I read far too much about what I’m NOT supposed to say or do when I watch my kids play competitive sports.
“Don’t be negative.”
“You shouldn’t raise your voice.”
“Don’t embarrass him (or her).”
Being told what not to do in regard to my kids immediately makes me defensive.
I felt this way after hearing about the “Silent September” instituted in a South Carolina soccer league at the end of the summer. The rule that immediately turned me off because I paraphrased it as, “Parents shouldn’t cheer.”
Maybe I’m too much like my hard-headed 4-year-old, Everett, whose ears shut down as soon as I start any behavior correction with “don’t.”
“Don’t” simply does not work for me – at home or as I think about rules imposed by leagues on spectators at a kids’ sporting event.
Let me start by making one thing clear: I completely agree that parental behavior at youth sports needs to change. One overzealous fan at an 8-year-olds’ sporting event is one too many.
Additionally, I agree that leagues have their hearts in the right place when they attempt to demand decorum from their spectators.
That said, the approach of these leagues needs to change because, from my seat, I just haven’t seen the “don’t” rules work at any pitch my little ones play on.
How about this: Leagues begin to tell parents how they COULD cheer to avoid embarrassment and to ensure a good time for their kids? No “don’ts” would be required.
For me, there are only two key guidelines for enhancing the civility of spectators at any field of play:
1. The other team, their fans and game officials are invisible – ALWAYS.
There is no reason to address any participant other than those on your kids’ team as a fan – not if the big kid on the other team checks your son into the boards, not if there is an obnoxious spectator ringing a cowbell on their sideline, and not even when the referee makes a call you deem horrendous.
Nothing good comes from turning your cheering attention away from your own team’s sideline.
Two facts make this important in youth sports:
- (a) you’re very likely to see the competing team and parents repeatedly, and
- (b) the same kids (along with their parents) could be on your team next season.
Game officials should be the farthest thing from any parent’s mind when attending their kid’s game.
Refs are, generally, nameless servants to the sport they love. Most of the ones I know simply want to continue to be part of the game in some small way. They are retired teachers, coaches or high school athletes looking to make a few bucks.
I’ve heard several big-time referees say that if no one notices them during a game, they have been successful. They are right.
Do officials screw up? Yes. Do the officials have a better grasp on the rules than a typical spectator? Also, yes.
Parents should help referees achieve their one goal — becoming incognito on the field during a game.
2. The only name that matters is the one the FRONT of the jersey.
When I watch my kids’ teams take the field, I’m trying hard to remind myself that I’m not cheering for Yosef (my 11-year-old) or Lynden (age 10), I’m supporting the team they represent.
In fact, my new goal for the upcoming season is that the only way others will know which kids are mine is by noticing that I take them home after the match.
I must admit, it’s a struggle to keep the “team only” mentality alive in the heat of a game. After all, when my son scores a goal, I’m bursting with pride. I’d love to stand up and proclaim, “That’s my boy!” as he runs down the field clapping the hands of joyous teammates.
And, although there is nothing wrong with cheering and feeling proud of your kids’ accomplishments, such individualized kudos are better done in the car on the way home – not in front of a grandstand of friends and neighbors secretly hoping their kid will have the same scoring opportunity next time.
Said another way: Cheer for the front of the jersey while they’re on the field and love your kid individually off of it.
With these two guidelines in mind, I’ll be a better spectator during upcoming athletic seasons for my children. I’ll be at every game that I can – and cheering loudly for our team. And, although I’ll be disregarding the “don’t” rules that tell me to sit down and shut up, I’ll be minding their worthy intentions – keeping youth sports fun, light-hearted and free of over-the-top parenting.
I invite other parents to join me – with one resounding, “LET’S GO TEAM” from our chairs on the sidelines followed up with a giant hug for our budding sports superstars as we head home.
Don’t miss your chance.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tobin Walsh writes the blog The Good-Bad Dad, and is an aspiring author and speaker. The Florida resident is a father of five. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook, or contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.