explorations of mindful fatherhood

Dear Soccer Dad, Do you want your son to hate you?


kicking-and-screaming“Isaiah, move up! Move up!”

“Isaiah, what kind of a kick was that?”

“Isaiah, why you giving up, bud?”

These shouts ring from the sidelines a few feet away from me on a brisk October Saturday morning. I’m there to watch my son in the town’s U9 soccer league, and I’m loving being a newly christened soccer dad. There’s something great about having a new home team and it being your son’s. But what’s up with this dude down the line?

There are all sorts of soccer dad’s, as I’m beginning to learn. Surprisingly, the most popular version is the absent soccer dad, judging by the lack of men on the sidelines (but that’s fodder for another post). There are also the quiet watchers, the cheerers and, apparently, the beraters. I’m surprised to learn that I’m a cheerer, and a very vocal one. Like, verging-on-annoying-cheerer.

As a kid, I was always a quiet sports spectator. Sure, I would cheer and clap when a point was made or a ball was saved, but I never shouted words of encouragement or cheered for specific players. I was somewhat sports illiterate growing up, and so I think the prospect of shouting encouragement or advice felt overzealous or even hypocritical.

But now I see these 8-year-olds running their hearts out on the field and I want them to know we’re cheering for them. Although I’m historically bad about remembering kids names, I’ve been pretty good at learning most of the team members’ first name at this point in the season. I shout words of encouragement for each of them as they receive the ball, I praise their defense and passing, and I cheer when a ball is saved and (less frequently…we’re on a losing streak) when a goal is scored. Each time, I try to call the player by name.

I explain all this to convey that I understand this desire to be vocal on the sidelines. I’m not there to be a passive observer, but Isaiah’s dad takes active support to a new level, by becoming coach, ref, judge, and asshole. He’s the guy who’s there before every practice, running the ball with his son and giving him lots of pointers. He sits through practice and yells advice, peppered with lots of frustrated commentary. Game days are by far the worst. He shouts to his kid about where to be on the field (even when counter to the coach’s strategy). He yells at him to move faster or stop giving up. He berates him for slowing down, giving up the ball, or allowing a pass.

It’s hard sitting on the sidelines near this guy, hearing all this. My imaginary monologue to him goes something like this:

“Do you want your son to grow up hating you? Because that’s what you’re doing. Only two things can come out of this. Either he grows up hating and rejecting his dad who always gave him a hard time, or he grows up always trying to please you, while at the same time feeling like he’s never good enough. In the second scenario, he’s likely to treat his own kids to a life of insults because it’s his only model for how to be engaged as a dad. Pull back a bit dude. It’s great that you’re here, but let the coach coach, and chill out a bit.”

I can’t, however, imagine a scenario in which I have the balls big enough to confront this guy with my diatribe. But these same sentiments run though my mind each time I hear him. I don’t see anyone else (aside from my wife) holding the discomfort of hearing this guy’s comments, but I can’t imagine other parents find it unproblematic. Plus, the coach is always on the opposite side of the field from the spectators, and so a lot of it happens off the coach’s radar. Perhaps the most skilled and emotionally cognizant coach would be able to finesse a conversation with all parents about etiquette and the proper show of support.

But what do I do? As the season goes along and I become more invested in my son’s team and its players, what do I do with my discomfort and pity for this kid who’s given such a hard time by his dad. For now, when I see him set up his chair on the sidelines, I’ll set up mine a few dozen feet away. I’ll focus on the game and try to drown out his words, but that poor kid will hear them for the rest of his life.


Author: CJ Nigh

I am an East Coast writer with a Midwestern soul. Undead Dad is a blog about mindful fatherhood in the deadening age of hyper-technology and over-work. I also write science fiction for young adults.

12 thoughts on “Dear Soccer Dad, Do you want your son to hate you?

  1. that poor kid will probably hate playing soccer and all other sports too. We had a mom like that on our son’s first hockey team, I laughed when the coach told us he told the kid to “ignore his mom and listen only to the coach” at the games and practices. Amazing how that helped the kid deal with his mom’s yelling…

  2. I spent the summer as a new soccer mom and found the whole culture unsettling. From the intense planning moms (who’s bringing treats next week) to sideline grousing about ref calls. Seriously, these kids were so young that some of them would just randomly fall down because they felt like it. I spent most of my time laughing and cheering, but there are some serious parental personality disorders on display at these things.

    • Ooh, that sounds rough. Luckily, this one guy is the only person I’ve been put off by (aside from one mom’s snooty comments about snacks), but otherwise it’s been positive.

  3. Each soccer season we have one “Silent Saturday” game where parents are supposed to be completely quiet. It’s weird to be quiet no matter what. I am an encourager of pretty much everyone, so I just have to say it in my head! But the interesting thing was talking to the kids after the first quiet game I ever attended. They LOVED it. Said it took so much pressure off of them. After that, I tried to keep my cheering to a minimum. At any rate, if I was in your position, I would consider placing myself next to the parent and then share compliments all over the place–particularly his kid. At the very least, he’d have to fend off the kindness. At best, what he would hear might sink in as sounding so much better…Okay, wishful thinking, I know…but…like I said, I’m an encourager! 🙂

    • That is really interesting, and sounds like it had quite an impact on the kids. My son did fencing for quite a while, and there was a no cheering policy, and I do think it helped with that a lot, especially regarding their concentration. I’ll have to keep this in mind. Thanks for giving me a different perspective.

  4. After the game I would make an effort to seek out the child and throw a little encouragement and praise his way. It could make a difference to him.

  5. Grrr… poor kid. Which makes me want to avoid competitive team sports altogether. For now, my boy prefers his swim lessons and climbing trees with the neighbourhood kids. I’m okay with that.

  6. Oh so funny to read! Yes I have experienced the same. I find it better to focus on drinking my coffee; it distracts me from my own cringing. I guess you can approach it philosophically; he has educated you about the parent you don’t want to be. What will you learn from him next week? I sense you feel sorry for the guy which is endearing but I’m pretty sure taking him aside to chat may not go down too well!

  7. CJ – saw this weeks ago and didn’t take time to read then… good post and always you have your finger on the pulse of American masculinity\manhood\adulthood…… I’ve been there it was soccer first, then baseball, wrestling, football and lacrosse. I’ve watched my son grow and develop and I think… I’ve been all of those spectators and more… but I’m more like you, I think. It’s football season and my son’s team qualified for the state playoffs night. http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/ct-spt-1025-prep-football-wheaton-south-naperville-20141024-story.html He’s on the team and works hard, but doesn’t play. he hasn’t taken a snap on Friday night yet….. I am hoping his time will come. But in the meantime I get tired of the other dads (and moms) yelling at the ref when a call doesn’t go our way , second guessing the coach, and in general not modelling the behavior we want our kids to emulate… I could go on. Again, a great post and I am glad you are back, just remember to make sure the headphones are plugged in! 🙂

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