How common are ‘crazy’ soccer parents?

Listen up parents, you know the vital role you play in supporting and developing your children as people and sportsmen.

Your contribution can not be underestimated, whether it be as a bank manager, taxi driver, physio, kit man, coach or just encouraging spectator, every young player and coach knows the impact parents can have on the performance and morale of players and the team at large. I know my brother and I were fortunate to have our ‘soccer mum’ on the sideline through even the most bitter of English winters.

So it is ironic, that on Mother’s Day in the UK my message to sports parents is… Remember – YOU are the adult!

Today the Australian press have reported on a shocking story of a vicious brawl breaking out between parents and a soccer coach after a heated match in Sydney. As the video below details, allegedly two parents targeted the coach for not giving their child enough time on the pitch – it was an U11s game! More shockingly, a chair and scissors were reportedly used as weapons.

Clearly, this is an extreme example and thus warrants the extensive media coverage, but I suspect incidents of this type are more commonplace than any ‘supportive’ sports parent would care to admit. It may not involve violence but how many incidents have you seen of parents having a word with the coach or giving the referee a piece of their mind or worse still, unleashing a disapproving barrage of abuse on their own child.

A few years ago, I coached an U16s boys football team. With hindsight it was a difficult age for me to start my life as an amateur coach, these lads already had way too much drama in their lives (growing up, girls, drink and failing school) to focus on football but it was a good experience.

The team was based in South East London in a particularly challenging area. No team in the league had much discipline and ultimately neither the coaches (including myself) or the referees were particularly effective in enforcing their authority. During a game against a rival team with the worst discipline record in the league, they had already had two games abandoned due to player behaviour and violence and they seem set on chalking up a hat-trick against my lads. What transpired was my worst experience in football.

Following a seemingly uneventful first half, where my hapless team actually looked like we were on course for victory, an innocuous challenge prompted an opposing player to punch one of mine, knocking him clean off his feet. The victims father quickly stepped in to break up the fight but this was interpreted by opposing players as an invitation for a brawl.

The ref and I had lost complete control; trying to protect, discipline, even drag my players away was not working. Unfortunately, a parent punched a child and three opposing players attacked him with their football boots. The incident was traumatising, but I share it to show the commonality of the problem confirmed by the disinterest shown by the local police when they arrived on scene.

Let the coach, ref and players do their jobs

No matter what happens on the pitch, a parent is never the ref, coach, security or a player.

Today, I also found this article; Keep the parents at Bay, from ex-USA international and now championship winning U14s coach Tab Ramos. Tab’s first principle in running his youth team is that the parents’ opinion must not affect a child’s performance – more insightful reading. More so than the violence above, for the average ‘supportive’ sports parent this article really is food for thought….

I realise all parents want the best for their child, whether that is being part of a winning team, playing in their favourite position or simply not being fouled and shouted at. ‘Crazy’ parents are in the minority. By highlighting the extremes hopefully it is easier to step back. Remember for kids, it really is the taking part that counts.

Here’s some comic relief, this in ‘Competitive Dad’ from a The Fast Show, a cult skit show from when I was a kid. Does he remind you of anyone?

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