When controlling the parents becomes problematic, leave them out

The U-16 All-Star team I coached this fall prepped for its tournament against a travel team. They looked amazing, and they could hardly stop scoring.

But maybe that wasn’t the best preparation for the tournament.

In that scrimmage, the 20 or so parents who attended sat politely in the bleachers, maybe clapping for a nice shot or save but saying very little. In the tournament, parents were a little more “involved.” That probably isn’t the reason that the shots that went sailing into the net in our scrimmages went past the post, over the bar or straight to the keeper in our tournament. But it certainly added to the misery.

Elite players, of course, need to get used to hearing a crowd. That’s one reason kids who went through the Bradenton residency and some Development Academy programs get a reputation for being soft. The audience for those games is a bunch of scouts taking notes, perhaps not the best preparation for rivalry-fueled college crowds, much less stepping out in front of the ultras in some European cauldron.

But even at Connecticut’s Morrone Stadium or the San Siro, you don’t have a steady line of parents standing five feet from the field. That’s what players faced in this tournament. Whenever a gap appeared in that line, a parent would move along to follow the action.

Heaven forbid any youth player go without a parent yelling “Shoot!” at a player on the end line with an angle that would be difficult even if five defenders weren’t standing in the way. Or the old classic “Boot it!”

Controlling the parents is problematic. Maybe the referees should at least back the parents up a few feet -- our field had a white line that would’ve been convenient, and it also had bleachers that went mostly unused. (Things will be different next fall when I’m reffing rather than coaching.) If a coach has some stature, he or she might be able to tell parents to shut it or their kid is going to get comfortable on the bench. That’s generally not an option for parent coaches, even the ones who want to get their parents to calm down.

The more soccer-literate the parent, of course, the less likely he or she (let’s not kid ourselves -- it’s usually “he”) is to keep up an ear-splitting torrent of nonsense throughout a game. But even if the kids are sharp, the parents might not be. The most obnoxious parents I’ve heard in my brief refereeing career so far were from a team ranked near the top in its state, and I was flabbergasted to listen to ignorant outbursts from parents at a U.S. Youth Soccer national championship.

In competitive games, whether they’re local rec games or national championships, parents are going to be a persistent problem.

And that’s why we need to start playing some games without parents.

Maybe it’s a parent-free weekend in league play. Maybe it’s a closed-door scrimmage. Maybe it’s a weekly free-play session in which coaches divide the players into teams and just let them play. Ideally, the kids would be playing freely in their neighborhoods, but over-scheduled kids and over-scheduled fields are not conducive to such a thing.

Parents may gripe about it. But it’s not about them. The game belongs to the players, no matter how much exercise the parents get racing along the sidelines to offer their opinions -- or worse, to belittle a U-11 player who had the temerity to strip the ball from their little angels.

Besides, being a soccer parent is stressful. We could all use a week off, no matter how well-behaved we think we are. Go spend an hour at a coffeehouse or a library. Maybe go to the dry cleaners or the grocery store or wherever you need to go.

Your kid will be fine. I have fond memories of playing multiple sports growing up, and I can’t even remember if my parents were at all the games.

I wasn’t playing for my parents. And your kids aren’t playing for you. They're playing for their friends -- and themselves. Let them play the game.

5 comments about "When controlling the parents becomes problematic, leave them out".
  1. R2 Dad, November 27, 2018 at 11:56 a.m.

    Thanks for adressing this issue. It comes up every year, and I do think leagues are at least aware and are installing things like Silent Saturday where parents and coaches cannot say anything outloud from the sideline, only clap.
    We train our coaches, we train our referees, but there is no parent training and I think it's about time. I think new U8 parents should be required to attend a U19 match, preferably GU19, to see how those parents behave. From my experience, those "experienced" parents pull up a chair, drink coffee, talk with other parents, cheer a little but most importantly Do No Harm. If the new U8 parents can get a good example at the start, they might better understand their place in this world of youth soccer.

  2. Ronald Matthews, November 27, 2018 at 2:33 p.m.

    As a coach, the biggest problem I face is parents 'coaching' from the sidelines.  Our league prohits this but referees never inforce it.  I have seen ref's get involved when they are the target of comments from the parents sideline but I have never seen a ref do anything when parents become obnoxious towards the players.  Maybe it is not their place but maybe it should be.  After all, we coaches are on the other sideline and do not hear most of what is coming from the parents unless they are really loud.

    I agree with R2 Dad, the more experienced parents are usually better behaved and I find it kind of funny that parents at a u10 game act as though their childs entire future rests on the outcome of the game.  The question I always ask of a vocal parent is this:  Have you ever seen a referee change his/her call because of a parent or coach yelling at them?  Of course the answer is always 'No'.  So why not sit back, enjoy the game and set a good example for your kid?

    Now I have a question for the coaches out there.  If your best player's parents were a problem on the sidelines and threatened to leave the team when you told them to keep quiet, would you let them go or would you look the other way in the future when they became a problem again?

  3. Bill Riviere, November 27, 2018 at 7:23 p.m.

    I was a loud coach and then a loud parent, then had two daughters go on to play D1 soccer.  Then I became a referee.  There's many a game that I see my face on a vociferous parent on the sideline...  I recognize that I had been out of line and have tried to make up for that:

    There's been many a game I've refereed when, during a stoppage early in the game, I step to midfield and ask for parents' attention.  I tell them that the state association (CT) has a rule against coaching from their sideline and that their coaches need to be given the chance to coach without interference from spectators.  I also remind them that the players don't listen to them anyway and don't appreciate it. I encourage positive, supportive comments.  

    My comments always end with a round of applause from the parents, many of whom are looking at the few loudmouth parents that they'd prefer would shut up.

    A parting comment is that most coaches don't tell their parents (as in a preseason or mid-season meeting) that they don't want parents coaching their sons and daughters.  Coaches preach the right things, but don't realize they have control or shy away from what is a coach's responsibility, not a referee's--especially when the referee is a teenager.

  4. Bill Riviere, November 27, 2018 at 7:24 p.m.

    By the way, CT has a silent sideline rule once a season....

  5. uffe gustafsson, November 28, 2018 at 5:06 p.m.

    We referees are told not to tell parents that their behaviors are distruptive, but to inform the coaches and have them inform their parents to stop the nonsense or the coach will be asked to leave the field if the coach can’t get parents to stop.

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