In previous posts, I have offered comments on refereeing and on coaching in the context of youth soccer. Today I wade into the delicate arena of sidelines parenting.
This is prompted by a game I refereed yesterday in which the parents of a visiting team were not only yelling instructions to their teenage daughters but were "assisting" in making calls. The first was useless, the second counterproductive. On a few occasions, they would yell out "offsides" when it was not, and their daughters would stop running towards the ball after hearing this announcement, leading to at least one goal by the opposition. My favorite parental call was a demand for a free kick when two of the opposing defensive players collided and fell in the penalty area near their player, and their girl with the ball maintained her balance, possession of the ball, and even took a shot at the goal. "Hey, ref, when are you going to call it?"
These and other parental outbursts contributed to a feeling among their girls that they were somehow aggrieved by my calls, and then the girls started focusing on that rather than playing their game. Beyond affecting their performance, this attitude led one to commit a bad foul as she was trying to get even for perceived earlier slights, providing, of course, a free kick to the opposing team near the goal.
There are a number of things I advise parents when I am coaching a team. Here are excerpts of a note sent to parents of a U-12 team a few years ago.
A now, a word on our plans and expectations. Under-12 represents a threshold year for these girls. They are developing physically and emotionally in many wonderful and challenging ways. On the soccer front, they have gotten really good at many aspects of the game, but many aspects remain to be trained before they become really competent players. But they are ready for the next step, both physically and socially. Our goal is to foster individual development as players but also social development as team members. We will do this by creating an environment in which they have lots of fun while learning.
Every girl will play every position on the field, including goalie. Every girl will have approximately equal playing time in all games. Please expect that in the fall, I plan that we will lose many games: That is because we will be working on certain skills that are important in the long run and because I will intentionally assign girls to places on the field in which they are less competent.
Your role as parents is to please make sure the girls get to all practices and games on time, ready to play. If a practice starts at 5pm, please be on the field ready to play by 4:50. If a game starts at 10:30, please be there at 9:45 for a really thorough warm-up.
We expect each player to be at all games and practices unless the player, herself, has called me to explain why she will not be there. This is important. The girls are old enough to take personal responsibility for their commitment to the team: It is not your job to call on their behalf. If your daughter must miss a practice or a game, she should call me and talk to me directly or leave a complete message as to the reasons for her absence.
Your role as parents, too, is to encourage all the players during a game. Please do not engage in sideline coaching. No instructions. Feel free to say, "Good play, Suzie", but do not say, "Kick the ball, Suzie." You will see that I barely talk to the girls who are on the field during a game. Most coaching takes place during the practice sessions or while the girls are on the sidelines during a game. Giving instructions during a game is counterproductive and confusing and robs the girls of the most important developmental tasks: learning to think and communicate for themselves during the game.