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Don’t confuse anger for passion                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: Jun/02/2013 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: Behavior, People, Society, Sports,

Youth sports are big in my life. I got into soccer with my oldest son and have spent the last 13 years seeing the best and worst of what youth sports can produce. Over the years I have watched kids grow into adults and go from chasing butterflies, to creating phenomenal strategic attacks and brilliant goal scoring plays. These young people have learned the satisfaction of athletic endeavor, the value of teamwork, and how to cope with their personal and group failures. These are all valued life skills and I am proud to have contributed in some small way to teaching them. Unfortunately, youth sports are also burdened with yelling coaches, angry spectators and overly aggressively play.

I suppose I should relate a few first-hand accounts:
• With his team of 9-10 year-old girls up 5-0 at the half, a coach recently told his girls “I don’t want you to show any mercy, they need to remember who we are.” That’s quite the half-time message.
• At a match of 9-10 year-old boys, a coach concluded the match by going to the 13 year-old boy who was one of the assistant referee’s and berating him over a supposed offside call he got wrong. By time the coach was done, the young man was in tears and would never referee again.
• During a practice for 12-13 year-old boys, a parent drags his son off the field and starts yelling at him for “not trying hard enough.”
• During a match for 6-7 year-old boys, a parent starts yelling at his son that “if you can’t do better than that, I’m locking you in your room for a week.”
• When a 16 year-old boy injured an opponent in a tackle during a soccer match, you could hear a parent yelling from the side, “Yeh that was great…just keep taking them out of the match!”
• While running my own soccer practice, there was a peewee football practice happening on the adjacent field. At one point I witnessed a coach grab one of the little players by the helmet grill and throw him to the ground as he berated him. As shocked as I was by this, I was further stunned by a parent on the side bragging that that was his son.
• My youngest son spent one season in T-ball, the things I heard parents yelling made me think all these kids must be trying out for a spot on the New York Yankees with a contract at 6 years old.
• A little while ago I was the referee for a match of 12-13 year-old girls; there was so much yelling about my refereeing skills that I ended out stopping play and sending an entire sideline to the parking lot before I would continue the match. When the match concluded, the girls thanked me, but many of their parents threatened me in the parking lot. (of little importance, but their team did win)
• I am aware of a referee who was followed by a screaming parent from the field, to the parking lot, and even through the adjoining neighborhood.

I would love to say these accounts are unique, but in truth they are all too common. My list of incidents of which I have either first or second hand knowledge is at least 100 items long and would take quite a few beers to recount. The media is filled with stories at youth hockey, football, baseball, soccer, etc.

The Coach:
I can’t begin to list all the coaches I have seen who behave like Bobby Knight wannabes. It’s pretty bad when your name becomes a metaphor. I have never really understood the need to yell and curse at players. Whether practice or a match, I have never seen it have a meaningful result. I don’t understand where this notion comes from, but some of these yelling coaches honestly believe when asked “that it builds character.” After 22 teams and 11 years of coaching, I have never seen a situation where use of fear, humiliation, emotional or verbal abuse was going to raise a player to new heights of performance. Of course, when confronted about this behavior the common response is; “I’m just passionate and besides, it’s good for their character. Players don’t need to be learning skills based on trying to avoid being yelled at, praise is a much better motivator. As a coach, I see the need to toughen up our players. But toughening up their stamina, fitness, ball skills and teamwork is different than getting them used to being yelled at. As a coach I have always strived to create an environment that is fun and encourages a love of the game. I mentioned coping earlier; coping with our failures is an important life skill and team sports can be an excellent place to practice and develop this. As players get older, there will be plenty of peer pressure applied when they blow an important play. Their coping skills will allow them to put the mistake behind them and rapidly get back in the game. As a coach you can always ask “What will you do differently next time?”

I saw one of the worst examples of a yelling coach a few years ago. This coach yelled out every move the players should be doing. By name, the players were told to go left, right, back or forward. They were also told which foot to use and how hard to use it. Soccer is a game best performed with creativity by the players at game speed. For the one match where this coach was not present, the players were clearly lost on the field as they had been discouraged from thinking for themselves. Clearly the coach knew the game, but the players had learned very little.

Being a coach is about being a teacher. Players look up to their coach and will emulate their behavior. If the coach rants and raves over little things, the coach is unknowingly teaching this same behavior to the player. Parents on the sideline will also look to the coach as an example. When the coach yells about every little thing that a referee does or does not do; the parents take this behavior as a cue that they can do the same. One of the most obnoxious and hypocritical coaching behaviors is the coach who rants and raves throughout the match, and figures that as long as they apologize to the referee at the end while smiling, all is forgiven; referees have figured this one out by the second or third time and they see through this sham version of passive/aggressive behavior.

The Parents:
There’s an odd belief by many on the sidelines of youth sports that by raising your voice, your message will be better received and have a more impactful result. Unfortunately, the opposite is more frequently true. Yelling at kids usually distracts them from the game, turns them off to the sport and generally shuts them down, performance-wise. Parents who yell instructions at their kids during games are deluded by the mistaken belief that somehow their children will be able to use these “coaching gems.” As a coach of many years I have even heard my players over the years apologizing to their teammates for the yelling and animated behavior of their parents; realistically, they’re embarrassed by their parent’s behavior. Despite what you have seen on TV, yelling is not the best way to motivate your child-athlete.

The only words that should come from your lips during practice or games are generic encouragement. Examples are, “Great shot! Good play! Way to go! Nice shot! Great save! Nice effort! Great Move! Nice try! Attaboy! Attagirl,” etc. Nowhere in this list is a parent yelling instructions; that’s coaching and should be left to the coaches! Any coaching that parents do from the sidelines will mentally distract a player from the flow of the game and do far more harm than good.

One of the most distracting parent behaviors I have seen is the parent running down the sideline, following play and yelling instruction to their child. More times than I can count, I have also dealt with parents standing near the goal line as they attempt to coach their child who is apparently the keeper. Imagine how chaotic the match would be if every parent were doing this. As the referee, I have to stop play and insist the offending parent return to the designated area with the other parents. Of course, this is nearly always followed by comments on my family heritage and statements such as “you can’t tell me to stop…I’m here for my child!”

Actually, “I can and I will!” When these situations escalate to this point and the coach will not help me with their offending parents, as a referee I stop play and hold the ball. This is a clear signal to everyone at the field that play has stopped and will not resume until I am satisfied.

There is never a good reason to yell at the ref’s! Regardless of how terrible you think the call was or how blind the official appears, it’s not your place to offer on-going evaluations of the officiating. That’s NO one’s job! Trust me; the view is different from the center of the pitch while you are running with the players. If the referee really is bad at what they are doing, odds are they are equally bad for both teams and fairness counts. Youth sports in America, whether baseball, football, basketball or soccer, all struggle to maintain an officiating corps. Just like the players, the officials are continually working to improve their game. For many new officials, 1-3 matches with the parents yelling at them is enough, and they turn in their whistle. Yelling at the referee or umpire is simply inappropriate and inexcusable! Instead, just sit back and relax. Take a “chill pill!” Enjoy the day, being there for your child and the fact that your son or daughter is out there (hopefully) having fun. Don’t spoil it for your kid or anyone else out there. Your behavior on the sidelines will dramatically affect how much enjoyment your child continues to have.

There is never a good reason to be yelling at a youth sporting event. Unfortunately, kids view the behavior of the adults in their lives as examples. That means that every time you yell, you are teaching a child that this is the correct way to behave. When I confront parents and coaches about this type of behavior, I get the standard “I’m not yelling…I’m just passionate.” Maybe this mindset comes from the deluge of sports we get pumped into our living room. We get to get to see football coaches throwing clipboards to the ground and yelling at an official. We get to see managers kicking dirt at an umpire. Many professional athletes do “Hulk Hogan” type growls and posturing when they do a great play. Our kids, their coaches and their parents emulate this behavior under the misguided belief that it somehow makes them better; but nothing could be further from the truth. For most people the border between passion and anger is so fine that it is too easily crossed.

Recently a youth soccer referee in Utah was punched in the side of the head by a player who was upset at receiving a yellow card. A short while after being struck, the referee slipped into a coma and later died. Clearly, this is the worst case scenario, but it should never have happened.

At its best, regardless of the sport, the athletic arena is a place for players, coaches and fans to experience the thrill and exhilaration of athletic competition. Unfortunately, sports have also become a place to witness the worst that human behavior can offer up. As a society we have a responsibility to learn from these incidents and strive to return our sports to being only competitions. Those who rant, complain and yell often defend their words as “just being passionate”, but I disagree. Nearly all this that I have witnessed is fanaticism taken to the point of anger.

Whether on the field or off, emotions are a big part of sports but anger and yelling do not belong. By our words and our example we need to ensure passion does not become anger.

Comments (1)                                                                                                                                                    [Add Comment]


"I probably raised my voice a little too much, but passion is the hallmark of leadership and leadership gets things done," SD Mayor Bob Filner previously said of the incident at Dulles Airport where he was accused of badgering a baggage clerk.

Looks like a perfect example of those you're talking about.

Posted at: Aug/14/2013 : Posted by: Frank

John F. Kennedy
Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
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