Stories of loud and obnoxious soccer parents are not hard to come by. We’ve all encountered them, though in my experience they’re not as widespread as the media would lead you to believe. When you do encounter them, it’s usually a couple of parents being loud and/or obnoxious while the other parents behave (and often try to get as far away from the loud ones as possible). Even then, the loud parents are loud in bursts, but it’s sporadic.
Recently we encountered what had to be the loudest and most obnoxious group of team parents we’ve ever heard. I’ve coached youth soccer for 10 years and my older girls team plays 30-40 matches a year across North Carolina, so we have certainly had our share of rowdy sidelines. However, we’ve never experienced a group of parents that as a unit made so much noise that it was like being at a professional sporting event.
It was just a constant roar, but often in angry and very shrill tones. We were playing at a fantastic complex with huge artificial turf fields and rather large sets of bleachers (which meant all the parents were sitting up very high for a better view of the field – making it even louder) From the opening whistle the roar started and was constant. My players were completely distracted by it and it showed in their play. At some point in the 1st half I shouted to my team “If you want that noise to stop, you need to get the ball into the net!”, which only served to increase the noise level. At halftime, with the score tied 0-0, the girls walked off the field, to the farthest corner I could find, almost in shock. Half of them just lay down on their backs or sides staring into space. I’d never seen them like this. The other half voiced everyone’s frustration: “OMG! Can’t they give it a rest?!?!” “This is horrible!!” “Why are our parents so QUIET??” (Our parents had made a pact NOT to engage the other parents and watched the match in relative silence to avoid any confrontations, which was good, but helped unnerve the girls) I spent the entire halftime break talking about tuning out the noise, focusing on the play, and getting the ball into the net. Scoring was the only way to turn the noise down a notch.
Now I know many of you are rolling your eyes thinking we were somehow overly sensitive to a rowdy group of parents. That’s not it. We’ve been there. Done that. This was a whole new level for more than just me. As the 2nd half started, I walked towards midfield and noticed an adult standing there who I didn’t recognize as a coach. He asked me what the score was and then explained he was from the tournament committee. They had placed committee members all around the field (think the people in yellow/orange vests watching the crowd at sporting events) where any parents were to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. He was there to keep the coaches apart. I was stunned, but also not surprised. It was THAT loud and shrill, which clearly had unnerved the folks running the tournament.
The girls finally settled down, though not before one of my midfielders, finding herself near the bleachers during a lull in the play, turned to the parents and screamed “Will you people SHUT UP!!!”. You can guess how well THAT worked! After scoring two quick goals, things quieted down a little, but every offside call, hard challenge, or tackle was met with increasingly shrill reactions.
My point in sharing this is to remind parents that your behavior on the sidelines can have a HUGE effect on soccer players. While this is an extreme example, it’s not isolated. It was a miserable match for my players, even though they won. Absolutely get into a match and cheer on your child and their team, but anger and sarcasm have no place on the sideline. Lest I be accused of writing this from a glass house, we’re not angels in this department either. While my parents are a great group, they certainly have had their moments where they got a little too agitated on the sideline and I’ve had players request an opposite side of the field during position assignments. But the trick is, I’ve also talked to my parents about it and reminded them when maybe a few of them might be crossing a line. Is it awkward? Sure. But too many coaches believe their only responsibility is the team on the field and too many forget (or ignore) their responsibility with their parents. The next time you stumble across a match where one group of parents is out of control – check the coach. You’ll more often than not find similar behavior or a coach who doesn’t interact with his/her parents.
So as we start the new year and most soccer teams are enjoying a winter break, remember that our kids play soccer because they love the sport, and our actions on both sidelines can directly impact that.
Case in point – after we won the match, the tournament committee kept the teams separated and the awards were handed out to the teams far away from each other instead of at a joint awards ceremony, which is the norm. That’s unfortunate, because it’s good sportsmanship for both teams to congratulate each other after a hard-fought match. So I share this not to complain, but to simply remind all of us that our behavior IS noticed by our kids and the other players. What we do can turn an exciting event into one that’ll be remembered not for the intense play, but for the less than ideal playing conditions.