Friday, April 09, 1999

How to be a good soccer sport

Coaches, referees, parents talk about enabling kids to get the most from the game

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Screaming at kids to play better. Criticizing coaches. Sounding off to referees. Giving parents a bad reputation. Those were the top concerns readers voiced to the Enquirer's request for tips for surviving the spring soccer season, starting now.

        More than what to pack and how to schedule your time, coaches, referees and parents said their top tip is: Don't be an abusinve damage.

        After all, soccer is important in the Tristate where there are lots of parents on the sidelines. The area has the second highest soccer participation per capita in America, with more than 200,000 registered soccer players.

        While few parents are abusive screamers on the sidelines, most readers focused on those who were.

        Chris Curran of Anderson Township, who has coached and refereed soccer for 12 years, encourages parents to show the same restraint as they show at other school events.

        “If you wouldn't stand up and start shouting, "Sing! Sing it louder, Suzy!' during a school choir concert, you shouldn't spend the whole soccer match screaming, "Kick it! Kick it harder!”

        Some parents fear that the cut-throat competition on many playing fields today has taken the fun out of sports. Rude parents and coaches pose a dilemma for parents who don't want their kids exposed to that behavior. Experts say this is especially troublesome for parents who have been told that sports is a good way to build self-esteem.

        “The important thing to remember is that youth sports provides these sorts of positive benefits — increased self-esteem, healthy physical activity, a good social experience — only under the right conditions,” says Dr. Shane Murphy, a sports psychologist and author of The Cheers and the Tears: A Healthy Alternative to the Dark Side of Youth Sports Today(Jossey-Bass; $15).

        “It doesn't happen automatically, and it doesn't happen by accident. It takes planning. The most important people are the league administrators, the coaches and the officials. They must work together to spell out a clear philosophy of the program — what goals are being set for the girls — and how they will be achieved.”

        Research shows that self-esteem is increased if athletes get good coaching. Girls and boys like to learn new skills and try them out in games. A good coach knows how to spot mistakes and correct them, in an encouraging way.

        Parents can look for signs that sports participation is upsetting their child.

        “Listen to the child, both verbally and body language,” Dr. Murphy says. “Children love to play sports under natural circumstances.

        “If, instead, they seem down or depressed, try to find out what needs are not being met. Perhaps they aren't playing much. Or they haven't made any friends. Or they are not improving. Each problem will have a different solution. But if a child wants to keep playing, that's what you are looking for. The program is doing its job.”

        Wallace R. Wood's experience with negative parents soured him on soccer.

        “My kindergartner was not the swiftest or thinnest kid on the team, but she took so much verbal abuse from parents of her teammates that I didn't want to be at her games or let her be there either,” the Mount Lookout man says.

        “No one out on the field needs to be told to run faster, or to kick the ball — even by a coach. No one on the field needs to be told what to do in a screaming, yelling, ordering, nasty voice. No one sitting in a lawn chair has a right to tell anyone to try harder.”

        His solution: To play soccer, each child must bring a parent to each game, and that parent must play in the parents against parents game at half time.

        With four children playing soccer year-round, Kathy Overman of Springfield Township was often annoyed by hostile parents and coaches who screamed negative comments at referees and players as young as 7.

        “After unsuccessfully attempting to silence these offenders with verbal confrontations, I began to hand out copies of an article about the psychological damage that can occur to children by coaches and parents,” she says. “This got my point across without having to say a word.”

        Parents shouldn't try to change another parent's behavior alone, Dr. Murphy says. “The problem is always liable to escalate. The inappropriate behavior should be reported to the appropriate league official.”

        Parents should cheer for their children, cheer good play by the other team and support their child, the coaches and the officials, Dr. Murphy says. Parents who criticize officials set a bad example for youngsters and should be asked to refrain. If they can't, they should be asked to sit out a couple of games.

        Jim Dudis of Glendale spent five years as a coach, community representative and is now a referee, which he's been doing about four years. His two sons play and referee soccer, as well.

        “All too often we see the worst in parents,” he says. “Most don't know the rules, though they think they do. Most often, they don't understand how the rules are applied. A number of times I've seen parents try to intimidate young refs, to a point that good refs won't do any more games.”

        Most times, he says, the most important thing to the young soccer player is: Who brought the snacks, and what are they? They're often looking for unusual cloud formations as the soccer ball sails into the goal.

        “They don't see this kind of fun as competition,” Mr. Dudis says. “These are not qualifying matches to the World Cup finals. Only parents or coaches try to turn it into that.”

        His tips for being a good soccer parent:

        • Be calm and be encouraging to the kids. Don't verbally beat up your kid on or off the field, either as a coach of your kids or if you're a spectator.

        • Don't coach from the sideline because it may go against the instructions of the real coach.

        • Realize that many kids are embarrassed by the actions of their parents.

        • Don't try to live your youth through your kids.

        • Be an example of how to behave; foul language or behavior from the parent or coach teaches children how to act later on, on the field, in class and at work.

        • Remember that some refs are new to their position and nervous. They may not make the right call every time.

- How to be a good soccer sport
Coach's advice for watching children's games
Tips for surviving soccer season

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