The title speaks for itself. It’s my first time. I ask for your forgiveness.
It’s taken me a while, about 6 weeks, to garner the courage and humility to write about getting tossed from my daughter’s 4th grade soccer game.
Given that I’ve spent the last 20 years advising parents and writing articles and a book on the topic of sport parenting, you can imagine my shock and embarrassment when the teenage ref-executioner, said to me, “Sir, you are going to have to leave.” My response while standing on the sidelines among the other better-behaved parents, and after a long pause and subsequent facial discoloration, was a profound, “Ok.”
You see, I had argued, rather quietly I thought, that the ref made a wrong call in this extremely important youth soccer game in the middle of any given town in North America. Despite all levels of common sense and self-control, I felt compelled to share my unimportant yet expert opinion on how the game should be called. Truth is, that the ball went out on the brown team and NOT the green team. Although the rules explicitly state that spectators may not dispute calls or even speak to the referee during the game, I ignored the rules. After all, I know the game. I have coached and played it. Therefore, I have the right, no–the responsibility–to share my knowledge with this young unsuspecting ref. In the process, I embarrassed myself, my wife and my daughter.
Immediately following my excommunication from the field, I thought momentarily about staying in protest but eventually skulked away to my car where I sat in disbelief until the game ended. Imagine the conversation I anticipated having with my wife and daughter. I had to apologize to the coach too. What an awful feeling; truly humbling. Fortunately, all parties were very understanding. They didn’t shame me, but they did say I should write about it.
I wrote a book about this
Ironically, it was the tragedy in Reading, Massachusetts in July of 2000 when hockey dad Thomas Junta killed his son’s coach during a youth hockey practice that inspired Dr. Stephen Durant and I to write a book for parents. We felt we could share some wisdom and perspective with other parents that could serve as a guide to navigating the challenging and changing tides of parenting kids involved in sports. Yet, here I am, 10 years after the book’s publication, struggling – rather publicly – with the very advice we give as critical guideposts for being a good sports parent:
- Focus your energy on your child’s joy of the game
- Give your child the freedom to succeed and fail without your adult-informed perspective
- Model good sportsmanship and self-control when facing disappointment
- Respect the game, particularly the young referees who are doing the best they can
- Have a sense of perspective about the importance of one match
So, what have I learned? To no surprise to the reader, I am vulnerable to getting caught up and losing my perspective during my child’s games. That sometimes it doesn’t matter what you know in your head; it’s more important to pay attention to what lurks in your gut and heart. That I want my kids to do well. I want them to be safe and happy. I want them to feel success, particularly when I think they deserve it. Yet, none of these wishes are under my control. I stand a much better chance of promoting the best sports environment for them by picking great coaches and programs and staying out of the way. If they want my advice or opinion, I am glad to share it with them.
Otherwise, my job is to cheer from the sidelines, and when the game is over, tell them how much I enjoyed watching them play.
Fortunately for me, I have a chance to redeem myself through better sideline behavior. While I admit, I am not quite there yet, I now know that if I feel my mouth start to take control without my brain, it may be time for me to check my cell phone, go to the bathroom, or simply watch the game from afar.