West Michigan

Youth Soccer Assoc.

Parent Sportsmanship

Good Parent Sportsmanship

By Amy McCready

The line between being a supportive, engaged, sports-loving parent and applying too much pressure on kids is easily crossed. To avoid embarrassing your child and making him/her feel more pressure than he/she already feels about playing the game – we recommend these strategies:

During the Game

  • Avoid criticizing referees. This teaches the child to have a victim mentality and reinforces that it’s okay to blame others for his/her performance. Even if the call is wrong, the referee is doing his/her best.
  • Use ENCOURAGING comments during the game. Save constructive feedback for one-on-one discussions with your child after the emotion of the game has passed.
  • Avoid coaching from the sidelines. Nothing frustrates a coach more than when a parent yells, “shoot the ball” when the play intended for your child to “pass the ball
  • Show unconditional support. Immediately following the game – win or lose – put your arm around your child and give encouraging feedback.

After the Game

  • Focus on effort and improvement versus winning or losing. If the child believes it’s all about winning – he may come to believe he can never please you. Comment on the improvement since the beginning of the season or since last year. Acknowledge how his/her extra practice is showing on the field. The child will naturally bring up the topic of whether the team won or lost. Celebrate wins – but tie them to specific behaviors. What did your team do (or did you do) that contributed to the win? Same thing for losses – what could your team/you do differently next time?
  • Counter-balance your child’s complaints about the referee. Remind the child that both teams had the same referee and like players, some referees are more skilled and experienced than others. It’s part of playing sports.
  • Come Clean. If you do “lose it” during a game, come clean with your child after the game. Let him/her know that you were frustrated/angry with the referee/the other team, etc. – but it is NOT OKAY to demonstrate that frustration/anger with yelling and behaving poorly from the sidelines.
  • This teaches your child that feelings are okay – but the way you express those feelings is not always okay. Apologize for embarrassing your child (even if he says he wasn’t embarrassed – assume he was) and reinforce that this is an area you are working on improving. You will earn great respect in the your child’s eyes by “coming clean.”

There’s a lot to cheer for when it comes to athletics. Not only do our kids develop a sense of teamwork and stay in shape, they develop traits such as responsibility, accountability and resilience. Follow these tips to be your child’s biggest fan on and off the field.

Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions.


When you disagree with volunteers and refs -- do so politely

By Beau Dure

Parent coaches and soccer club board members, these people are volunteers. Be nice to them.  If you disagree with their vision, do so politely.

Referees make a tiny bit of money. Be nice to them, too.

Dealing with referees can be tricky. Through a certain age (in our area, U8), we have no referees, and coaches are responsible for making games fair and safe. Then coaches hand over that responsibility to referees who are often young, inexperienced and timid. These referees might not call the fouls that would have made coaches stop the game and talk to the kids. They might not even understand the simple mechanics of keeping a game running smoothly.

Most youth clubs -- and certainly most referees -- will tell coaches to say nothing to the refs other than “thank you” after the game. And that should be the goal. But you’ll run into some practical problems.

Some young refs don’t make clear signals -- which team takes a throw-in, whether a free kick is direct or indirect, and so on. Many a U9 coach has yelled instructions to his team for how to take a free kick, something not often covered in practice, only to find that the other team is the one taking the free kick. Oops.

The bigger concern is safety. What do you do when a ref isn’t controlling the games, and the fouls are getting harder? What do you do when a kid gets bonked in the head, and you’re caught between obeying your licensing course’s concussion protocols and your club director’s admonition against yelling at the ref?

I’ll give two situations from my experience -- one of which I’ll apologize for, one I won’t.


We had an All-Star tournament in which our guys were getting fouled a good bit. In the second game, with our second laissez-faire referee, I had to go out on the field to check on an injured player. I made a sarcastic comment to the ref: “You know, you can call fouls at U9.” He chirped back that they were 50-50 plays. Things went downhill from there. The ref could’ve handled it better, but I could’ve, too. When I surveyed youth referees about what I should’ve said in this situation, the responses ranged from “nothing” to “Pardon me, but this is a little more physical than we’re used to.”

Back in our House league, a hard shot nailed one of my players in the head. Somehow, he didn’t fall. He just held his head and started crying. Play continued. I screamed to stop play. The ref didn’t, the other team didn’t, and our team did. After the other team’s inevitable goal, I went out to check on our team’s injured player, and I yelled to my team not to worry about the goal they had conceded.

I’m not apologizing for the latter. My responsibility for my player’s safety trumps my responsibility to let refs build up their self-esteem.

The ref and I had a good conversation afterward, so all was well. Some of the other team’s parents might’ve thought I was a freak, but they could deal with it.

But that is, of course, a rare situation. Don’t yell at refs over offside calls. They’re going to get those wrong. And it’s often tough to see who played the ball before it went out of play for a throw-in. No harm will come from getting those plays wrong. Give the poor kid or well-intentioned adult a break.

So to sum it up: Safety first; shut up otherwise.

The is an excerpt from new Beau Dure’s book, “Single-Digit Soccer: Keeping Sanity in the Earliest Ages of the Beautiful Game,” 2015, 237 pages, Kindle Edition $4.99.

(Beau Dure is a freelance writer and author who has published three books on soccer since leaving USA TODAY in 2010. He lives in Vienna, Va., where he has coached his two sons through the Single-Digit Soccer years. Follow his blog at sportsmyriad.com and catch him on Twitter: @duresport.)