Its for the Children!By: DAS | February 7th, 2012
David Beckham’s reent ejection from a youth soccer game has been receiving a lot of attention in the press. To hear Becks describe it, he quite rightly protested a referee ejecting a 7-year old from a youth soccer game and the ref kicked him out of the park as a result.
If Beckham’s telling is accurate, it seems the ref overreacted twice and this is all much ado about nothing. But it raises one of the most pressing issues facing youth soccer today.
Jurgen Klinsmann has talked about how important it is to get kids playing when they are young. And not just playing, but enjoying the game and experimenting with it. This idea is enshrined in the AYSO principles, which stress a positive experience. Beckham’s son is on a club team, not AYSO. But even at that level the primary goal of any youth soccer program should be to make sure that the kids are playing and having fun. If they like it, they’ll keep doing it. And if more of them keep doing it, a country of our size will produce talented players, maybe even youth phenoms, over time.
The one factor that most undermines kids ability to enjoy soccer is unruly parents. Eric Wynalda wrote a fantastic piece on this years ago where he said he observed a parent yelling instructions to his kid for an entire half and then asked him at the break whether it was the parent playing or the kid.
As an AYSO volunteer, I have seen the most astounding behavior from what I presume are normally well behaved parents. I have seen parents get into a physical fight and have to be broken up at a boys under 7 game. I have heard a parent encourage their child from the sideline to try to break another kids leg with a tackle. I have seen parents screaming at the top of their lungs at their kids on the field about everything they are doing wrong. Behavior of this kind undermines our kids’ interest in the sport and is antithetical to the very purpose of youth soccer.
But perhaps the worst of it is the abuse parents dish out to the refs. One of my kids had a coach who also reffed. He complained to me one day that he was considering giving up reffing because of the abuse from the parents on the sideline. At my son’s game later that day, the ref made a bad call. Guess who was the first one to start yelling at him?
I do have one great story to illustrate the culture of ref abuse that ends with a positive example. A few years back one of my kids had a great coach. He was passionate, but appropriate, calm, and respectful. Most times. We had one game that was being centered by one of the top refs in our region. The ref made a call that the coach disagreed with that resulted in a goal for the other side. The coach was livid and started yelling at the ref from the sidelines. Following his example, nearly every parent on our team chimed in. It was horrible. But shortly after that, when the game ended, the coach went up to the referee to apologize. Within earshot of the referee, he then gathered the team and the parents, explained that his behavior was wrong, and apologized for setting such a bad example for the kids.
I know it’s hard when standing on the sideline watching our little loved ones to accept that there will be hard knocks and bad calls. But its part of the game and they need to learn to deal with it. When we yell abuse at them or anyone else from the sideline we undermine them, undermine the sport, and in some sense undermine the future of soccer in this country. Beckham’s ejection may be more of a sideshow than a newsworthy event, but it is a reminder that, as custodians of the future US all stars, we need to remember to create an encouraging environment for our kids so they can enjoy the game and learn to play their way. That means not only being positive and appropriate in our criticism of the kids, but also respecting the volunteers who make the games possible.