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 few reminders for us all . . .
- 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.