When my oldest was just starting his soccer career at age 4, I refused to be lumped into the soccer mom category. I was still playing the sport for goodness sake on my own competitive team. I was not a soccer mom with all the stereotypical suburban housewife attributes. This attitude eventually subsided, and I made life long friendships with my fellow sideline moms and dads, even those who proudly wear “soccer mom” sweatshirts (although, for the record I still do not like the label!).
Over my years on the sidelines, I have observed a wide range of attitude problems. Like my own problem with the soccer mom label, I have seen parents overstep boundaries with coaches, yell at refs and completely crush their child before, during or after an event with their words. There is often a code of conduct passed out before the season begins for parents to sign, unfortunately, this paper is not taken seriously by the repeat offenders.
The following is my own code of conduct for sideline parents, whether the sport is soccer, swimming, baseball, football, volleyball, lacrosse or rugby, the rules are the same.
1. Show up. If at all possible, make a point of watching your child’s game. I know games can be tough to schedule into a busy life. There have been numerous times when I have had to watch half of one game and half of another when two kids were playing simultaneously, but watching games adds to the child’s enjoyment.
2. Stay in your place. Everyone has a role to play. Players play, coaches coach and officials officiate. Parents, be a supportive influence, do not challenge the coach, the referees or attack other parents. If you do feel the need to make a comment, be respectful.
3. Be realistic. Mainly, be realistic about your child’s physical capabilities. Encouragement is one thing, asking them to perform at a professional level is another. I have heard parents complain about juniors wimpy throw in, or how he should have passed it to the outside player. Possibly forgetting that their seven year old arms and legs make those moves impossible.
4. Keep a long term view. There will be other games, other seasons, other years of playing. One game will not determine their future, especially when they are still using a nightlight and need help reaching a cup from the cupboard. Take photos, participate by wearing team colors and try to learn all the rules, but do not hang your child’s life success on their performance in one season. Especially if you are enduring an awkward year due to a growth spurt or bad match of a coach or teammates.
5. Separate your child’s performance from your worth. That is an awkward way of saying, whether your child is number one or the dedicated bench warmer, it has little to do with you. It also does not matter if you were the star in your little league, or went to college on a sports scholarship, your child is not out there reliving your youth, they are trying to enjoy their own.
6. Learn the names of their teammates. Cheer for everyone on the team, not just your child. Not only does this build camaraderie, it also helps when discussing the game after they fact. I am generally bad with names and it takes concentrated effort to remember Connor is the red head, and Eric is the skinny blond boy. The effort is worth it. If you cannot remember, shout out their number, or give a hearty, “Go team!” every so often.
7. Control your emotions. Passion is fine, over-the-top screaming is not. There is always one parent that makes me worry about their blood pressure, or wonder if they have a voice the next day. Yelling occasionally is okay, a steady stream of disappointed exclamations is not.
8. Emphasize improvement, not winning. Did your child do his or her best? Did they show improvement or play well as a team? Good, that has to be the focus. There are two teams on the field, or sometimes in tournaments or swimming, several teams competing for first place. Winning cannot be the only gauge of good play.
9. Set realistic goals. Struggling athletes and stars alike can focus on one new goal at a time. Winning every game, or scoring 8 goals a match is not realistic, concentrate on their individual abilities. Help them focus on something they can do better individually.
10. Keep your child safe. Be sure they are hydrated and wearing all the proper safety gear. Watch for injuries and extreme fatigue, which can quickly turn into an injury as their guard is down due to exhaustion. Coaches have to keep a big picture view, while you, as the parent, can pinpoint your own child. If you do see something that is not right, take appropriate steps to remedy the situation, remembering rule number two.
11. Sports performance should not regulate a parents love and acceptance. Even if you know that statement is ridiculous, be sure your child knows that. Sideline parents can get wrapped up in the game and appear to be disappointed and even angry at a child after a game. Chances are if you are upset over a game, the child is doubly upset. Tread lightly and try to stay positive.
12. Be a positive role model. If you are expecting your child to train and perform their best, make an effort to treat your body correctly as well. Set your own physical goals and stay active as a family. Along the same lines, following the above rules: namely being respectful, realistic and present, inadvertently teaches your child the right way to behave as a player or spectator.
More by Sylvie Branch:
Tips for the new sports mom
Avoid heat related injuries in young athletes
Help prevent ACL injuries in young athletes