One of my favorite things to do as a parent is to coach kids sports teams. You get to interact with kids in a completely different way than usual. You get a chance to impact them in ways that go beyond parenting.
When I first started coaching, I was in charge of my 7-year-old daughter’s soccer team. There were eight girls on the team, all of them eager and excited to kick around a ball and learn a new sport.
I was eager too, wanting to cheer them on and support them throughout the games and practices. Maybe I was too eager.
The assistant coach and I were always making sure the girls knew where to go on the field. We coached them continuously, barking out instructions.
We were joined on the sidelines by many parents—all of whom wanted to encourage their kids to do their best.
Of course, it was always so exciting to see Cassie sprinting down the field ready to score. Or see Nandani stealing the ball from another player.
Moms and dads alike were usually screaming their heads off with excitement during games. “Take the shot!” “Go for the goal!” Along with our coaching, this resulted in a lot of yelling. We thought this was exactly what the kids needed.
But something happened during a game midway through the season.
I was screaming at Sierra, one of our players, to fall back on defense to guard the goal. At the same time, her mom was yelling at her to move the ball up and score.
She stopped right where she was, planted her foot on top of the ball (just like how we taught her to stop a ball), turned to me and said:
“Coach, you’re yelling one thing and my mom is yelling something else. Exactly what do you want me to do?”
She was completely correct. We were telling her to do two completely different things. Who should she listen to: her coach or her parent? It’s an impossible situation for any kid.
Later that day, I asked my daughter about the game. She agreed that Sierra was right to be confused. Then, to my surprise, she told me how much she hated any yelling during the game.
“I can’t think when everyone is screaming,” she explained. “I just want to play the game and talk to my teammates and I can’t do that when there is so much noise.”
After that day, I began to realize that the best coaches don’t have to scream and yell during games. They’ve done the work at practice, so kids know what they have to do at a game.
A calm sideline is even more important when any of the players have issues with focus or attention or with listening comprehension. That’s certainly true with my son, who can get easily distracted.
Now that I am coaching my son’s team, I’ve made it a point to lower the volume of coaches and parents on the sidelines. In fact, I start out each season with a parent meeting to talk about the right way to cheer from the sidelines.
I tell parents it’s really important for their children to know they have support, but there are many ways to do it. Here are just a few:
- A high five or a hug
- Praise for how your child played
- Extra time on the playground
All of these are better than screams from the sidelines they may not be able to hear.
Should parents be totally quiet? No, I certainly wouldn’t want that. It’s natural to be excited when your kid is playing. “Encourage, don’t coach” and “cheer, don’t scream” is my advice. After the game, the most important thing you can do is tell her how much you enjoy watching her play. The smile you see will be all the reward you need.
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About the author
Ellen Gerstein is a media consultant and mother of two children, one of whom has learning and thinking differences.