Helping Ourselves Become Better Soccer Parents

Helping Ourselves Become Better Soccer Parents
By Michael Langlois

With every new youth soccer season comes certain realities. So this may be a good time, before the emotion of the new season sweeps everyone up, for us all to give ourselves an opportunity to thoughtfully reflect on some personal  standards of behavior — some goals— heading into the “season”.

Most of us who have or have had children involved in youth sports, either at the recreational/house league or so-called “all-star” or “rep” level, know there are challenges facing youth sports.

And these challenges aren’t exactly new. Most of us have read about a situation during the winter, for example, whereby an upset hockey parent allegedly tried to “choke” his son’s coach during the course of the game. Thankfully this does not occur frequently in minor sports, and I’ve not heard of such an occurrence in the youth soccer world here in Canada. But we have challenges facing us, to be sure.

We all stress — as parents and coaches— that the most important thing is for the kids to have fun. But if you’ve ever spent time in a hockey rink, or on the sidelines at a youth soccer game, you know that our priorities often become confused during the emotion of any given contest.

Some parents coach incessantly from the sidelines, even when coaches specifically ask that parents not give in to that natural tendency. Parents yell at their own children, sometimes at the opposition. Parents make subtle — and sometimes not so subtle — jabs at parents from the opposing squad.

Parents complain about their child’s coach amongst themselves. They complain to coaches about their child’s playing time, among other things.

Coaches who have their own son or daughter on a team face certain challenges, as well. Are they too hard on their children? Do they show favoritism to their own kids?

And the kids playing the game? They may be 10, 12, 14 years of age. They really are out there to develop skills, and have fun. The rest of us can sometimes mess things up. And we usually see someone else as the problem, not us.

One thing we can all try to do heading into the season is improve our own individual attitudes and how we communicate with one another. Support your child’s coach. They likely aren’t perfect, either in terms of their ability to instruct, motivate, or communicate. But they are the coach.

* Help your children at home. Take them out for extra practice if they want it and you can make the time.
* Don’t coach during games. Try to enjoy the game. (Most of us are a little tense watching our own kids play. You’re not alone.) If they make a mistake, they likely know they made a mistake. Harping on it from the sidelines won’t really help.
* If you have an issue with your child’s coach, take it up with them personally, privately, one-on-one. When parents get together to complain about the coach —without his or her knowledge of their concerns — especially over small issues, it can be very toxic.
* If a number of parents have what you believe are legitimate concerns, then by all means raise them in a thoughtful, non-threatening way with the coach.
* If you don’t see any results within a reasonable period of time, do the right thing and raise the issue with the appropriate people at the club/association level.
* If you’re a coach, return phone calls. Talk with, not at, parents. By all means push your players to succeed, but check to make sure they are still having fun as the season unfolds.
* Support the referees. They too are far from perfect. But if a child sees coaches or parents yelling at the ref, they will learn to lay blame on others. And they will have learned that by watching their coach and/or parents on the sidelines.

As parents, let’s not assume everyone on the other team is a jerk. There will always be a natural rivalry at sporting events, and everyone, whether they admit it or not, wants their own child’s team to win. But it doesn’t take much to cross a line, and when we do, it lowers the behavioral bar.

I saw a great quote recently on a web site. The quote was from the legendary Notre Dame football coach , Knute Rockne. Few people wanted to “win” more than he, but he also knew there was more to sports than winning. The comment was, basically, that we all (including kids) learn more about sportsmanship by watching one person act it out, than by a bunch of people talking about it.

Michael Langlois, founder of Prospect Communications Inc., is the author of “How Well Do You Communicate? A Guide to Better Communication with Players and Parents for Youth Soccer Coaches”. Prospect’s web site is located at http://www.beyondthegame.net