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Sideline etiquette: 6 tips to make youth soccer better for parents and players


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Sideline etiquette: 6 tips to make youth soccer better for parents and players

When playing in a game, youth soccer players’ minds are focused on making split-second decisions as they maneuver around and survey the field.

Every once in a while, however, a player’s attention may be drawn to his or her hyper parent yelling instructions or making a scene from the sideline. While parents’ actions may simply be the result of wanting the best for their child, their behavior can have a negative effect on their young athlete’s enjoyment of the game.Dave Carton

US Youth Soccer spoke to Dave Carton, the director of coaching for Discoveries SC in Rock Hill, S.C., to hear his opinion on some areas in which many parents could improve their sideline etiquette. Carton is no stranger to addressing adults on how to act while at games, and a letter he sent to parents of his club that cited their improper behavior was featured on the US Youth Soccer Coaches Blog.

Here are six things to keep in mind when attending your child's game...

1. Avoid ‘coaching’ from the sideline while watching your child’s game
A common problem in youth soccer is the impulse parents have to shout instructions to their young player from the sideline. It’s especially difficult for a child because he or she has a tendency to refer to what a parent says, which often conflicts with the instruction from the coach. Carton said parents should imagine being in a room and having multiple people yelling instructions at them in order to see the confusion it could cause a child.

“Another thing about yelling instructions is that the tone a parent yells with is typically a lot more aggressive than the coach,” Carton said. “The coach is instructing with a teaching mentality. ‘This is what we have to do to improve. This is part of the process to get better and improve your level of play.’

“The instructions that the parents are yelling have an immediacy to it. They want it done now because they want the gratification of the instant result. It’s conflicting with what the coach is trying to do.”

2. Do not criticize the referee
Carton said this is an epidemic, and spectators should realize that referees are people and will make mistakes — even those officiating at the highest levels of play. When parents go after a referee for what they perceive as a mistake, it begins to make the game about the adults rather than the kids.

“A referee is ideally going to make an objective decision on what he or she sees. A parent is going to interpret that same situation through the prism of the team that their child plays on,” Carton said. “If it’s a decision that goes against their team, they’re automatically going to have a subjective view on it.

“The problem comes when there is an aggression to how the parents react to that. The bigger problem is when the child sees that, the child thinks it’s accepted. Parents need to remember they always need to be a model for their child.”

3. Focus on the benefits of the game rather than the score
Far too often parents worry about the numbers formed by illuminated lights on a scoreboard rather than the experience their child has while playing youth sports. Carton said parents are naturally from an older generation in which there was a larger focus on the result of a game. While it’s natural for everyone to want to win, he said parents need to keep focus on the larger picture.

“It’s natural instinct to want to win. The key thing is to keep things in perspective,” Carton said. “If we didn’t win, how can we go into the next game to improve on what we did wrong? Coaches talk about the development process, and losing is part of that process. If your team always wins, their mentality won’t be able to handle setbacks. It’s a big part of a child’s development.”

He went on to talk about a hypothetical 1-0 loss. 

“Very few of the parents are asking their child if they had fun today. The child will take the parent’s reaction to the result of the game as the norm. They’ll then relate their experience to the result of the game, which is really counterproductive. 

4. Think when interacting with opposing fans
“This is one that should be common sense. Grown adults should be able to go and enjoy their child’s experience without having any confrontation,” Carton said. “We get that at our club, too. We always say, ‘Don’t forget, you’re not just representing the club, you’re representing your child. The way you’re acting right now — if you could see yourself through the eyes of your child, what would you think of yourself? Why are you making a public spectacle over a U-11 girl’s soccer game? Are you proud of what you’re doing right now? Would you allow your child to act like this?’”

5. Don’t stress out over the game
Do you find yourself pacing up and down the sideline — anxiously following the action as it unfolds on the field? Stop it. Breathe.

“Just calm down. Enjoy it. Stop being so attached to it. It’s not your game,” Carton said. “Don’t base your enjoyment or happiness on what is going on out there.

“Look at your child. Is he having fun? Is he active? Is he enjoying the social nature of the game? Is he getting as much out of this experience as he can? Don’t worry about the rest of it. Some parents just give themselves aneurysms pacing up and down the line. Keep perspective. There are more important things.”

6. Save issues with the coach for the next day
Maybe you don’t agree with how much your child played in a game or another decision the coach made during the match. It’s important to take some time to think about it rather than confronting the coach in front of your child and the team.

“Directly after the game, the parents should not approach the coach. It’s an emotionally charged conversation and very little good can come from that,” Carton said. “At that time, there’s very little a coach can say that will make the parent feel any better. Go home. Talk to your family. Sleep on it. Get in touch the next day, whether it be by phone, email, or even going for a cup of coffee with the coach and asking for feedback.

“If the coach communicates well enough, the expectation should be there and the parent should understand the situation. If that’s not the case, the parent is totally in his or her right to bridge that communication gap.”



Bob in Dallas, TX said: With 6 soccer-playing kids, 3 through college, we have watched 100+ seasons of soccer. I ref maybe 100 games per year as well. I've seen the behaviors at the games, from both the parents and the coaches, really "settle down" one the past few years. Very few issues any more. It's not that refs make fewer mistakes, I think it's because we all have become more familiar with the game. For example, very few silly "Handball Ref!" yells from the sidelines any more. Kudos to the clubs, coaches, and parents.
17 February 2016 at 11:12 AM
Michele in Atlanta, GA said: Mike in Lancaster: we have had the same thing here, having parents sign a pledge to abide by the courtesy rules of the game for parents. It is basically worthless though as coaches & clubs never enforce it. I guarantee you if parents received a 2 match ban parents would rethink their actions!
07 February 2016 at 2:42 PM
TMACK in Grand Junction, CO said: Perhaps a review of etiquette for players would be timely as well. Our team prides itself on humble sportsmanship. When we witness opposing teams taunting the fans it is clearly disappointing, particularly when the coach watches and even encourages it.
06 February 2016 at 10:56 AM
Mike in Lancaster , NY said: I think all parents should be FORCED to read this. As the coach of a U10 girls team, it is astonishing to me to see some of the parents behavior on the sidelines. We have our parents sign a pledge every season, which outlines our expectations of how they treat our players, their opponents, and especially, the referees. I firmly believe in the 24 hour rule, as well, pertaining to a parent approaching a coach directly after a game. No one benefits from that interaction. Great article!
04 February 2016 at 12:45 PM
Kelly in Oregon City, OR said: Yes, yes, yes! Awesome article ... need to share it!!
04 February 2016 at 12:16 PM
Janet Bastine in Spokane Valley, WA said: All soccer parents should be given these tips and the tips should be posted at all youth soccer venues. No one wants to or should ruin the game for the players or spectators. These tips would help all of us remind each other of positive behavior.
03 February 2016 at 3:25 PM
Juan in Thousand Oaks, CA said: Helpful reminders and common sense stuff. In our region, we have great referees and not so great. That's not surprising. Unfortunately, there are a few refs that are biased and have allowed games to get out of control. Players have almost come to blows and the parents have had to calm both sides down, not the coaches or the referees. These referees have been reported, even with video but to no avail; they are still on the circuit. Locally, there is one father and son referee team that exemplifies this behavior. The son (AR during the game) admittedly said that his dad hates certain coaches and all their teams. He talks about "his plan" for the games over dinner the night before each game. So there are multiple factors that feed into this problem. For the coaches that are praising Dave for this article, its merely perpetuating the lecturing of parents in a broad message. There are truly ref issues and I wonder if this organization is courageous enough to address that openly or take the safe road by simply sending out parent reminders.
03 February 2016 at 8:48 AM
Claire in Chandler, AZ said: I wish your wisdom was more widespread amongst competitive clubs and school teams... The competitive nature of many parents drives me nuts! They talk in a stressed tone throughout the entire game, relentlessly commenting on "bad calls" from refs, and "good try" when their kid makes a crappy shot. They literally can't handle it if an opposing team just simply has more talent. Their intensity adds so much pressure on the kids. I always ask my son (U13 and Jr. High team) "did you have fun?" after a game and we go on with our day.
03 February 2016 at 12:43 AM
Paul in Dallas, TX said: Good article but I absolutely disagree with the statement that a parent's yell is "typically a lot more aggressive than the coach". My children have played against teams from every state in the region and then some and my observation is that only the worst of the worst parents yell at their children anywhere near as aggressively as the typical coach does. Other than that fact, I agree with the general coaching from the sideline point as well as the other tips in the article.
02 February 2016 at 10:39 PM
Soccer parent in Modesto, CA said: Wish I would've read something like this a long time ago. I could have saved myself a lot of undue stress that I wasn't really even thinking about. I need to learn how to just sit down and enjoy the game - win or lose
02 February 2016 at 9:53 PM
Juan R. Olmos in Los Angeles , CA said: This article is perfect for every parent and spectator in general. As a parent of a BU14 and GU16; I have experienced the difference between being a good Parent spectator and a not so good one. Thank you for a great article. I will definitely share with other fellow parents and coaches.
02 February 2016 at 6:43 PM
Cas in Fairfax, VA said: I am a ref as well as a parent. What I am most frustrated with is the reluctance of referees (myself included) to use cards to control the game. I don't care at all who wins or loses. I want my kids to be in school the day after the game, NOT in a hospital. I have witnessed way too many players do dangerous things, subconsciously or otherwise, to other players. What am as a parent to do in such situation? Stay quiet and risk injuries to kids? What mechanism is there to deal with this such situations DURING THE GAME?
02 February 2016 at 5:26 PM
Andrea in San Diego, CA said: The article is good but very generic. It does not differentiate recreational soccer from high competitive level soccer. Obviously the behave of the parents should be exactly the same but the level of competition increase enormously and consequently the thirsty of wins. Many clubs at high competitive level have only one motto: “Win at any cost” and this unfortunately may influence the mentality of the players and the parents. More win attract more players and more players increase the Club’s revenue. How many coaches are yelling to a 10-12 years hold boy or girl saying “you do not deserve to be on this team” and make him or her crying? Is this having fun? Did the coach ask if the player had fun? Unfortunately there is too much hypocrisy in the business of the US youth soccer and parents consequently want the have the best players. This does not excuse those parents who are coaching from the sideline and yelling to the son, daughter or referee. The whole system is broken and probably the fun can be found in the recreational soccer where the main intent is having fun.
02 February 2016 at 10:56 AM
Grace O. in Columbia Heights, MN said: Thank you for this article. I would like to speak to #2 in your article. Both my girls and and one of their friends were soccer refs last year. For my oldest, it was her 2nd year of reffing. All 3 girls had a particularly tough time with the parents on the teams of one of our clubs. They were very vocal and would get so easily angered with the calls in their kids' games. I attended one of the games that both daughters reffed for. It was so difficult to listen to the awful comments, the hissing and booing, the jeers and screams at my daughter who was the center ref. As a parent of a ref, I have a code of ethics that I have to follow not to get involved with a disruptive parent. I was so impressed with how my daughter handled the situation. She remained calm through it all and never lost her composure. When the game was over and our daughters came over to us, the parent was visibly disturbed. He knew we had heard all the negative comments and never said anything to him. I hope that all parents realize the effects of their involvement and words. Even if some of us can shake it off, the kids on the teams are affected by it as well as the entire game of soccer. This year I'll be ref assigning for our local club. I'll be encouraging all our refs to not let these situations go unreported.
02 February 2016 at 10:04 AM
Maggie in Cumming, GA said: We have a couple parents in my daughter's U14 team that are in need of a sideline etiquette class asap! They openly criticize the players, make fun of them, they are rude to the other teams and the referees. It's sad, to the point that some girls want to quit the sport all together because their behavior. It's difficult to enjoy the games because on the constant negativity on the sidelines.
02 February 2016 at 9:04 AM
Ernie in Green Bay, WI said: I played club soccer in Europe for four years and now have coached both college and youth programs for the past 30 years. I am also a soccer parent so I have seen all sides. While I agree that tempers do seem to get heated during many games, I seem to think a few thinks are missing here. I agree that referees do make mistakes and they would agree. They can not see it all and I appreciate the job they do. It's how many of them respond that's the issue and that should get addressed in training. It's not just the parents. Coaches get on referees worse than parents many times and what does that teach the kids or parents. Many coaches also need to relax many are yelling at the kids the entire game with the occasional rant about a bad call or complaint about the parents. A referee can apologize for missing a call and indicate they they will continue to do their best. Coaches should focus on sportsmanship and lead by example. I agree that parents need to calm down many times and when I'm on that side I do my best to get us all to understand what's happening. This is a sport, it's entertainment but we are all teaching kids lessons for life. It's important to realize that we all need to take responsibility.
02 February 2016 at 7:58 AM
Lowville in Lowville, NY said: I'm a parent and I've just read this to my husband. We've all made mistakes. Thank you for reminding us who is most important here- our kids. Our etiquette at the games should reflect that.
02 February 2016 at 5:12 AM
Emily  in Lakeland, FL said: Ok. Sit down in your foldable chair, buy a soda and Doritos, clap your hands and cheer for every silly throw-in and when somebody scores a golazo only say "Yes!" Don't do this, don't do that, sit on this side and parents on the opposite, don'ts everywhere... Let the parents to live a normal game, with up and downs, what you want to do is unreal and far from reality. Or you can change of sport.
01 February 2016 at 11:45 AM
Pat Welsh in Easley, , SC said: This article is great. I coached in Swansboro,NC. for many years in one of the best soccer programs. We had very goods coaches and Fans.... All the way up to high school. This was back in the day of the '70-'90's. But we did have some parents that needed this article and may need it now. Being in a town with many military families we had loud parents also. We ALSO had great parents that followed our soccer teams all over the state and more. I give them a big Thank You. Still thank you for this article.
29 January 2016 at 3:24 PM
Craig Van Ens in Longmont, CO said: Absolutely fantastic! As a fellow coach and sports parent I appreciate this article so much. I lead the Boys U9 Advanced Prep program at the local club in my city, St. Vrain FC, and I'm going to share this article with all of my parents. Thanks so much!
29 January 2016 at 12:03 PM

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