Parents are not a nameless, faceless crowd at youth soccer games but are recognizable role models for tomorrows leaders
Danny Jackson on Off Sides
Dealing with Inappropriate Sideline Behavior
Daniel (Danny) Jackson is a former Major League Soccer (MLS) star and captain of the Seattle Sounders. SN is pleased to bring readers Danny Jackson's new column with insights into the professional world of soccer. So many kids dream of go pro, few accomplish this and fewer become team captains and then go on to become youth coaches.
If you’ve ever played in, watched, or coached a game of youth soccer, you’ve seen it happen: the parent, angry at a referee’s call, a coach’s decision, or a player’s execution, lets loose a stream of negativity that can be heard by everyone, on the field and off. Whether the fury is directed at the parent’s own child, a player on the opposing team, the referee, or the coach is largely irrelevant. The fact is, the behavior is inappropriate and must be dealt with quickly and effectively. But how?
It’s extremely important that everything that comes from the sidelines is positive. But that can be difficult to control when emotions come to the forefront. There are few situations more emotionally charged than watching your children compete on the field. It’s crucial for parents to give the responsibility of coaching and managing their kids — and more importantly the team and game — to the coach. Young players get confused by multiple people telling them what to do. They need consistency, and the coach, whose job is to guide and teach the players, can provide it. It’s best for everyone involved to leave the coaching to the coach.
That’s not to say that the parent shouldn’t be involved at all. While constructive criticism should come from the coach, positive reinforcement is needed from the parent and the family. Sometimes it’s difficult, especially for younger coaches, to approach a parent who is several years older than them and try to explain sideline behavior and etiquette. A coach’s best strategy is to set expectations at the very beginning of the season, and continually reinforce them. Every team will have a team meeting at the beginning of the year, and sideline behavior and etiquette is one of the most important topics to cover. That way, parents know from the start what is expected of them.
When I held team meetings at the beginning of the season, I made sure the parents knew to contact me no earlier than the Monday morning after a game. If parents feel aggrieved or frustrated, the worst time to address that in a way that is positive and constructive is immediately following the game. I always told parents to e-mail or phone me on Monday morning at the earliest. The interim time allows them to calm down and assess the situation as a whole. During a game, parents are usually looking at the situation solely within the context of their child. But as a coach, you have to look at the bigger picture.
Of course, even if you’ve effectively outlined your expectations, you’re bound to experience unsavory sideline behavior at some point in your coaching career. And sometimes there have to be repercussions for it. I know coaches who have made it very clear that if a parent is going to be verbally abusive or negative, his or her child will sit on the bench. That’s a last resort, and extremely difficult for a coach, but you’re trying to make sure that the environment as a whole is positive for everybody. If one parent is creating a distraction and impacting the experience of the players, it has to be dealt with aggressively. Parents shouldn’t embarrass themselves or their children; rather, they should be role models for them. That means letting things go, no matter how difficult it can sometimes be.
Coaches aren’t the only ones who can positively affect sideline behavior. Parents, too, have a responsibility to interact with each other to positively influence the environment. While there are certain foundations a coach can lay down at the very beginning of the season, those foundations can be reinforced by parents. And as kids get older, they can also take on an element of responsibility, explaining to their parents what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. The coach can be the conduit to that by holding parent/player meetings, serving as a middleman to foster a deeper level of communication.
Unfortunately, poor sideline behavior isn’t only directed at players, but at officials and coaches, too. Certainly, one of the most frustrating experiences in sports is when an official makes the wrong decision, but many of these officials are volunteers, and without a referee of some sort, a game can’t be played. Too often, I’ve seen kids who have just gone for their refereeing license, and just started their young careers, be spoken to negatively by parents on the sideline. As a coach, there’s a huge element of responsibility to protect those officials, because without them, you’d have no games. Imagine if that referee or assistant referee was your child — how would you respond if an adult shouted at him or her?
And, although it should go without saying, there is absolutely no positive side to a parent shouting at a coach during a game. It is so important to keep those channels of communication open for parents to pick up the phone and set up a face-to-face meeting with their child’s coach. If you give it a few hours or a day, the emotions settle down and there’s more clarity, and what seemed so egregious to a parent in the heat of a game can be addressed in a productive and civilized manner. We are involved in this game to provide a positive impact on young players. Whatever the situation, this should always be the focus. If a player makes a mistake or commits a foul, or a referee or coach makes the wrong decision, take a deep breath and think about why we are all here. We must believe — and teach our children — that a referee is not out there to purposely aggravate people, and a coach is not there to lose a game. People make mistakes, so be a supporter and remember: it’s all about having fun and putting a smile on the face of each and every player.
RELATED ARTICLES: Soccer - Danny Jackson's Column
Daniel (Danny) Jackson is a former Major League Soccer player and was captain of the Seattle Sounders
for five seasons. Jackson, the Colorado Rapid
’s first round pick in the 2002 MLS draft, recently retired from professional soccer following a successful career in which he led the Seattle Sounders to two USL
National championships. At the University of North Carolina,
Jackson was a multi-year All-American, team MVP, and three-year team captain. His UNC
team won a National Championship in 2001, and he was named Soccer America National MVP
and National Championship MVP the same year. Danny was awarded the 2002 Patterson Medal
as the UNC Student Athlete of the year
Danny Jackson's recent coaching experience ranges from youth soccer at Eastside FC and the Sounders FC / ODP youth development program and speaks to high schools and youth clubs regarding the far reaching impacts of youth sports. Danny also is serving as the Director of New Business for Korrio.