the top (See Tip #6). We have such high expectations for what they do or accomplish that it would do us well, to remember that these are still children and our job, as parents, is to help nurture them into who they are meant to become, and not to put undue pressure on them to become who we think they should be.
10) Learn the rules.
If more of us actually knew the rules of soccer, especially offsides, the sideline insanity would be tempered quite a bit. My advice is to find the parent who REALLY does know the rules, is not intense and is willing to help the cheering section learn the rules and nuances of the game. Nothing is worse than being the one who blurts out, “NO WAY!!!!” as everyone else looks away as if to say, “Actually, yes way.”
Remember our kids are watching, listening, and taking note of who we are and what we do. Despite the outside influences in their lives and the aloofness that can sometimes be communicated, I believe that they will mimic is small ways our approach to the game and life — so we have to get it together on the sidelines, in the car, in public, at home, etc. It’s hard enough actually playing the game of soccer, but while also dealing with school, social pressures and the struggles of being a young person today . . . we need not add to the drama by exemplifying the worst parts of youth sports, but rather we should lesson it by demonstrating the best.
Bonus tips for soccer parents . . .
Before writing this post, I offered this Facebook Update, asking for folks to leave good advice about soccer parent behavior. Please check them out as parents, coaching and registrars left some great words. In the mean time, here are just a few of the more creative ones…
- From AB – Bring a camping chair. Sit back. Relax. Cheer AFTER a play goes well. Otherwise, keep yer pie hole shut.
- From CM – Deal with your own sh!t on your own time. The game is not your therapist.
- From AW – Support kids who don’t have parents or other people cheering for them. Let them know you know they are part of the team and not an outsider.
- From CWK – Naughty parent springs for Starbucks for team next game. Honestly, these parents don’t get it. Poor kids. Move your chair away from them.
- From LS – Just be kind. Have spent a lot of time on sidelines, with families experiencing cancer, job loss, death of loved ones and more. Stop yelling; be present; sit or stand with someone who’s there alone or doesn’t know a lot of folks or whose kid sits on the bench; listen. There is a lot going on.
If you have more tips for soccer parents, please feel free to leave it here and/or on the aforementioned Facebook Update.
And if you want a little laugh . . . painfully true.