Having spent literally a couple of decades out at the pitch watching my four sons play from U-5 to U-19 with one of them going on to ref and to coach, my wife and I have had plenty of situations in witnessing when a parent has “lost it” on the sideline. Sadly, on occasion, I too have been that parent. Usually as a result of undisciplined play leading to injury. Those situations would cause my emotions to heat up. Yet, there’s never a time that is excusable for poor sideline behavior. Despite my imperfections, I also have been that parent who sought to remind others that their behavior was reaching over the line.
Research has been conducted which demonstrates poor adult sportsmanship on the sideline does have a negative impact on the student athlete. From overwhelming our athlete with negative stress, to physical injury, to lack of coping skills off the field. So it is imperative that we parents, coaches, adults get a grip on our emotions and egos to give the student athlete what they’re after, that is to have fun playing a sport that they enjoy.
The phenomenon of “over-identification” is often at the core of poor sideline behavior. A false belief that our athlete is going to make a professional career of the game (less than 1 in a million actually do), or that the parent uses the child’s success to experience achievement they themselves didn’t accomplish, can combine to cause poor behavior. The suggestions below are for those times when we just might have to say something.
Be the Model – First, we must look at our own behavior and make the necessary changes. We should indeed cheer on our team and our children; but when that inevitable bad call comes, don’t degrade anyone, and learn to move on. No amount of screaming at the ref will change the call or the outcome. In fact, it may do harm to the team and land us up in soccer exile.
Don’t join ‘em – Certainly we all have the urge to join in on the mob mentality. But this most certainly can and should be avoided. Rather, demonstrate the more positive side of support for our athletes.
Acknowledge the frustration – Avoid confronting the behavior with additional bad behavior. Rather, acknowledge the emotion, “Man, it’s frustrating when the calls are bad” but then suggest an alternate way of responding. “Maybe we should just encourage our guys to play through, cause, yelling at the ref isn’t going to change anything”
Remind of consequences – “You know, we can actually get red carded for this.” There may be league rules that specifically have consequences for the team for sideline behavior. Know those rules.
Keep coach appraised – Whatever happens on the sideline, coach needs to know if there is something getting out of hand. He/she can remind parents that they are encouraged to support the team, but to let coach be the coach.
Consider talking to the league leaders – In those situations that are a bit more severe. It may be necessary to take our concerns to the leaders of the league. Most leaders are very supportive when provided with suggestions on keeping the league happy and healthy.
Most importantly, watch this video … And remain the positive, rock solid foundation, for our young athletes so they will grow into well-rounded, healthy, and positive young people.
Play Hard, Play Safe!