I'm trying to think of any other situation where parents would allow their child to be treated in this fashion. If this happened at school, say, then you would hope that the teacher would be called before a disciplinary panel and then kept under stern observation for future offenses. When it comes to sporting activities, however, there's a strange tolerance for choleric, red-faced, tantrum-tossing team officials. By coincidence, I received a message on the same day from one of the fathers on the boys U-8 team I coach, saying he appreciated that the team was run in a relaxed and calm fashion. He'd been at his older son's U-13 game on Saturday, and seen an opposition coach who'd "spent the whole game yelling." There's a lot of it about. Anger is the new normal.
Much as I was grateful for his message, there should be no need for a father to thank his son's U-8 coach for being calm. There should be no other way of coaching kids. In the city of 700,000 people where I coach and referee (Frankfurt am Main), though, there is a shortage of places on youth teams, despite the fact that there are over 70 clubs within the city's boundaries alone. We have a waiting list of four players whose parents regularly stay in touch to see if a spot on the roster's been freed up (there is no pay-to-play -- annual fees are around $100, including team uniforms).
This explains, perhaps, why parents are reluctant to intervene when a splenetic coach unleashes his demons on a child whose sole crime has been to make a mistake during a game of soccer. As though mistakes weren't part of every sport. As though errors were not something to be learned from, but irredeemable transgressions worthy of nothing but punishment.
If the parents complain, the coach might just invite them to find a new team if they're unhappy with what could generously be termed his "style." I only wish that more parents had the courage to do this, even if it means playing soccer at a lower level, or playing a different sport altogether. It's supposed to be a hobby for fitness and enjoyment. If your child's as upset as the 13-year-old lad getting chewed out on the bench, there's something seriously wrong.
The youngster and some of his teammates weren't the exclusive objects of the coach's wrath (and his assistant was no better). As the referee, I too was being held responsible for the fact this team was losing by a huge margin. They had come out with a game plan to foul the faster, smarter and fitter opponent. Having those fouls called and their game plan torn to shreds had lead to a frustrating afternoon for these two charlatans. Why was I only calling fouls against their team, they raged? The answer to that was simple -- it was almost only their team committing the fouls.
I should stress that such coaches are, in my experience, part of the minority -- and that experience includes seven years as a referee in the USA. But in sport as in politics, it's always the aggressive and hysterical few who set the unpleasant tone, grab all the attention, and exert a malevolent influence on the culture (be it soccer or civic) that is way out of proportion to their constructive input.
That's a roundabout way of saying they need to shut up or stop coaching. Parents, referees, and both club and league officials need to be more vigilant in stamping out such disgraceful conduct among people who are supposed to be role models, not wrecking machines. No one should be yelling at kids, least of all for a poor pass or a mistimed tackle.
If your kid's coach has a temper that's out of control then you should do something about it. There's simply no excuse for abuse.
(Ian Plenderleith is a European-based soccer writer. His latest book, "The Quiet Fan," is available here. His previous book, "Rock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League," is available here.)