We know you’re your soccer player’s biggest fan. You love them, and you want to see them succeed, improve, and admittedly, own the field now and then! But even in those thrilling moments, it’s important to know how to support your budding athlete. No doubt your intentions are good, but it’s worth the few minutes to consider how your behavior, your reactions, and even how you handle interactions with other sideline parents, directly affect your player.
There are a million ways to score a goal, and there are about the same number of styles when it comes to spectators and their sideline behavior. Studies have shown that sideline behavior affects youth players, in both positive and negative ways…here are our 10 tips on how to model strong, positive spectator behavior, so you can show your player your support, and even set an example for other parents and fans.
If You Remember Only One Thing…
Kids want to impress their parents. They know your voice, your facial reactions, and in a game that requires split-second decisions on the field, they will be distracted by yelling, screaming, and even the use of their name in “that tone”. We have to remember this is their game and not ours. We get it – soccer is a very passionate sport and sometimes our emotions can get the best of us, but we have to remember to keep things in perspective. As much as players want to impress their coaches, it’s really their parents they don’t want to disappoint.
1. Avoid coaching from the sidelines
Control your impulses to shout instructions and tell players what to do. Allow coaches to coach, players to play, and parents to parent. If everyone sticks to their roles there will be less confusion for players. Instead, cheer for the players and say things like “good pass”, “nice shot”, and “well done”. Keep your focus on reacting after the fact and not before or during the play.
2. Don’t criticize the referee
The easiest thing to do is blame the referees and yell and scream at them. We have to remember these people are also humans and will make mistakes. If top European league officials make mistakes every weekend, and World Cup referees have judgment errors that cost countries EVERYTHING… Why on earth would we not think referees who officiate far less meaningful youth soccer games are not going to screw things up more than they get it right? As frustrating as it can be, we have to keep things in perspective. In other words, you won’t win an argument with an official and once the call is made, there is no going back. Our advice: Chalk it up as an opportunity to discuss the play later with your child, when you’re both calm, and you can acknowledge there may have been a mistake, but people are human. Ask them how they’d handle it if they were the official. They’ll see your calm behavior, and realize these things happen. You can only control your reactions, not others’ decisions.
3. Avoid confrontation with the other teams’ parents
This happens a lot. As adults, you should be able to watch and enjoy your child’s game without getting into it with other parents. No matter the circumstances, it’s never a good idea. Remember you’re not just representing your club, you’re representing your child. Are you setting a good example? Would you want your child to behave this way?
4. Don’t address players from the other team
Yelling at a player or players on the other team is a no-no. Just remember how much you LOVE it when someone confronts or disciplines your child, and it might feel easier to refrain from doing the exact same thing.
5. Keep it to yourself
Parent harmony is essential to a team’s success! Negative comments and attitudes about players on the team, specific plays, or coaches’ decisions are totally unnecessary and hurtful to the parents affected by them. Lead by example, and try to smooth out any ruffled feathers among parents. It will truly help your player, the team, and your relationships with the other parents.
6. Don’t stress over the game
We know, easy to say. But truly, it’s not the World Cup final. Try not to stress too much over the result of the game. Wins and losses are part of life, and soccer too. If you find yourself floating on cloud nine when you win, and low and distraught when you lose, you will drive yourself crazy. Keep things in perspective and find a balance. Regardless of the outcome, find a measure response that shows your player you’ve got their back, and they are more than any win or loss.
7. Excessive cheering
Cheering for your kid is great, that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?
Short answer: Yes. Most of the time, this type of behavior is harmless, but if you get too emotional it can lead to coaching or impulsive yelling in high-stress situations. Example: When your child is right in front of the goal and everyone yells “shoot, shoot, shoot”. Obviously, they know to shoot, but do you think that yelling it frantically is going to help them in that situation? It’s very important for players to stay calm and composed in front of the goal, it’s actually critical in their development. The best way to support them is to cheer after they score that goal…and to be quietly supportive of them if they miss it.
8. The ride home
The worst time to talk to your child about their performance is in the car ride home. Parents are eager to talk to their child and let them know what they think, but usually it is a highly emotional time for both player and parent. This should be the time to relax and unwind. Resist the urge to talk. Ask them a few questions, and listen – don’t just plan your response. Let them vent or be excited, and tell you what they think. Talk positively with them, they will remember how you make them feel.
9. 24-48 hour rule
Right after the game in the parking lot is not the time to confront the coach about playing time or decisions made in the game…or anything else for that matter. Anything besides a warm, “Good game, Coach” is probably too much. Emotions are high right after the game and nothing good ever comes from charged conversations at this point. A lot more can be accomplished when everyone is calm, cool, and collected. Best time for that? When everyone has had time to think and process their thoughts 24-48 hours after the game.
10. Learn the rules of the game
If more parents learned and knew the rules of the game like offsides, handball, what constitutes a yellow and red card, there would be less sideline chaos. If you’re not familiar with the rules of the game, try to educate yourself. Google them, or find a parent who really knows the rules (and isn’t too intense), and encourage them to help the cheering section with the rules and nuances of the game. There’s nothing worse than blurting out “No way!!” as everyone looks away as if to say “Uh, yes way.“
Now, in all seriousness, thank you for being you. You have the power to support, encourage, and elevate your soccer player to their fullest potential just by being the best type of fan. Enjoy the games!