Pitch Perfect Parents
There are four roles that your organization will see on game day:
Unfortunately, parents, you’re too old to be an athlete on this team, so #1 is out. As for #2, the club has already decided on someone to do that job. The league assigns referees for our games, so unless you are a certified official and happen to be assigned to our game, that role is also taken. So that leaves a seat in the bleachers for you. Don’t forget — your parent impact
It’s critical that you’re supportive and encouraging, not only to our athletes but to all the athletes on the field. We are working hard to teach new skills and ideas within the game, and it can be intimidating for the athletes to try new things. Creative athletes make soccer the exciting and beautiful game it is. Creativity only comes when athletes are free to try new things. Coaches will channel their experimentation in the right directions.
It’s critical that you don’t coach the athletes or give instructions for what to do on the field. While this is hard when you see opportunities, it’s in the athletes’ best interests to find opportunities on their own. The more you coach from the sidelines, the more confusing and muddled the message becomes, and the less impact the coaches will have when they have something to say to the athletes. The athletes can also become dependent on instructions and not develop the ability to think for themselves on the field.
Soccer is an athlete’s game — let them find their way. Mistakes are a fantastic learning opportunity.
Referees Don’t Want to Hear Parents
Please do not, under any circumstances, yell at the referees or the opposing athletes. The officials are doing their best and, in most cases, are young referees learning the process themselves. We need more good referees in the game, and it’s important that we support the development of young officials.
When you yell at a referee, it causes several problems. First, you create a confrontational situation which only serves to make the referee angry. No amount of yelling or complaining changes a call. It only irritates the referee — they begin looking for more problems from our team or sideline. More importantly, yelling at a referee models poor behavior for your athlete on the field.
Setting a Positive Tone
Feel free to cheer for or congratulate great plays by athletes from either team. However, don’t offer external rewards for results to your athletes. When athletes are motivated with external rewards ($1 for every goal you score or ice cream if you win), they don’t learn to find internal motivation for their play. It creates mini-professionals who will try to negotiate a raise at every opportunity. These things focus athletes on outcomes, things they do not necessarily have direct control of, instead of on the process of playing.
The Ride Home
One of the most difficult times for young athletes is in the car on the way home from a tough game. Be sure to ask your athletes what they enjoyed about the game, what they did well, what they learned, what they want to get better at before the next game. These questions, rather than a critical analysis of their play, and the faults of the team, will help them to deal appropriately with a loss and be prepared to come back to training with enthusiasm.
Parents of Older Athletes
For high school athletes, we spend more time working on tactics (decisions on the field) and the mental aspects of competing. With competition, there are winners and losers in a game, and it is important to know how to appropriately deal with both.
True champions learn how to use a loss to improve and set their sights forward to the next opportunity to compete. This is an important life lesson that comes from playing competitive sports.
While I’m an extremely competitive person, and I love to win, I don’t endorse the idea of winning at all costs. We compete hard within the spirit and the rules of the game and let the results stand. This is also an important lesson for athletes in what it means to have integrity of character. The lessons learned on the soccer field transcend the game and have life-long implications.
Wrapping Up Parent Impact
Teach your parents to be reactionary-positive if you want them to make a positive parent impact! Your parents should avoid giving instruction in the flow of the game or being critical of the athletes. Their role is to build a positive atmosphere and attitude for the team. Of course, these things aren’t easy to instill in parents when you’re balancing parents, coaching, and administration for your team.
Athletes watch, listen, and model how we react.
If you’re frustrated and show that emotion, your athletes will feel that way too. If you build a positive, fun, and excited atmosphere that celebrates playing the game, the athletes will have a great experience and want to keep playing.
Ruth Nicholson is an internationally certified professional facilitator, mediator, and organizational alchemist helping sports organizations better support players and coaches. She is the founder of GO! offering proven governance, leadership, and administrative tools.
In 2020, Ruth was inducted into the International Association of Facilitators Hall of Fame. She was a co-creator of the international 2019 Think Tank to Improve Youth Sports which engaged over 60 speakers from two dozen sports. In 2018, Ruth was a finalist for the Hudl Innovator of the Year award for youth soccer. Her work has engaged sports enthusiasts in North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America.