sideline parents

Posted by in family, family fun

I first blogged about our boys starting soccer NINE whole years ago in this post from 2008. We had tried t-ball and it didn’t really “stick.” Soccer has since become the constant in our autumns and springs…every year there is a need for new cleats, different styles of shin guards, and the latest fad in soccer balls.

These past nine years, I’ve been a quiet, yet supportive sideline soccer mom. But last weekend, that changed.

Soccer is a contact sport.  Pretty much any sport is (well, not t-ball!), but contact in soccer means defense of the ball and the goal.  It’s common knowledge that you don’t catch, throw, or swat at the ball with your hands. The goalie is the only one who can touch it with his hands (and there are times even he can’t). When players come in contact with each other on the field, it’s generally with their feet (or shins) or shoulder-to-shoulder contact. You can push with your body to protect or try to get at the ball. What is not (supposed to be) allowed is when players use their elbows to shove the backs of opponents, grab at their shirts and pull them down, or push with your hands from behind.  Over and over again.

My husband once assured me that soccer is a gentleman’s sport.  And he’s right. Players could get into a fight, but it’s discouraged. This isn’t the shoving game of (American) football, or the fighting-is-encouraged game of hockey.  Soccer players use their feet, their speed, their ball coordination with as little contact as possible.

In his article for, Rogue Parrish writes this about Fouls and Misconduct (emphasis mine, in bold):

Law 12, “Fouls and Misconduct,” of the Laws of the Game states that a referee may award a direct free kick to the opponent if a player pushes an opponent with excessive force or in a manner that appears careless or reckless. A direct free kick, which allows the kicker to attempt to score a goal on the kick, is taken at the point of the foul. If a reckless or forceful push occurs in the penalty box, the referee can award a penalty kick.

Pushing is a major foul, along with kicking, tripping, jumping at, charging, striking or tackling an opponent. Pushing has been banned since the first drafting of the Laws of the Game in 1863, writes Stanley Lover, an international referee trainer and author of two books on soccer rules. The rule appears not only in FIFA’s Laws of the Game, which govern international play, but also the NCAA rules for American college teams and the National Federation of State High School Associations rules.
Unfortunately, this is a judgement call and will be different from ref to ref.
In the short descriptive article 10 Rules of Soccer for Baffled Parents from a Massachusetts soccer club, the author states:
What you need to know as a parent is that bumping or going shoulder-to-shoulder while competing for a ball is not a foul until the hands or elbows come up.

This past weekend, we played a double-header soccer match in the next state over against stormy skies, stopping for lightning only once, but getting wet for a good part of four hours on the field (with another game in between ours).  The first game was refereed fairly – all fouls called, bad-throw-in’s were also called (we like refs who recognize a bad throw-in!).  It was a clean game.  We won 2-0.

The second game was different.  Within the first two minutes of play it was evident that the opposing team was out for a revenge win.  We could forgive some of the slide tackling – the field was slippery with rain. But you can’t blame the slippery field on elbows into backs, shirts tugged by other arms and hands, and from-behind bumps that knock over the faster players. After the third such incident, without a whistle to call a foul, the parents went a bit nuts.

We were warned by the ref to watch our profanity.  Although none of us were profane, we were loud. And insistent that he begin calling a foul a foul.  But you can’t tell this to refs as a sideline parent.  The ref is always right.  The coaches can’t even stop play and demand a re-call of a play.  You just accept the call (or lack thereof) and the game continues.

More elbows and shirt-tugs, and then…my son had a fast break with the ball with three defenders chasing close behind. He stepped into the box and went to kick the ball and one of them pushed his back while the second tackled him from behind.  He went down.  And didn’t stand up.

Fortunately, our coach yelled for us (with us, maybe!?) as the play continued and my son still lay on the ground grabbing his shin.  If you know my kid, you know he bounces up as fast as he falls.  The coach got the ref’s attention and he (finally!) blew his whistle so the coach could check on him.  The players on our team took a knee, but the opposing coach called his players off the field for a “timeout coaching session.”

This was the last straw, and I became that grizzly sideline mom and screamed at the coach to have his players “take a knee!”

Youth sports writer and blogger, Bob Cook, writes in his article about this very subject:
It’s not a written rule that players do this [take a knee], and I couldn’t tell you when this started. But it’s become so ingrained in the sport that when that protocol is breached, people get upset.
I was upset.  I saw this action, on top of their dirty playing tactics for the whole of the game, as disrespectful and completely un-sportsman-like.  But it’s not a rule, and I should have kept my mouth shut. And I immediately regretted yelling it. Because I was inserting myself into my son’s game.

I never thought I’d be the loud obnoxious parent yelling at the ref.  We actually aren’t allowed to and can be kicked out of the stands if we “abuse the ref.”  But as I watched him fight back frustrated tears for over half an hour, as he (my almost-eleven-year-old, tough-as-nails boy) got tackled again and again without any fouls called, I lost it.

What are our roles, as parents on the sidelines? To support our players and encourage them in their sport. That’s it.  I crossed a line last week  because I felt cheated.  I felt that the ref wasn’t protecting my child from the unnecessary roughness from the opposing team.  It’s the ref and coaches’ jobs to ensure the safety of our kids during a game. Parents aren’t allowed to run out on the field when their child falls in a heap yards away from the net (no matter how badly I want to run out to him!).

I heard a wise parent recently talk about her son’s involvement with a football team.  Her son told her she wasn’t invited on the field.  That was his space. She agreed.  This is great advice for sideline parents…especially as parents to boys.  I know that I need to see the soccer field as their territory, not mine. If we want to raise independent, well-rounded boys, then we need to stay off the field.  This includes keeping our angry yelling off the sidelines as well.  A growing boy needs a time and place to figure out how to become a man without their mother present.  For sure, we have a role in their growing up – especially in the teen years.  But for goodness sake, let them have their space…especially on a field with other boys who are becoming men.

Parents have been given this incredible and terrifying job of teaching their children to eventually live without needing them.  This can be played out in how we support them in their sports. I can easily offer a consolation after the game – ice cream or a hug, and positive encouragement from the sidelines. I can be present at all their games. But when he’s on the field, that’s his place.

So even after my faux-paux this weekend at my son’s game, I have some advice for all the sideline parents out there filling our weekends with long drive-times to games, mud-and-grass-stained laundry, and sitting in rain or heat:  Step away from the field.

Our boys are becoming men on the turf, fields, pitch, and diamond.

Let them.