Parents On The Other Side

  • by Dec 4, 2008
By Emily Cohen

Two weeks ago, our soccer league had its end of year tournament. As the previous game ended, my daughter's coach strode to the far side of the field to set up the bench for the girls. The coach -- and the parents -- of our opponents surprisingly followed suit, setting up camp directly next to our team.

After politely asking the other team's coach and parents to go to the other side of the field and receiving the reply, "No, we'd like to stay right here," my daughter's coach shrugged his shoulders and sighed -- and hoped for the best. What was that? That the parents on the other team would respect the game and not scream and shout at the players, as we had just seen occur in the prior game.

Luckily, the other team's parents granted our wish and were well-behaved in our game. But the game before ours was ugly. Both teams and their respective parents were on the same side of the field. Just as the game got underway, one team's parents started a rousing cheer. As soon as they were done, the other team's parents looked at each other and, not to be outdone, came up with a similar -- but louder -- cheer for their team.

The constant organized cheers continued throughout the game, along with parents yelling "instructions" to the players ("Where were you going with that ball, Katie?" and "Kick it, Susie!" were just two of the so-called encouraging comments overheard) at the same time as the coaches. It was complete cacophony. The parents were louder than the coaches. And the girls had no idea whom to listen to.

While many leagues' (including ours) rules of play both dictate that, wherever possible, teams should be on opposite sides of the field and their supporters and parents must be on the same side as their team, I think it's time to put a new standard in place across all of youth soccer: Parents should be on the opposite touchline as the players and the coaches.

Why? First, players need to be able to distinguish instruction from the coach or coaches and noise from the parents, who are not supposed to be coaching. As one parent of three youth soccer players put it, "You get the whole sideline full of parents yelling to the kids while the coaches are also trying to be heard." If parents are on the opposite touchline, players can more readily hear their coach or coaches and can make adjustments quickly in a fast-paced game. Simply put, it helps players play better.

Second, keeping parents and coaches separate on opposite sidelines helps referees do their jobs better. Brian Hall, the USSF Referee Department's Manager of Assessment and Training, recently told Soccer America that he is in favor of restricting parents to the opposite sideline because, "It makes it easy for referees to distinguish between the parents and the coaches when they want to take action," Hall said. "You know specifically who you're dealing with - who you can do something official with."

And finally, keeping parents away from the team helps coaches coach better too. One longtime youth soccer coach, when asked whether he would continue to coach, joked, "Only for a team of 11 orphans." Another coach told me that, although team on one side and parents on the other is the rule in his league, he'd "prefer to have the team and coaches on one side and have the parents stay at home. Actually, some duct tape for the parents would suffice too."

One well-respected coach in our league said that he felt parents were a distraction to the players, not just verbally, but also physically. He recalled several situations where a player would come out of the game and her parent would ask her -- in front of the coach -- if she was too tired to go back into the game! And another parent would sit so close to the bench that her daughter sat on her lap rather than with her teammates on the bench.

It's pretty clear from these examples that parents get in the way of players' ability to play, referees' ability to ref, and coaches' ability to coach. Recognizing this, the English FA has recently gone as far as to dictate that parents must be on the opposite touchline from the teams in all youth games and that they watch from a marked area two yards back from the sideline. This puts parents even further back from the action and give the players and referees more room to play and ref the game.

I think it's time American youth soccer gives the game back to the players, coaches, and refs and out of the mouths of parents.

(Emily Cohen is a freelance writer living in Berkeley, Calif. She is the mother of a son, 12, and a daughter, 9, who both play multiple sports. She has been a team manager for her children's soccer, baseball and softball teams.)


10 comments about "Parents On The Other Side".
  1. , December 4, 2008 at 4:13 p.m.

    I really agree with this. I work as a referee, and the parents are almost always the ones that make my job the most difficult. I had one experience, where a father thought the ball was out of bounds, and it wasn't, and yelled at his daughter to pick up the ball. It ended up being a hand ball, and I felt bad for the girl, because she was obviously really confused. Leagues should definitely work harder to keep parents on the sidelines, to not only make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone, but also so that the kids can actually learn something about the game.

  2. Americans '75, December 4, 2008 at 4:26 p.m.

    The coaches and players should be on one side, the spectators should be on the opposite side, EACH TEAM'S SUPPORTERS SHOULD BE OPPOSITE THEIR PLAYERS' BENCH (so they aren't mixed together), and THE SPECTATORS MUST BE RESTRICTED FROM ANY COACHING OR DIRECTING TO THE PLAYERS. Cheer them on, don't tell them what to do. Let the players make the decisions; they know what to do and will learn more about decision-making and problem solving (important life skills) by adjusting and improving their own decisions than simply doing what is yelled at them.

  3. John Spears, December 4, 2008 at 4:42 p.m.

    Well I think that is important to seperate parants and teams, but removing
    parents from the field would end the support that the parents give. If there
    are no parents there is no play. Referees should do their job better and
    maybe parents would not get so upset. I'am a big believer that if the ref's.
    are up to par the games go very well, the coach's, players, and parents
    all go home happy. Good luck on finding ref. that really cares about all
    the people at the pitch. Referees should know that a lot more time and
    money is invested in players improvement then buying a referees uniform,
    and coming to the field.

  4. Gerald Scheetz, December 4, 2008 at 5:14 p.m.

    John, I am SHOCKED by your comment.

    I think almost all referees care about the players on the field and the integrity of the game. If they do not then you are correct and they need to stop being a referee, but this is rare.

    Referee's do not get the job by just buying a uniform. They do have to go through training. And while they do get paid, being yelled at by parents is not necessarily in the job description.

    John, if you care so much, I challenge you to become a referee for your child's league.

  5. Gerald Scheetz, December 4, 2008 at 5:24 p.m.

    With the exception of a couple out-of-state tournaments, all the games I have been a coach at have had a technical side (for the teams) and a fan side. I agree with the author that this is far superior setup to the alternative.

    One additional reason is some coaches, if given the right to roam from endline to endline, will roam endline to endline giving instruction at every point on the field. This kind of instruction should be limited to practices.

  6. James Stroud, December 5, 2008 at 12:35 a.m.

    Our family 'grew up' in Region III and never saw the fans on the same side as the teams until we moved to California. Our particular state rules stipulated the technical area remained free of unrostered players and fans. During state cups, the field marshalls stood at the end lines to prevent fans from sitting behind the goals. Teams sat on one side of the field, fans sat on the opposite side of their team benches and rarely did the fans cross the half line (well maybe the gk's fans followed their player)into the other fans 'area'.

    We liked it...let the coaches could do their job and players knew which side to listen to.

  7. Bruce Gowan, December 5, 2008 at 7:28 a.m.

    FYSA (Florida Youth Soccer) has a rule requiring that the teams and fans be on separate sides of the field. Most tournaments that I work as a ref, have the parents in the middle of the field and will not allow spectators behind the goal line or on the touchline inside the penalty area. Both of these rules help to cut down on the possibility of crowd comments hurting the game.

  8. Brad Partridge, December 5, 2008 at 9:11 a.m.

    Unfortunately for both players and coaches Youth soccer in America has become a social and entertainment activity not a training and development activity as it should be. As a DOC and coach of over 24 year it is sad to see. This is one of the main reasons that we as a country fail to develop world class field players. We focus far too much energy and effort on games for entertainment and not enough on developing players. Parents are a distaction to young players at both games and training, especially if they are located next or close to them. Youth soccer is not MLS or EPL. Some of the very best soccer I have ever seen has come from scrimmages that had no refs and no spectators. Just players enjoying the game.

  9. Virl Hill, December 5, 2008 at 1:41 p.m.

    I agree supporters belong on opposite sides of the pitch from teams, especially at older ages and higher levels of competition. In addition, a proactive and communicative coach can greatly influence parental behavior. At my pre-season parents meeting, I remind team parents of the classic saying that there are four roles at a youth soccer match: player, referree, coach and fan. Each person can only choose one. The line always gets a laugh, which makes it easy to follow up with a comment setting sideline expectations. I've been fortunate to have fantastic parents thus far who embrace that philosophy, which makes each week fun for all of us (including our club's young referees), win or lose.

  10. J R White, December 12, 2008 at 7:16 p.m.

    As a prior parent, coach and team manager, I have mixed emotions---I see the benefit of both. Under different circumstances, I think each is appropriate. But I have a different perspective from most of those commenting. Currently serving as a referee, I have experienced a huge benefit from having parents and teams on the same side. When a parent gets out of control, starts "coaching" up and down the touchline, or is otherwise a problem, I do not confront the parent. I simply go to the coach (during a stoppage if at all possible) and tell the coach that the parent has to conform to the rules. When the coach tells the parent to comply or it will hurt the team, there is usually never a problem after that. I will occassionally hear parents on the bench tell another parent, "The Ref will get you if you do that!" This way I have the coach and the parents helping to control the wayward parent.

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