Soccer Sidelines – Oh The Intrigue!

This is one of those posts where those of you involved in youth soccer will understand in a heartbeat what I’m talking about while those who aren’t will probably wonder “Its just kids playing soccer – you’re exaggerating” or worse “Are all sports parents psychotic?”

In the short time I’ve been involved with our local soccer league, it has amazed me how youth soccer is so much more than just a youth sport. Because we play two seasons each year, many of us with kids who stick with it get to know each other very well. Game days are as much social events as they are sporting events. Many parents come as much for the social benefits as well as for their kids and thats not bad. Parents need to get out too! But its not just a place for parents to get together – oh no. Its a place for them to chat, rage, speculate, fume, cheer, laugh, and more all within the time frame of an hour!

Now before I go any further – lest those of you enamored with ‘Sports Moms and Dads‘ think all parents with kids in sports are psycho, nothing could be farther from the truth. All sports have parents who step over the line and its not limited to sports (think PTA, parents of gifted kids, the ‘Not My Boy!’ types, you name it) – but they’re in the minority and its rarely related to what they’re involved in. But that said, I’ve found that soccer matches bring out some interesting stuff in parents.

As any experienced soccer parent will tell you, we all have our horror stories to tell. But they are the exception for most leagues, not the rule. Ours is the case of a grandparent who, I’m not kidding, came onto the field during a U6 match (4-5 year old players) and grabbed one of the coaches around the neck! And as he was escorted to the front gate by some of our bulkier coaches and officials, he was still mixing it up! The mind boggles but I can attest that a firm stance can nip most of that in the bud. In our league, you accost a coach, curse/harass at players or an official, or otherwise disrupt things in a serious manner, you’re removed from the complex and not allowed to return and our local police are there and happy to back us up. Our parents know we are serious about sideline decorum and remind them of it each season. The good news is I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve had to deal with a serious parent issue which is a good thing.

So with BAD behavior being the exception, the more interesting part is the interactions, excitement, and intrigue that goes on on the sidelines.

As most soccer moms know – experienced coaches live in quiet fear of ‘The Moms’. Mostly because we’re usually married to one of them AND they have partners in crime. Besides, we know who ‘runs the show’ Just ask the poor soul who ran afoul of the Java Diva on a bad day.

Jenn was not a happy parent with the coach today. […] The coach decided NOT to coach. Not to raise his voice at all. Good or bad. Which means no coaching and no encouragement. Nothing. Mute.

I was ranting and raving and stomping and storming and cussing and fuming and pacing. Did the players know? Absolutely not. Did the coach? Not during the game. […]

And I only think I made the coach wet his pants a little bit when I charged him after the game. Just a little bit.

Her choice of game attire was very funny and ironic. And yes she was kidding – mostly. But seriously – as a coach I always get to hear not just what my parents thought about the kids and how they played, but how they thought we coaches did, how the refs did, what the parents from the OTHER team thought about all of the above AND what the parents on our team thought about the behavior of the parents from the OTHER team. Its enough to make your head hurt!

Add to that mix the wildly different types of soccer parents and you have a recipe for fun.

  • The Cheerleaders: They’re LOUD. Not in a bad ‘screaming at the kids’ to do better way – usually more like ‘get THE BALL!!!‘ with the word ball carrying over into the next town. As if the decibel level will spur the kids to run that much faster towards the ball. My wife is one of these (Love ya dear!) Smiley
  • The Optometrists: “Come on ref! What are you BLIND?Smiley Nuff said!. We try to keep the Cheerleaders away from them lest they become corrupted.
  • The Evil Eyes: They are generally the ones who sit in folding chairs and glare at The Cheerleaders and Optometrists for being so loud and excited. Smiley Except when their team or child scores – then they jump up and yell and carry on before looking embarrassed and sitting back down.
  • The Socialites: They are often seen with large insulated mugs of coffee chattering with other soccer parents struggling to keep an eye on the game while still staying involved in the topic of the day. Smiley They are often excellent sources of the latest scuttlebutt across town. They also often have coffee stains on their shirts from startled spills when the Cheerleaders and Evil Eyes join forces cheering.
  • The Conspiracy Theorists: They’re often the most fun since they will comment on why a given team is doing poorly or well, except the reasons are usually exotic like “That kid looks like he’s 12 – he can’t be 7” or “The coach has a special water jug filled with Red Bull” or “They’re taking him for EXTRA lessons”.Smiley
  • The John Maddens: After each play they’ll dissect it and offer up to the other parents ideas on how the 4 year olds can better prepare for their next attack on goal as a ‘unit’. They often pair up with the Conspiracy Theorists.
  • The Moms from U.N.C.L.E.: They can often be found furtively wandering around the parents from the opposing team trying to hear what they think about the match, the others kids, and the opposing coaches and to lookout for any shady goings on. Smiley They recruit heavily from the Conspiracy Theorists and report their findings back to the Socialites.

Where else are you going to find such a mix of characters in one place? When I’m not coaching a game I just like to wander around the sidelines and watch all the interactions going on.

What are some of your favorite sideline stories? The funny and bizarre ones. One of my favorites was during a match, I had my stopwatch around my neck to track the time left in a match. One of the parents from the opposing team was convinced it was a whistle and I was blowing it to confuse the kids and gain an advantage (like I had some way to make just the OTHER kids hear it) and felt the other parents needed to know this so I could be ‘reported’.  Are you kidding me?

I hope you realize this was in good fun. We have great parents and its a sign of how healthy our league is that they can enjoy watching their kids play AND catching up with the other parents or as the Java Diva likes to say “sit and sing Kumbaya on the sidelines after every game” But I’ve encountered enough funny situations on the sidelines in just a few years – we’re talking book deal in a few more!

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  2. It is pathetic that children’s soccer has become lives for parents instead of making our children well rounded physically and healthy .

    Kids should be guided by adults who love the sport and slowly lead The children to become leaders of their own teams destiny. Instead teams have become a parents social club and if the child’s parent isn’t willing to befriend and join the parent club than soccer is no longer a sport.

    Soccer is a baby sitting service for lonely people who need a life. The kids have been forgotten. Kids who love a sport will play in backyards,parks and anywhere they can. Now they have become little robots that need to fit in a social group, not a team.
    How sad.

  3. I think you may be painting youth soccer with too broad of a brush.

    First, this post was meant to be humorous. However, all sports have certain parents who drive their children into sports and treat them like robots. But that is by far the exception, not the rule.

    We have over 600 families in our program, not huge, but not miniscule either. 99.9% of the parents love the game once they learn it. There isn’t actually a ‘social club’ – sure groups of parents hang out together, but as teams change, so do the friendships.

    Hundreds of kids come out to our fields every day because they love to be there. Just tonight I had one of my 7 year olds stay for her sister’s practice so she could practice some more – because she was having FUN.

    Nothing is perfect and youth soccer has it’s problem parents and situations like any youth sport. But at least in our community, soccer has drawn a lot of kids to a game they’ve come to love and the parents have found a new social outlet as well if they so choose to utilize it. I don’t see that as a bad thing.

    Again – this was meant to be a humorous post, not a documentary of real life.

  4. Heh that may be true, though we play in some pretty cold weather as it is (tournaments in November and practices in late January onward) The parents are still out in force!