We all recognize that soccer is a very passionate game ‐ for players and fans. But when it comes to youth soccer, the soccer pitch 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 have fun. We want them to be well coached, play on a team that is competitive in their 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 with the soccer season underway, here is a primer, a reminder, of little things that we can do on the sidelines to make the soccer season more pleasant for all concerned ‐ most importantly, for the kids.
15 things to keep in mind while watching from the sidelines this season:
1. 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 their coach is telling them, you create distraction and confusion.
2. 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.
3. 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 and totally unnecessary and kill parent harmony, which is often essential to youth team success.
4. 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.
5. 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.)
6. 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 half‐time, 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.
7. 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.
8. 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 ‘till it hurts; avoid the ‘tit for tat' syndrome.
9. 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.
10. 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 give it an honest ‐ and often quite competent ‐ effort. At worst, they at least try to be fair and objective.
11. On that note, outbursts from parents on the sideline made toward the referees only signal to our on 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.
12. Yelling out comments such as "Good call, ref" or "Thanks ref" may only serve to alienate an official. The ref always assumes 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.
13. 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 player/players involved and simply counterproductive. If you want to coach, obtain your coaching certification and then apply for a job.
14. 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 behaviour. Quickly check yourself and ask: Will I be proud of what I am about to say or do when I reflect on it tomorrow?
15. 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, or 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, her coach, her teammates, etc.
Guidelines for Parents Behavior
From the July 5, 2006, issue of NSCAA ‐ The Technical Area
This handout is designed to minimize and eliminate sideline coaching from parents. We hope that you can adapt some or all of these guidelines in this form or another to your coaching/parenting situation.
1. Be positive. Be supportive. Cheer for the team. Encourage all of the players. Keep negative comments to yourself, especially those directed at another parent's child. Remember that the players are doing the best that they can and that playing good soccer is more difficult than it looks.
2. Do not coach. Let the coaches make adjustments as they see the need. Many times the instruction from a spectator is exactly the opposite of the instruction given by the coach. Allow the players the freedom to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. Spectator statements like "Stay Wide," Clear It," "Pass The Ball," "Get Rid of It," "Move Up," "Move Back," etc., tend to undermine the need for players to communicate with each other.
3. Never address players on the other team, except to encourage.
4. Treat the officials with respect. All officials make mistakes. All humans make mistakes. Let the officials be human. Let the coaches approach the officials if they feel the need. The referee may be wrong, but not as often as you are? Have you ever seen a referee change his mind because a parent shouted at him or her?
5. Do not engage is game‐related discussions with parents from the opposing team. We will be playing these teams for many years to come. We want to be known in the soccer community as an organization that has class whether we win, lose or draw. The game score will not be remembered. The argument or inappropriate remarks will be.
6. Leave the game on the field. When the game is over, no amount of comment, question or discussion with the players, officials or coaches can change the outcome. Regardless of the outcome, the coaches will evaluate the performance, reinforce the good things and work to correct the things needing improvement.
7. Keep the game fun. Winning is more fun than losing, but each player should enjoy playing because they love the game. Avoid offering bribes or "pumping up" your child. Allow them to become self‐motivated. Make sure that you take time to enjoy the game yourself. I have heard comments from some of the team that they dread it when their parents start shouting at the referee. It is noticeable that when some parents get more and more agitated, their child gets more and more withdrawn during the game.
Think about your own job. If you have someone who you knew was going to shout at you every time you made a mistake, wouldn't you stop putting yourself in the position to make this mistake? That is what happens with some of the players on the team. They would rather not have the ball than risk having it and making a mistake!
The Six Things You Should Say To Your Child
(by Bruce Brownlee, Atlanta, Ga.)
A lot of soccer parents with good intentions give a 30‐minute lecture in the car on the way to each match. Too often this lecture is filled with all their child's supposed deficiencies while including tons of playing advice. They arrive far off their optimal mental state and dread the critique they are likely to hear, whether they want it or not, on the way home. Kids who are massaged in this way tend not to play badly; they just tend not to play, possibly to avoid making mistakes.
Parents should memorize and use the following six simple phrases:
Before the match:
1. I love you.
2. Good luck.
3. Have fun.
After the match:
1. I love you.
2. It was great to see you play.
3. What would you like to eat?