Kid’s soccer. It should be a joy. A chance for the youngsters to learn about teamwork, keep physically and mentally fit, to have fun and learn to win and lose with style and decorum. It is a chance for coaches to embrace their own love of the game and offer something to their community as well.
And for parents, an opportunity to watch their kids have fun. While, of course, enjoying the camaraderie of other parents and the thrills of the game.
What a youth match is not, though, is a Champions League quarter final, or an MLS crunch game, or the World Cup final. Generally, the players are aware of this. Even though they are young, usually they see things in perspective, enjoy their game and even if they are carried away in the moment, return to an even keel shortly afterwards. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said for their parents.
The problem of parental abuse of officials, opponents and, astonishingly, sometimes their own child and his or her teammates, is one that is still quite small. But it is growing.
The Importance of Role Models
Perhaps it is not surprising. Recently British newspapers told the story of a coach of an Under Eights team. This coach – an experienced soccer man – was outraged by what he saw as a poor decision from the referee. He chased the official down the pitch, berating them from the touchline. He shouted at the referee, and abused them verbally.
The team in question were the Arsenal Under Eight side; the referee a young girl, still at school, just starting out on a career of officiating. It is of no surprise that she was devasted, reduced to tears by the treatment she received. Arsenal, one of the world’s leading soccer clubs, responded quickly, suspending the coach and then removing him from the team.
But it is hardly a good example to either children or their parents…although, we would hope, adults would understand the importance of keeping games in perspective.
So let us take a look at these mystifying moms and dreadful dads, which we can neatly categorize into three groups.
Problem Parent One: Cristiano Messi’s Mom
What the coach does not understand is that they are blessed with most talented boy (or girl, but usually it’s a boy with this kind of Mom or Dad) in the actual history of soccer. Pele? A has-been; Maradona? Over-rated; Mbappe? Bergkamp? Neymar Jr? Not bad, but nothing compared to their lad.
And the problem is, as they tell anyone who will listen (or not) their coach is not making the most of the potential in front of him or her. Their kid should play at No 10, because he is the best playmaker in the State – adult or junior. And from No 10, he can drop back into midfield if the kids there aren’t up to scratch and even make a few game saving tackles when they are needed. Oh, and he’s got his goalie gloves in his kitbag, just in case there’s a penalty.
So all that needs to happen is for young Crissy to take all the free kicks, corners and penalties; for every player to be instructed to ‘Give it to Criss’ as soon as they can (which won’t, of course, be quickly enough) and then we can all sit back and watch their boy win the game for himself… sorry, ‘the team’, they mean.
And remember, is the unmentioned message from Mrs or Mrs Messi, the apple does not fall far from the tree…
The secret to dealing with the Messi parent is to butter them up; heap praise upon their child and let it be known that their kid’s success is all down to their parenting. Then, with them onside, mention the resources the club is lacking. It’s a decent bet the team will soon be driving around in a nice new minibus…we all have our price. There’s nothing wrong with it being on the low side.
The Referee Is Rubbish…(As is the Coach, the Pitch, the Ball and the Team)
This is the aggressive parent. Super keen – Keane we might even say, in homage to the Ireland and Manchester United enforcer of the early 2000s – they are also super competitive.
Why score three when we could score eight? Ok, so the opponents are only 10, but life is tough, and they need to know it. Anyway, they have the ref on their side…he’s probably the opposition coach’s cousin. Both share the family trait of incompetence.
Mr Keane knows his soccer, although his methods are a little outdated. They were back in the 90s when he played, and they certainly are now. Don’t pass the ball across the box; kick it long; don’t mess about on the ball…
‘Shoot…what did you shoot for when there was a pass on?’ Mr Keane is never wrong, and everybody else is. The thing is, Mr or Mrs Keane (it’s usually a Mr) is a sad person. Life has failed them…they might make $150000 a year, but they’re not happy. They’ve got a Mercedes on the drive, but would prefer a Jaguar.
Mr Keane types are always a nuisance but sometimes go further. There is a risk that they will move from loud criticism to abuse. This should never be tolerated. To be honest, this escalation is most likely to occur if Mr Keane thinks he can get away from it. We talk later about establishing expectations on parental behavior; however, some clubs prepare a written contract for parents to sign which has a clause about their behavior. Similarly, a firm but quiet word in an ear (never easy, but usually better received than might be expected) can be effective in moderating behavior towards whoever their target might be. At least for a while.
We are doing this type of parent a service by allowing them to expel their anger on the pitch side…but at a cost to everybody else in the vicinity. Remember, their kid is as embarrassed by them as their fellow parents are angered. But Mr Keane is the most dangerous parent, and if he won’t change his ways, he needs to go.
Junior…Why Did You Do That?
Mr Perfectionist has high standards. His kid can never reach them. And doesn’t he know it. Mr P has good intentions. He wants the best for Junior, he wants him to have fun but…where’s the fun in losing? What’s the laugh about making a mistake?
Mr P has quiet words with Junior throughout the game. Push him wide and soon Dad will have sent him through the middle; send him up for a corner and Dad will send him back. Junior probably loves his Dad, but there will be problems when he hits his mid-teens. Until then, we are providing a vital social service, giving him an hour a week where Dad can only partly ruin his life. Instead of entirely.
I don’t know what we do with Mr P. Like Mr Keane, his frustrations are, deep down, with himself. The best we can do is to praise Junior, and remind Dad that making a mistake is the first step along the line to improvement.
Ajax – An Academy To Admire
With apologies to most of the other top soccer teams in the world, the Dutch team Ajax are famed for having the best youth program. While they work only with the elite of the elite of kids soccer, their ethos is one we can emphasize to our parents:
Improvement in skills over winning matches;
Having fun over winning at all costs;
Parents are there to applaud and encourage. Criticism is forbidden.
We can establish an ethos in the club where the kids come first, and parents are welcomed, but only as passive spectators. A meeting at the beginning of the season where expectations are outlined might seem a step too far, but the majority will appreciate it. These are the positive parents, and they are as angered by Mrs Messi, Mr Keane and the Perfectionists as much as we are.
Sometimes, knowing we are all playing on the same pitch is very much welcomed. And if a particular parent doesn’t like it…they can always go elsewhere.
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This Post Has 6 Comments
This is a great article! You have described the horrific parental efforts of the most annoying and abusive parents in any sport. It’s never pretty when a parent (mom or Dad) is verbally abusive to anyone. Sadly, the aftereffects on the child cannot be predicted.
Yes. The worst of them is Mr. Keane
When my son was playing, “Crissy’s” Dad was the coach. So it was really difficult for everybody. He, of course, favored his son above all and frustrated the other players and the parents.
Yes. That’s a very common problem. Referees and coaches alike fear these parents.
Yikes, Pat! Does he still coach? If I had a coach like that, I would definitely join another team. Or probably do everything I could to get him removed. That’s poison for everyone involved. Soccer is a great sport to train and teach character, unless someone like that is involved.
We have a meeting with the parents every year. I make sure to tell them, in a subtle way, that I won’t coach their kids if they don’t behave. For the most part it’s pretty good. Maybe because there’s a shortage of volunteers and they don’t want to do it.