Youth Sports: Sideline Etiquette for Parents from Another Parent

Both our boys play soccer. Our oldest (now 12) has been playing since he was 5 so he has played about 14 seasons because they play spring and fall soccer every year. Our youngest is only into his third season this spring. Every year we always have at least one obnoxious parent on one of our kids’ teams or there is always one on the other team we are playing against. We didn’t notice it much when they were younger. But as our older son got older and moved up to U-10 soccer (he’s now in U-13), things started to change on the sideline. 

Before I get into the sideline etiquette I want to ask, why did your kid(s) want to play sports in the first place? Did they just want to play to have fun? Did they want to play with their friends? Did they want to do something that they could enjoy? I know all those things were why my boys wanted to play. When kids feel like sports is more stress than fun, they tend to not want to do it anymore. It’s a fact that a lot of kids who play sports early end up giving it up by the time they are 12 years old. 

Be a cheerleader, not a negative Nancy

Encourage players. Don’t criticize them. There’s a difference between “Go Ry! Great job!” or “Great teamwork, way to hustle!” and making demands or shouting something negative saying things like “Get the ball out of there!”,  “Don’t stand there, go after the ball!” or “What are you doing?!” These kind of things not only have an impact on your own child that you are saying them too, they also have an impact on the other players too as a team. You might not think it does and you might think you are only yelling these things to your own kid but I have seen first hand that these things take a toll on the whole team. They all start feeling the stress, they all start feeling the pressure and they all start to get frustrated – as a team. Because these kids are a team. They play as a team. They work as a team and if one of their teammates are feeling it, they all are. The negative shouts can hurt your child’s self esteem. 

And saying or shouting something negative about another child that isn’t even your child is a really big no. The first year our older son moved up to U-10 and another parent wanted to say something directly at my child after missing the ball coming at him. He said, “Come on defense, the ball was right there! Get it out of there, don’t just stand there!”. We handled the situation at halftime respectfully as to not cause a scene on the sideline (even though what I really wanted to do was let this guy have it right then and there) with the coach and one of the referees that heard what this guy had shouted.

Along with cheering on your child’s team, take the time to learn all the players names on the team. Cheer them on too. Don’t limit yourself to only cheering on your own child. Cheering on the whole team and even cheering on other individuals makes the whole team feel good. And honestly, we have even said something encouraging to the opposing team a few times too. The opposing Keeper makes one heck of an amazing stop and I just can’t help but to shout “Nice save goalie! Wow!” And then of course I immediately say something to our team, “Let’s go Green!” Just keeping it all positive. 

Don’t coach from the sideline

This one is a little easier for my husband and I because my husband has coached before and I had assisted him one year. For some parents this may be a little difficult not to do and it’s totally understandable. In our youth soccer organization, a lot of times we don’t get the same coaches every year because our coaches are volunteers. Usually they are the parent(s) of one of the players on the team. Some years coaches may want players to play their positions differently than another coach wanted them to play the previous year. For example: Our son has always played defense. When he moved up to U-13 when they introduced the offsides rule, his coach wanted his defense to play up. This sometimes allows the defense to keep the ball out of their zone more often and you also have a better chance at getting offsides called.

This year he has a different coach. She doesn’t like her defense playing up sometimes. She sees more than we do in these games. Some games she wants them to play up and in other games she doesn’t. She even adds an extra defender sometimes and makes small changes game to game. It’s important to let the coach, coach. There may be reasons the coach wants things done differently from game to game. Let them do their job. It’s very conflicting to kids who are hearing their parents tell them one thing but their coach is telling them something else. It’s important for them to listen and do what their coaches tell them or ask them to do and they shouldn’t feel conflicted between their coach and their parents.

Also, don’t coach in the car ride home. 

Wait until the next day to talk with your child’s coach if you have an issue

Coaches don’t want to be bombarded with issues during or right after a game. Especially during. Parents shouldn’t ever even walk over to the coaches sideline. Ever. That’s just rude and it interrupts the game. We have seen that happen a few times over the last 7 years and even when my husband wasn’t coaching, it was annoying to see. Let the coach go home after the game. Talk to the coach the next day or at the next practice. But if you really need to talk to the coach, don’t wait until the next game day either.

During our youngest’s first game, he played a total of 6 minutes all game. He wasn’t the only kid either. It’s was pretty annoying. The next day my husband got in touch with his coach and asked her about it keeping in mind that this was her first time coaching. He made sure to tell her that we didn’t expect him to play the whole game at all but that he was a little frustrated that he didn’t really get to play much at all. She told us she didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be coaching the game and keeping track of all the players being subbed in and out all by herself. So she wanted all parents to have a meeting with her at the next practice so she can make a list and chart of all players and which positions they liked best so she could create a system for those who go in and come out of the games on a time schedule.

There’s no need to interrupt a game or upset a coach for something that can be easily resolved a day or two later unless it’s something very urgent. These coaches have a tough job as it is.  

Do not criticize the referee

Referees are human. As a parent or spectator, you must remember that. There are going to be calls that don’t make sense. There are going to be calls that should have been called but weren’t and there are going to be calls that they get wrong. It’s going to happen. They are going to make mistakes. Just let them do their job. All the kids on the field need to be able to trust the referees and they don’t need to see and hear a bunch of parents calling out the refs and in turn feel like they can turn around and call out the refs themselves or feel like they are being cheated. Referees are on the field. You are not. You don’t see as much as the refs do. Some of their calls that you may not think are right, are actually right anyway.

If you do happen to have a bad experience with a referee, there is a right way to handle it. Don’t try anything during a game. Don’t try anything after the game. Don’t even try to call out the ref at all. There is something you can do after you get home. Usually there is a way you can file a complaint with your organization.

I am going to tell you a story about a bad situation we found ourselves in with a referee last spring.

My bad referee experience story

Last spring was the first time that our youngest had moved up to U-10 soccer. They changed the ages for the divisions so that they entered U-10 a year earlier than they used to. Because of that, they changed a few rules for safety. The rule they changed was that the goalie couldn’t punt the ball after the stopped or picked up the ball. No big deal right? The problem was that they were told that they had to place the ball down and kick it out but they also considered it a live ball when they did that. The goalie also had the choice to throw it out too but most of them couldn’t throw it out far enough (because most of them were only 7 year olds on this giant field).

And this whole live ball and dead ball thing when it came to the goalie kicking it out wasn’t called the same way twice in one game. It was rather confusing to the kids. Anyway, at one time our goalie and put the ball down to kick it out. The coaches from the other team were screaming at their players to run after the ball because it was live, our goalie and players were confused and for a minute, none of them did anything. Eventually every single player from the other team charged after the ball and in the process rolled our goalie hitting his head pretty hard on the goal post.

It was a pretty hard hit and the kiddo didn’t get up at first. Of course this made the sideline go a little crazy because earlier in the game our team was called for a penalty for going after the ball like that. Same thing, just a different call and this time a kid got hurt. Everyone on the sideline was talking about how it was different than the previous time. I could almost guarantee it wouldn’t have been a big deal if this kid didn’t get run over like that because the whole season was confusing and regardless of how differently things were called all season, no one every really made a big deal out of it until this one time.

So the referee came over and tried to explain to everyone on the sideline and apologized for all the inconsistencies because of all the rule changes and the different referees that called things differently throughout the year. She wasn’t talking to anyone in particular at that point. So then everything was done, no one said anything back to her and she went walking back onto the field. At that time it was halftime and my husband and I were talking about hockey after he got something about the playoffs on his phone. The ref was walking up the side line and apparently thought we were talking about the soccer game. She turned around to say something about the call again. I thought she was talking to me but I wasn’t sure so I just didn’t say anything. The kids were then starting to come back on the field and at that point my husband and I wasn’t even talking because they were going to start the second half of their game.

I don’t know what this ref heard or who she thought she heard it from but all the sudden she turned around and looked right at me with her voice raised and told me I needed to keep my mouth shut, that she’s tired of hearing about the call and started to explain the call again in a not so nice way. At this point, I had had enough. I never said anything to her or called her out about anything or engaged with her at all through this whole thing. I said, “I don’t know what you think you heard but I didn’t say anything. My husband and I were talking about hockey while we were waiting…..” then she cut me off and told me I needed to leave the field. I had said, “Look, I am sorry if you think I said anything but I didn’t. I never even once engaged with you, talked to you, or said anything to you. I am not leaving the field. I am here watching my son play his last soccer game.”

Then she decided to throw her hands up and tell everyone that since I wasn’t going back to my car, she was calling the game and everyone was going home. At that point in time there was a man standing near a tree behind all the parents. He happened to be the head of our soccer organization and witnessed the majority of the situation. He liked to come to the soccer complex and walk between the fields every once in a while to see how things were going with all the games. She had no idea he was there and he threw her off the field and told her to go home. He apologized to us and suggested we file an official complaint after we got home after the game.

Thankfully he was there but long story short, there are ways to handle a bad referee. Your soccer organization should have a way to make a complaint to the board privately. Not engage with the referee yourself and definitely not during the game. Of course I had eventually said something which kind of goes against what I have said but I felt like it was one of those situations where it couldn’t have been avoided. For the most part, these refs are doing the best they can which is why I can’t take our one bad experience and form an opinion about all referees. They really are trying their best and doing their best to call fair games and make every game experience enjoyable for all the players.

Don’t focus on the score

This is really easy to do when they are really young. It does get a little more difficult as they get older because these kids start to become more competitive and even though they don’t typically keep score in youth soccer (at least ours doesn’t) the kids do keep score themselves. And I have to be honest, I keep the score secretly in my head myself. I think it’s only human to do so. But we don’t make a big deal out of it. We don’t mention it to our boys after the game either. By not making it a big deal, our sons are always okay if they lose. They don’t get down about it. 

Besides, losing is part of life. It’s key to a child’s development. There’s no reason to get down on the score. Coaches can then teach and coach them to help them improve in areas where they may have gone wrong. If you get your child so worked up on the score, your child may end up basing his/her sports experiences based on that and not his/her actual accomplishments.

Be aware of the other team and spectators of the other team

Have good sportsmanship. Your kids see you have it and they will too. Congratulate the other team win or lose. Don’t brag or boast about the score or winning the game and be aware that the other team is still around. Everyone is making their way back to the cars in the same lot you parked your own car. One time after one of my boys’ games, we were putting everything in our car to leave. Keep in mind that the score isn’t supposed to matter. The other team’s coach had parked close to us and someone else had asked if they won or not. He says, “Oh yeah. We won big time. I think we had like 12 goals and the other team only scored twice.” and then he laughed about it. Our son was standing right there and the other coach had finally saw him. I just shook my head.

Don’t stress about the game

Last but not least, don’t stress about the game. These kids are learning and having fun. Let it be about that. Especially right now. They aren’t in Junior High or High School. This should be a fun learning experience for them. And always remember the first thing you should ask your kid after the game is over is if they had fun. That’s what should really matter.

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