Rule #1: Thou Shalt Not Praise Thy Own Child
It is late in the second half of a vital game and the score is tied against our arch-villain enemy. Your child performs a full speed sliding tackle to strip the ball from an attacker who eluded the keeper 3 feet in front of the goal. They do a pop-up slide and come to their feet without ever losing the ball. Juking and faking, they take a run up the touchline, leaving opponents sprawling in their wake and then, sensing that the whistle is about to blow, hit an off-foot shot from 35 yards that starts out 20 yards wide and hooks back just into the upper V to win the game.
Your reaction? A pleased smile. A little leap no more than 4 inches off the ground. No cries of “Where is Anson Dorrance when we really need him?” No matter your intent, shoveling plaudits on your own kid is seen as basically self-promotion, selfish, and destructive of team unity. Other parents will mutter darkly and cast jealous glances at you.
Rule #2: Thou Shalt Praise Other Parents’ Children
The reason that you don’t have to praise your own child is that it is the sworn duty of the other parents to do it for you. In situation #1 they will give you high-fives, hug you, and generally declare that the spirit of Pele (or Mia Hamm) is being channeled by your child. When someone else’s child does anything ranging from mediocre to spectacular you will run up to them with similar comments, assuring them that international stardom is only a short time away, and that this is proof that the gene pool runs true. When another child does something appallingly awful you are duty-bound to rush to the grieving parent to assure them that it wasn’t that bad, and that they’ve been having such a good game, they can be forgiven for one little goof.
Rule #3: Thou Shalt Never Criticize Players in Public
The coach has done it again. Starting at striker is a child who is slower than America Online (all parents should be old enough to remember those days!), completely clueless about the tactical niceties of their position, and to whom “airhead” would have to be considered a compliment. You see the opposing team laughing and pointing. You groan in what you think is a quiet voice “How can he even keep that dolt on the team”. Your feet leave the ground as you discover that the hulking behemoth behind you is their uncle whom you had never met.
You can generally take as a given that the players are trying as hard as they can with differing amounts of skill. Desirable as a “skillectomy” might be, the ability to trap a line drive and drop it on the shooting foot cannot be grafted on or surgically attached. Secondly, players are quite aware when they have made a bonehead play. You will rarely hear a player shout “Thanks guys, I didn’t realize that whiffing was a bad thing!” Thirdly, even at the U-18 level these are still our kids – not professionals – and even the pros make mistakes. The pros are paid to be able to take criticism as aimed at their play rather than themselves as persons. Your children aren’t.
Rule #4: When Commenting about the Field Action, Silence is Golden
At times you may feel like commenting upon the quality of play, the quality of officiating, and the coaches’ decisions. Due to your years of observing from the sidelines and the fact that you coached the “Sunflowers” a few years back, you may have the belief that your opinions are (1) accurate, (2) incisive; and (3) worthy of communicating loudly so everyone else can hear them. You are wrong. Neither the players, the referees, nor the coach are going to make any changes in response to your bellows from the sideline. They are, however, going to be mad at you – joining a group including your spouse, your friends, and anyone standing close to you. Kids goof, refs goof, coaches goof. Before you shout, picture your next day at work as you are working on a project and in the doorway to your office are a crowd of players, coaches and refs booing you and demanding that you be fired.
Rule #5: Silence Can Be Deadly.
The usual response to your sideline comments is a tug on your shirt from your spouse, a glare, rolling of eyes by your neighbors, and a silent promise by your child to change their name and become an orphan. However, there are those times when your comments result in a sudden pall of silence and you’re becoming the center of attention from the sidelines and the field. Sort of like in 4th grade when you fell asleep in class and made a funny sound when you startled awake. This means you have “Crossed The Line” from being an obnoxious parent/fan to another status entirely – such as the “Unknown Brother” at a U-16 Regional’s game making anatomically uncomfortable suggestions about where a referee’s unblown whistle should reside. When silence falls and you are the focus of everyone’s attention it may be time to announce that you are overdue at the hospital to perform a lifesaving operation and to slink away at top speed.
Rule #6: This Is Still a Game
Despite the fact that each player’s family has invested a great deal of time and money in soccer, and they are hoping that soccer will help pay the college bills, it is still a game and if your child doesn’t enjoy it they will not play well – and maybe not at all. Ask yourself if what you do at games and practices and tournaments helps your child have fun and enjoy the game or adds pressure and worry. Ask yourself after the game if watching two teams of amazing, talented, fit, and eager young people was fun for you? If it wasn’t – if you found yourself criticizing, carping, upset, and unhappy – remember that there is enough pressure and stress involved with making a living and guiding your family through the challenges of modern life. Forget the calls, forget the score, forget the standings. Give your child a hug, tell them you love them, and be thankful for every day you have to share with them because they don’t stay kids very long.
If you made it this far in this article, I hope that you enjoyed it and will abide by this motivation to enjoy the game, give your child a hug, and allow the Coach’s and Referee’s to do their job.
Tom Strock, President
Jackson Fury Soccer Club
Submitted by Michael Cash, Owner, Farpost Soccer Company