Sideline Headaches

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

When I finished the rough draft for this post, I went to look for other posts I’ve written on youth sports and realized I’ve already written three. Here, here, and here. I considered pivoting and writing about one of the many painful plot points in a writer’s journey, but decided I would feel better if I got this off my chest. So here’s the original rant for your reading pleasure. I’ll save the agony of writing for the next post.

Fall soccer season is almost over and I couldn’t be happier. I need a break. Not from the non-stop driving to practices, the lost uniforms, or the chronic misplacement of water bottles. Nope. What I need a break from is some of the “fans.” Some of the people who are hanging out on the sidelines with me – mostly parents and grandparents – from both teams. It’s their constant shouting at children from our camping chairs that has me wanting to bring a roll of duct tape to the games and use it with reckless abandon. Here are the two things I heard coming out of grown adults’ mouths most often this season:

  1. “That was your ball, Joe!”

This is usually yelled after some poor kid made a mistake or just got beat to the ball by an opponent. Um, Joe knows it was his ball. He’s quite aware that the other kid beat him to it or kicked it away from him…but I’m sure he’s sooooo happy to have his parent pointing it out to him in front of his teammates and the people/strangers on the sidelines. In the middle of the freaking game. Great thinking.

  • “You gotta get there faster, Tom!”

I love this one because it usually comes from a parent or grandparent who couldn’t run up and down the field one time without having a cardiac event. Tom’s well aware he got beat. Having an adult shout at him about it is definitely going to make him faster next time. (Insert eye roll.)

What are we thinking?! Do we think this sort of public correcting or chastising in the middle of a game is going to motivate our kid? It’s not! They aren’t going to want to play anymore if we suck the fun out of the game…because this is supposed to be fun, right?

So why are we yelling at them? Why are we putting so much importance on a little kid’s soccer game? Is it the need to live vicariously through our kids? Were our own soccer dreams cut short?  

Are we concerned that our kids’ athletic performance will reflect poorly on us? As in, we don’t want to be the parents of the team’s weak link? 

Do we think this game is going on their permanent record? No one is getting a soccer scholarship at the end of the second grade season. I promise. Odds are, no one on your kids’ current soccer team is getting a scholarship at the end of 12th grade. They aren’t as common as we’d like to lead ourselves to believe. Like, 3% of all athletes uncommon.

Do we think we can yell intrinsic drive into our kids?

Do we need to hire sideline psychologists to help us deal with our insecurities and screwed-up priorities? Because at this point, I’m willing to start a GoFundMe.

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

My mouth has been left hanging open more than once this season after hearing something that was shouted out at a little kid…by someone who loves them. Do we really want to send the message that their athletic performance and prowess is vitally important to us? So important that we are going to shout at them over all the other shouting parents? That how good they are at a sport is indicative of their worth as a human? Or their worth to us? Because that makes me want to cry. No. We want them to love the game, to love exercising, and to get all the benefits that sports can give a kid. Without the downsides of anxiety, shame, and low self-esteem.

Of course, I’m using a soccer example here, but the same shouting happens from football stands, basketball bleachers…basically anywhere you find little people in uniforms. I’m not sure I can have much effect on fans on the sidelines (unless I bring that roll of duct tape), but you can be sure that I think before I shout anything out during a game. Or shout at all. This season has taught me I might be most helpful by just keeping my mouth shut and clapping when we score. Then, at the end of the game, I can say “I love to watch you play!” or “Did you have fun?” Because there are more important things in life than an 8-year-old’s soccer game. For example, where to go for ice cream after the game.

It’s all about priorities and perspective, fans.

Editing To Add: I think it came off that I’m anti-cheering. I love cheering happily, but hate hearing it slide into criticism. Have fun out there!

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

7 Replies to “Sideline Headaches”

  1. In our house, we spend a fair amount of time talking about the power of words. Not just the ones on the written page, as you might expect, but the ones we say too. The ones we say without thinking about them. The things we hear other people use so casually that they lose their meaning and their value. Or do they? Don’t those signals lurk and hurt, even when they’re dulled by overuse? It’s hard to break from the norm, harder still when it is ingrained tradition – such as cheering for your kid or your kids’ team. Julie’s right on the mark, though – take a moment to consider the words that you’re using to “inspire” your player to their best. And consider that there are other parents nearby who also want the best for their player. Then set the bar high for yourself, and make space for all the players to play the game they love.

  2. Julie, thank you for writing this post. I hear the same things on the sidelines. I know I’m a sensitive soul but it’s heartbreaking and so much pressure. Life is hard enough.

  3. This post is right on the money! Although, I’m guilty of yelling “Go, buddy go!!” A little too loud from the sidelines!😂 This past baseball season I witnessed a parent stand on the sideline EVERY GAME and continuously yell at his son whenever he missed the ball, wasn’t fast enough, or wasn’t paying attention… because, you know, he’s 8 years old!! Parents need to calm down a tad and just enjoy watching their child play!

    1. Thanks, Annie! I think I probably wasn’t clear enough – I’m all about shouting “go, go!” Or “great job!” There’s a big difference between cheering happily and criticizing. Calm down is right!

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