What to do about M's father?

By Donna Olmstead

The recent death of Salt Lake City, Utah, soccer referee Ricardo Portillo makes me incredibly sad. There isn't a game on earth that is worth someone's life. I read that his family says the parents of the 17-year-old keeper who hit him in the head should bear some of the blame. I guarantee you that neither the parents nor anyone else on the sidelines intended for Portillo's death to happen. But time and time again I've watched negative energy result in unintended consequences.

We were at a U9 rec league soccer game Saturday. These kids are at the age where some of them are beginning to show a real talent for soccer and the rest of them are just having a good time running around in the sun.

One little girl, we'll call her M, should be on a competitive team. She has two older brothers who practice soccer with her, and the lessons show in the way she moves, handles the ball and watches the players around her. She's the team's top scorer, of course. And she's a nice kid.

The coach is great with the players. He plays them evenly throughout the game and encourages them with positive comments. He's not the type of coach who keeps his strong players on the whole game with the object of winning. I wish we could clone him.

And I wish we could banish M's father to the parking lot. Actually, to a parking lot in another county. Or state.

When a player whom M's father considers to be weak is playing defense, he snorts and makes comments such as, "Well, now they'll score for sure."

When a player besides his daughter has the ball, he yells that they should pass it to her.

And, with M's father on the sideline, who needs a coach? He knows everything about soccer and "coaches" at the top of his lungs.

Besides not having a volume control, one of the problems with M's father is that he really doesn't know everything about soccer. For example, when the keeper picked up the ball outside the box, M's father yelled, "Penalty kick!" Of course it was just a hand ball, but he really didn't want to hear that.

I'm not sure how to handle parents like him. Sitting at the other end of the field helps me a little, but it doesn't do anything for the parents around him whose feelings he's hurting. He simply goes into his own world when the game begins and becomes unconscious of everyone else.

Because at this age the kids still are shorter than the parents, they get to run through a "parent tunnel" at the end of the game. And they love it. It doesn't matter who won or lost, they run through smiling while the parents yell encouragement. Then everyone gets a treat.

We tied this game 4-4. When M's mom told her husband it was time to form the tunnel, he looked at her and said, "They don't deserve a tunnel. They didn't win." And he picked up his chair and walked off the field. I hope M didn't notice that he wasn't there.

I don't know how to handle M's father. Actually, I know I can't handle him. And I'm pretty sure he doesn't realize that the negative energy he is sending to the players and to the players' parents will have unintended consequences. At the very least, he's ruining the game for the people close enough to hear him. Let's just hope that's as far as it goes.

(Florida resident Donna Olmstead has been involved in soccer through both her children and her grandchildren, as well as housing professional players and owning and running an indoor soccer facility. She is a freelance writer and spends weekends trying to remember at which tournament she's supposed to be cheering.)

24 comments about "What to do about M's father? ".
  1. Brian McLindsay, May 7, 2013 at 3:03 a.m.

    Record one of the games, however stand beside this guy during the full game. Then put it on youtube and let everyone know they can see the last game and how to find it on youtube. Be sure you have the complete audio with no music over the top of your recording.

    Be sure to follow up directly and see if the guy had a chance to see his child's great performance on the Internet?

  2. Gary Allen, May 7, 2013 at 10:21 a.m.

    Well-spoken. Unfortunately, one of the real losers in this situation is, and will be, M. Not only is her father creating a very unpleasant atmosphere for everyone, he is subtly putting pressure on M that winning and immediate results are all that matter. As she gets older, as most often happens, her passion for the game will be overshadowed by the constant requirement that she be successful in the immedate envrionment. Instead of being allowed to play the game and develop because she loves it, she will be defined as a future star whose only purpose will be to play at the next level. What a shame that parents, and other adults, can take a game like soccer, which provides a wonderful opportunity for athletes to express themselves and solve problems, and turn it into a passionless (in terms of love for the game), constantly success-driven endeavor that most kids tire of by their mid-teens.

  3. lynne parshall, May 7, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.

    My daughter had a coach at an early age who handled this problem well. He told the parents at the beginning of the season, that he was the coach and we were the spectators. It was important that the players learn to hear his voice. We were welcome to cheer, but not to "coach". If he heard us "coach" he would assume we wanted a conversation alone with our player, and he would, at the next opportunity, take our player off the field so that we could have that conversation. And he followed through with this. It worked quite well. As the girls got older, a number of the coaches emulated this approach. It is amazing how quickly parent behavior changed as the girls were telling their parents to keep quiet so they could play.

  4. Randy McKee, May 7, 2013 at 10:33 a.m.

    I wish local organizations had the guts to deal with this. But they don't. They are afraid of criticism.

    Over my decades of coaching, I have done several things to thwart the idiocy I hear coming from the other side of the field.

    The first thing I do is have a meeting with the parents and define what "coaching" is. Then I tell them that they are not allowed to coach or to make derogatory comments toward the ref, the other team and the other team's fans, no matter how obnoxious those fans may be.

    I tell them what will happen if they do not follow the proper protocol (cheering for their player and nothing else).

    Then I follow up.

    Often, when a parent is yelling instructions to their kid, I pull the kid and send them over to the parent with these instructions: "Coach said to come over here - you wanted to talk to me during the game."

    When people won't shut up, have somebody with a loud air horn stand beside them and blow the horn every time they open their mouths. They get it soon enough.

    Tell them that if they come to the game and run their mouth, their child won't play. One thing is certain - even the worst parents don't want to hurt their child's chance of playing.

    These are all hard solutions that should be tried after a league official and/or coach tells the parent that their behavior is not satisfactory.

    In this "soft" day and age, they may seem harsh but they get the job done.

  5. Peter Calabrese, May 7, 2013 at 10:54 a.m.

    First, let's state that it is not just men that are the culprits. It is parents, both male and female. I just witnessed a woman berate a referee after a game that made me blush. I was to referee the next game. My club has banned parents like this from games for actions like this in the past. If they choose to pull their child it is unfortunate, but it is better for the club all around. I don't know if I would post the video of it on you tube, but I would play the whole thing for the parent and then have a chat. If he/she continues ban them from the sidelines. Coaches are afraid to set boundaries as parents will 'pull' their child to another team if they don't get their way. The 'parent training' has to start immediately - U-4's. I like what Randy and Lynne have suggested - cheering, not coaching and pulling the player and sending over to the parent. Eventually the parent will get the message they are costing their child playing time.

  6. Stephen Wetzel, May 7, 2013 at 10:54 a.m.

    I have coached in rec leagues for years. **THIS IS VERY SIMPLE COACHES!!!** You get your parents together at the first practice, and hand them guidelines on how they are to behave, tell them you will remove them the first time they make derogatory comments or yell at *ANYONE* (Especially referees, other players, or other coaches!!!). If they do it another time, they will be asked to leave for the season. If you're league or District or school does not back you up on this, then you need to agitate for change from the top down. Never accept this type of behavior in rec soccer, and you will set the culture of one of *ENCOURAGEMENT* only! Turn your parents example into ambassadors for your league on what is the standard way to act.

  7. Bob Cook, May 7, 2013 at 11:08 a.m.

    I've seen this stuff as a coach, parent and youth sports blogger ( As a coach, I've always given the parents notes about who I am, what my philosophy of coaching is, and what the expectations are for them. The vast, vast majority of parents have no issue with this. But not all do -- and in some way, I don't expect them to, because it's their kid, and often parents have a difficult time detaching themselves when they have to just sit and watch their child, so close but out of their control. One thing you might do with M's parents is reiterate the philosophy of yourself and the league, and perhaps suggest more competitive leagues if that's what they wish, making it clear your league is NOT where they are going to get that level of intensity. I did that one time as a softball coach -- and the father did agree to put his kids in another league. However, if M stays, unless the dad is clearly abusive, you might have a tough time edging him out of there. (Unless the other parents complain to you -- then you can bring in the league.) Sometimes you just have a situation where you have a troublesome parent, one who isn't bad enough to kick out, but one who is merely a pain. All you can do then is focus on the kids and get through the season.

  8. Stephen Fixx, May 7, 2013 at 11:09 a.m.

    Love these truly helpful responses from Lynne and Randy. Player behavior and parent/grandparent/guardian education is the coach's responsibility. However, like me, many youth coaches come from those same ranks. Great coaching education leads to better parent education!
    We've been trying "Silent Saturday" in our recreational league for several seasons. The kids love it! Parents and coaches are only allowed to cheer and encourage. The first time out my team parents were so silent I needed to walk around and discuss with them how to indulge in some appropriate positive noise :)
    USYS has a soccer related parenting video. The NFHS has a free online class for high school parents that explains the true benefits realized through sport. Inappropriate sideline behavior should be addressed early in a coach’s, players or parents career.

  9. Tom Merchant, May 7, 2013 at 11:28 a.m.

    Lynne's strategy works well. I explain it at my initial parent meeting along with the 'cheer, don't coach' mantra and parents catch on quickly. I also distribute a copy of Dan Saferstein's booklet "Win or Lose" to each new parent. Get it. It's great and covers this and a lot of similar parenting situations.
    PS I've never met Dan.

  10. Gary Allen, May 7, 2013 at 11:33 a.m.

    There is a great exercise we teach in coaching courses for showing parents how confusing their voices are for players. It is called "Airplane" but you don't tell the parents that. You write down two sets of instructions for making a paper airplane, with a single instruction on each line. For example, "Fold the paper in half lengthwise." One sheet you keep intact, and the other you tear up into pieces with only one line on each torn piece. You split your parents into two groups. You tell them you have a task for each group and they only have one minute to complete it. You give one group the complete sheet and a blank sheet and you appoint one as the coach and one as the instructee. In that group only the coach is aloud to instruct and the other parents can only cheer and encourage. For the other group you give each person a sheet with one line on it and also one of them a blank sheet, and they each have to give the instructee only the instructions on their own piece of paper whenever and however they want. What happens is that the group with only the coach coaching make a paper airplane. The group group usually ends upo with a crumpled mess. It is a great visual for the parents to see what happens when they are all yelling incomplete and often conflicting instrutions from the sideline.

  11. Dennis Mueller, May 7, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.

    Brian McLindsay's suggestion is not bad, but you might not have to go to the extreme of posting it on U-tube. I had a father of a very good player on the U-10 team I coached who could not be quiet. When he heard just a part of a game one of the other parent's had video-taped, he recognized a problem. His solution was to bring a stick of wood and knife and whittle a good distance from everyone else when the game was being played. He said simply that when he actively watched, he was out there in his mind and the distraction of another task helped him disengage.

  12. Ramon Creager, May 7, 2013 at 12:27 p.m.

    I have had this experience, variously as a coach, a referee, and then simply as a parent. As a coach or ref, I could do something. As just a parent, all I could do is complain to the coach, and take it to the league if that didn't work. It is as a coach that you have the most control. At the beginning of each season I prepared a "sideline etiquette" sheet that went to each parent, and I expected it to be followed. I also would conduct a simple rules presentation and Q&A for interested parents, so that they can understand what is going on. The one thing I did not tolerate was sideline coaching from parents. It's confusing and obnoxious and generally at odds with what I was trying to teach the kids (which often had to do more with their development and not the particular moment at hand), and I usually followed the practice of taking that parent's kid out to reduce the confusion. They caught on to this. I also happen to be an ex player and know the game well; maybe that helped a little. What I can say for sure is that coaching is not easy, and that dealing with parents and other adults was the hardest part. If your child has a good coach, show him/her your appreciation!

  13. Christopher Griffen, May 7, 2013 at 12:52 p.m.

    A comment from the coach might help but this is rec soccer we're talking about. The coach is probably a mom or dad and perhaps does not wield the authority that a club coach might.

    If this player is truly talented and progresses to a competitive team, I would expect that the club would address this badly behaving father. In addition, the player will be playing with better teammates and therefore won't exhibit the ability to dominate the field as she did in rec. On the other hand, if she stays in rec she can dominate her field for years until her desire to play fizzles out.

    If no one on the team has the will to shut this guy up, or he's such a blowhard that he can't be shut up, then there's not much you can do but stand on another part of the field to avoid his obnoxious comments.

    In any case, one way or another this will resolve itself either when the player enters comp and the array of teammates and opponents slims down the gap between her talent and theirs or when the parents notice that in rec there just isn't that much competitive fire beyond a certain age. It's just about having fun and being in the sun the older they get.

  14. R2 Dad, May 7, 2013 at 1:24 p.m.

    This is a bad combination of attributes for parents of young players:
    1) overprotective mother/father than cannot micromanage child's behavior like they usually do
    2) no knowledge of the game or its laws
    Yes it could be worse (flares/noisemakers, verbal abuse, physical confrontation of referees) but these parents enable a toxic environment at the match. Combine this with coaches who only want to win to earn their keep at a club and it's no wonder there is such a huge dropout rate in this sport. We've developed this soccer environment for the adults, not the kids, and it has to change.

  15. Robert Buege, May 7, 2013 at 1:52 p.m.

    As a referee, I blame incidents like this on coaches who must win at any cost, and parents. We are seeing more and more youth teams coached by "professional" coaches. They need to win to maintain their income. The manner in which I have seen some of them berate a poorly performing player makes me happy my children are grown and no longer playing. Over the weekend I refereed a U 11 game. The parents from both teams were screaming and challenging every call. at one point one of the "professional" coaches complained that he felt the parents were calling the offsides and not the assistant referee who was somewhat intimidated by a throng of screaming lunatics. The players feed on the insanity of the fans and of the coaches.
    I am very stingy when it comes to issuing cautions to young players but wound up cautioning two of the players in this U 11 game for dissent. What is wrong with the picture when a 10 year old will mouth off to a 5"10 220 pound referee. Simple answer, if mommy and daddy, my role models feel its okay to scream at and berate the referee it must be okay. Perhaps we need to do with Italy did when they had problems with spectators. Games played with no spectators and only the teams.

  16. Doug Martin, May 7, 2013 at 2:15 p.m.

    Call your club president ask the father be banned.

    I really have no sympathy for you going to the other end of the field.. call the club ask that the father be observed by a club executive, then his behavior assessed and the parent called in and told he is not welcome at his daughters games.


  17. Kent James, May 7, 2013 at 2:25 p.m.

    Lots of great suggestions, but one thing that has not been mentioned is the structure of the league. When you have teams playing against each other it is inevitably competitive, which is not usually healthy at the youngest ages. When my kids were young, I developed a skills program, where we had practice groups instead of teams. Coaches had a common set of practices, and practiced at the same time, next to each other, and we had players (or groups of players) working with different coaches. For game day, we had at least 3 games for each set of players, and sometimes we divided the players into teams randomly, sometimes by skill levels (strong field, medium, weak). If a game was uneven, we would switch players to different teams. All the players in each age group had the same color shirt, and coaches used pinnies to differentiate the teams. Essentially this was organized pick-up, but it had a couple (somewhat unanticipated) benefits. The games were always competitive (evenly matched) so there were no blow-outs, and every player was challenged. Dividing the games by skill levels allowed the best players to play with and against other quality players, and allowed the players on the "weak" field to take bigger roles than they normally would. And finally, the greatest difference (which was unanticipated) was the tone of the sidelines. Parents realized the scores of the games were meaningless (since their child might be playing on one team in one period and another in the next), so they cared less about winning. And when a player made a nice play, they were applauded by all the parents (instead of just their team's parents), because that player was known to all. It was the friendliest soccer atmosphere I've ever experienced (we used no refs; one coach would "run" the each field, reffing and making substitutions, though because we played multiple short periods (as many as we could fit in an hour, varying from 6-10 minutes depending on weather), subs were rare during the games). This worked very well for U6 and U8, U10s occasionally needed more varied competition (U9s were usually fine with it). It was a very flexible format, that allowed for a lot of player development.

  18. r h, May 7, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.

    Unless the club has a strict policy against parents being loud and negative or a referee throws him out, he is welcome to go to his daughter's games. That's why clubs need to have programs in place like "SAGE" (Set a Good Example) where players, parents, and coaches sign a good behavior pledge. We're not all perfect, but this is especially unacceptable at younger ages. Parents don't get it unless you set up rules and consequences.
    What his idea of "fun" and "contributing" does to the team and likely hurting his daughter even more.

    The problem of an excellent player on a less competitive team is different. I don't see a 9 year old suffering from that, but once she goes full-sided (U11 in my area), she should be on a more competitive team. In that case, you should find the father's behavior either shut down or get his daughter kicked off the team. Then maybe he will learn.

  19. Ronnie j Salvador, May 7, 2013 at 3:01 p.m.

    This situation can be difficult to manage at a rec level. It’s a situation that happens each year to the most soccer programs everywhere. There are some good, logical, reasonable solutions suggested. However, it’s likely this parent is beyond logic or reason. If I was the rec coach, I’d let someone up the chain in the organization handle the parent. That way, any animosity created isn’t between the rec coach and the parent; rather, it’s diffused and spread to others in the organization. But doesn’t it seem nuts that they keep score in this U09 league?
    For travel teams, it tends to be the particular coach or club. In our area its one particular club with parents that consistently display boorish behavior. I officiated 3 games last weekend with this club. We had to endure parent accusations that the other team must have paid us more, a game that their team was up 4~1 at the time! And people complain there aren’t enough good officials; who wants to put up with this stuff? While it’s usually a half dozen silly parents and not all those present for each team, that’s more than enough to categorize all of them in the same bucket. Some of the kids [thankfully not most] are influenced by their parents behavior, which is unfortunate because to make the most out of their individual potential, you can't have a holier than thou attitude.

  20. Fingers Crossed, May 7, 2013 at 3:04 p.m.

    I've been coaching youth soccer for seven years now and the way to handle this is pretty simple. Lay down the law at the start of the season and set the expectation as to what you define is acceptable behavior with your parents. Parents who consistently fail to act appropriately will be asked to leave the team. It's not all that difficult. My experience has been that most parents watch and enjoy the games without any problem. However, there is occassionally one or two parents who take it way too seriously. You need to remove these people from the team as soon as possible if they can not control themselves. Otherwise, your experience as a coach will be torture and you will wind up walking away from what would be an otherwise positive and rewarding experience.

  21. Charlie Wentzel, May 7, 2013 at 4:13 p.m.

    Video Video defined by the other replies, establish expectations and explain acceptable behavior. Show the video to M's dad with discretion and "illuminate" the consequences if the behavior persists.

  22. Tom Cantaffa, May 8, 2013 at 10:43 a.m.

    My apologies for the length of this post, but a very important topic!

    It is extremely unfortunate that we have to discuss issues such as this. Mr Portillo’s death was a result of a terribly heinous and AVOIDABLE act and casts a “negative light” on the Beautiful Game. “M’s” father’s behavior, although comparatively less severe, is essentially no worse because of the escalating bad behavior of the child. USYS (United States Youth Soccer) is a good resource for parent, player, and coaches behavior and more …

    I think there are three main issues here: recognizing level of play, adult responsibility, and club response.

    Level of Play: Bottom line is that none of this should be tolerated at any level or in any sport, especially youth athletics. It doesn’t matter if the child (age 9 or any age!!) is playing recreation soccer, challenge travel, or even classic or higher. Here is a link to USYS “Recreational Player Pathways” (READ IT and SHARE IT) …

    Adult Responsibility: There are infinite reasons why parents, in general, do not “rear” their children as we were or our parents were during our childhood years. I think today’s lifestyle is one that seeks a path of least resistance with the quickest result. Parents seem to pass the responsibility to overburdened school teachers, coaches, etc. As a society, well all need to take equal responsibility and provide consistent messages for our children’s wellbeing, behavior, upbringing, etc.

    Club Response: Many clubs rely heavily on the membership dues/fees to keep their programs alive and working. Clubs may “tread lightly” because of the fear of losing memberships, litigious responses, etc. I’ve also seen clubs ignore their own bylaws and policies when it comes to enforcing parent, player, and coach’s behavior! What kind of precedent does that set?? I have a suggestion … which I promoted as the president of a local soccer club … “Silent Soccer”. I can’t recall where the idea came from but when I implemented it, it was great! The premise is that the only people who could talk were the players, no parents or no coaches (no cheering or otherwise), … it was nice and the kids had a great time playing! Admittedly this was difficult with the youngest ages so we did allow very simple, calm and quiet encouragement. Do this once a season (not all season) and use this experience as an example and reminder. Literally all the feedback I received from the kids and many parents was that the kids had more fun and the parents were more relaxed! A “win-win”!!

  23. Mark Grody, May 8, 2013 at 1:25 p.m.

    PCA is a helpful resource.

  24. James Madison, May 11, 2013 at 10:35 p.m.

    Lots of good suggestions. Let me add one: try diverting the parent involved by giving him, in this case, but it also works if the problem is her, a job. For example, if he has a camera or a video camera or even a smart phone, tell him you need action photos of each of the players. If not, ask him to keep statistics. E.g., give him a copy of the lineup and tell him you need him to keep count of the number of passes completed by each player

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