There is simply no better place to learn about yourself as a parent than the sidelines of a 12-year-old's soccer game. My first trip to a soccer sideline was in 1998 and my most recent was this morning. I have done this in two countries, dozens of states and with countless teams, yet it seems to me that parent types transcend locale, time or sport. The range of behaviors on display on the sidelines of every soccer field in America can teach us much about sports, sportsmanship and parenting. Over these many years I have had to ask myself some very hard questions about my own parenting.
Are you that parent who thinks everything is another kid's fault?
The ball goes in the net, the ball doesn't go in the net and there is some other child who is to blame for the error. If this is you, rest assured that later, you will be able to blame violations of curfew, uses of alcohol, bad attitude and bad behavior on the influence of someone else's child. Your child will get the message very early on and find a scapegoat for her misdeeds. Punishment will be particularly difficult as you have already established that your child is not at fault. The great thing about being this parent is that your own parenting skills never need to be called into question.
Are you the screamer on the sideline, the parent who mistakenly believes that they can control things that have long be out of your control?
Are you the parent who tries to tell your kid every kick to take and every move to make? Your child is neither perfect nor a remote control toy and by not letting go of these two notions, you are condemned to a lifetime of shrieking on the sidelines of his life.
Or perhaps you believe that the ref is unfair, the other team and their coach are cheating and the field is crummy and the wind is blowing the wrong way. Soccer is a game in which the best team does not always win, where nice kids can get hurt and flashy, selfish, ineffective players often catch the coach's eye. Some parents simply cannot cope with the utter unfairness of it all and when they scream and yell at the ref from the sideline they are giving their child a lifetime of free passes to blame everything in life on factors out of his control.
Please say you are not that screaming nut job that strays into language that is inappropriate in front of children, and for that matter adults.
Are you are the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of parenting, the lovely mom or dad that packs a snack, says all the right words of encouragement, chats amiably with the other parents on the sideline before kick off and then loses the plot the minute it looks like your kid's team might not win? You know that in life you are a competitive person but until you stood on the sideline of your child's game you had no idea how much you loved, strike that, needed to win. You cannot stand it when the coach puts in weaker players and plays everyone the same amount of time.
Sports is all about life lessons, it may be one of the greatest metaphors that we have for our kids. In a good season kids learn about being gracious losers and a humble victors. With a win-at-any-cost mentality, this metaphor is lost on your kid and all of the lessons your child might have learned on the playing field will be lost.
But if by chance you are that parent who, tells other parents, with sincerity, that their kid just had his best game, who has taught her child to shake the ref and coach's hands at the end of a game, who packs extra cleats and gloves and extra Gatorade because someone is always short... then your child will learn how to be part of a team, how to go to plan B when first attempts fail and how hard work and seemingly repetitive effort all pay off, perhaps not on any particular day, but over time. It is your child who will be elected captain by his team and even if the coach selects someone else as the nominal leader it is your child who his teammates will follow and who will grow up to be kind, competitive, persevering and a great soccer parent to your grandchildren.