Parents Cheers Not Jeers Please

April 20, 2012 4:08 pm

As the football league season draws to its dramatic close, all the coveted trophies are being claimed and fans everywhere are balanced right on the edge of their seats. Meanwhile, all over the UK a far less glamorous form of the beautiful game is also finishing for another year.

Sunday league football is the name given to all the many amateur leagues that play mainly on Sunday. It has existed since 1580 and there are now many thousands of teams with hundreds of thousands of players ranging from under 5s to over 60s that play each week. The idea is a great one that brings people of all ages together and also encourages fitness but is it really as simple as that?

Picture the scene… It is a bright Sunday afternoon and, in a muddy field somewhere near you, twenty-two 12-year-old boys are enthusiastically enjoying a game of football. The score is one all and the game is drawing to a close. Weaving through the defenders, one boy prepares to shoot but at the last-minute the goalkeeper slides in and grabs the ball. Suddenly the air is filled with angry cries of, “That was obviously a foul, ref!”, “How could you be so stupid?” and “Idiot! That was an open goal.”

Parents hurling abuse at referees and players alike from the sidelines cannot only affect everyone’s enjoyment of the game but can also do serious damage to the attitudes of the young people playing. The fierce competitiveness and rivalry between parents can rub off on them and encourage violence, aggression and a tendency to argue.

Of course every parent and coach wants their team to do well but does it really help to criticize and hurl insults from the touch-line? On FA coaching courses, coaches are taught that positive encouragement is the best way to develop players’ abilities. The most visited children’s health site on the web (kidshealth.org) also says that cheering on players can increase their self-confidence and will to do well.

Although it can greatly improve team spirit if a coach rarely criticises his players, it can make them lose respect for him as he isn’t making any attempt to boost the team’s skill. However, criticism doesn’t need to be as blatant as an enraged rant.

One effective way of getting advice across to players is called “constructive criticism.” This method involves complimenting a player first before suggesting an “even better if.”  Schools everywhere have already widely adopted this technique as it praises work at the same time as suggesting ways to develop.

Another issue with the abusive behaviour of parents is that it can drive people from the game. It is often quite difficult or expensive for small teams to hire official referees for their matches. Without an official to referee the match, teams are unable to play. If there were more referees to ref the matches, numerous teams could be saved from collapsing. Unfortunately, a number of referees are forced to quit after they have been threatened, insulted and in some cases physically abused by spectating parents.

For the same reason, many clubs are also struggling for players. After post-match confrontations with angry spectators or coaches, players can be too scared to play again or even in some places to kick a ball again. This is a tragedy for some very young players as it could knock their confidence for life.

So, in conclusion, for anyone who believes in sportsmanship, bringing communities together and children growing up with self-confidence, the message is clear: outright criticism doesn’t pay. This doesn’t just apply to football but also throughout the wider world. Using methods such as “constructive criticism” can not only increase people’s abilities in their field but also their self-confidence and determination. As the football season, both professional and amateur, draws to a close, the best thing any parent, coach or fan can do is keep cheering as their teams move forward.

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