After what has been years and years of watching our children play sport and having done a touch of coaching, I have seen and heard an array of parental sideline behaviour, ranging from the absolutely awesome to the completely unbearable and shocking.
However, last Sunday afternoon, what started as your standard footy game at the local club escalated into scenes of horrific physical and verbal violence.
At an under 15s football grand final, an umpire had to “run for his life” after parents and kids launched an attack at the end of the game.
Live streamed on Facebook by Joel Ives, he explained the arguments erupted after two 50-metre penalties were awarded to Point Cook, just 30 seconds before the final siren.
John Dodd, who was watching on from the sidelines, told The Age that he was scared for the life of the umpire.
"There were supporters and parents throwing punches at him. He was running away, dodging punches, and if he had fallen over I don't know what would have happened," he said.
"He was running for his life at a junior football match, which is ridiculous."
The truth is, stories of violence from crowds at kids' sports matches are not unusual. They happen every weekend, across the country.
If you have a child who already plays sport, or if you are about to embark on a future that involves your youngster participating in sport, then aim to train yourself, from the very first blow of the very first whistle, to offer encouragement and, encouragement only, from the sideline.
Learn early how to bite your tongue when you feel you would like to add anything more than this to the game. This is not as easy as it may seem… my personal experience, #OwningMySlipUps, has taught me that. When you find yourself about to burst forth, remembering the following may help…
You are not the coach.
The coaches you will come across are most likely volunteers who are dedicating their time and energy to helping your child develop an understanding and a love of the game. You are not the coach. Don’t try to be the coach. If you want to be the coach, put your hand up next time you register your child. Unless you have been specifically asked by the coach to help, your instructions from the sidelines will be; annoying the coach; confusing the players and quite simply, not helping.
You are not the umpire.
The umpires are human and doing the best they can. Many of them are still children or very young adults. Unless they have specifically come to you at the beginning of the match and personally asked you for help, then they do not need your help. Your child may be that umpire one day. Think how you would like sideline parents to treat her.
You are modelling behaviour.
Consider the type of sportsperson you would like your child to become. One of my recent sideline mornings involved witnessing a parent very audibly shouting at the referee, disputing decisions and becoming visibly angry and frustrated. During this game, his young son was given a yellow card for…guess what? Arguing with the ref. Enough said.
On This Glorious Mess we discuss the curious case of the 100kg 7-year-old who got kicked off his rugby team. (Post continues after audio.)
Your child doesn’t want you shouting instructions from the sideline.
Unless your child has specifically asked you to let him and his team mates know where you think they should be standing and what moves you think they should be executing, then resist the temptation to do so. Your advice will more than likely earn you a reputation, not a good one… and your child will soon be asking that you no longer attend the games.
The results don’t matter.
Really, they don’t. Whether they win or lose, whether the umpire makes good calls or not so good ones, whether the coach plays the strongest players or not – our kids learn, we learn, we all grow. In the grand scheme of things the results really, really don’t matter. Learning to grow through each experience matters. Learning to gracefully accept defeat or victory matters. Learning to respect the umpire and the coach matters. Learning how to improve matters. Learning sportsmanship and teamwork matters. Learning a love of participation matters.
If you slip up and openly blow off some regrettable steam, publicly apologise to those who witnessed it… especially the children. We all make mistakes, often. It is what we do to fix our mistakes that is important.
Above all, remember it is both a privilege and a pleasure to have a child who you can watch play sport. Families who have lost a child would give everything they have to be watching that child play a game. Enjoy it… holler encouragement and applaud the players on BOTH teams, thank the coach and the umpire EVERY time and help to foster a love of sport in all the children you are fortunate enough to cheer on from the sideline.
Bindy Cummings (B.Ed hons) is a teacher and an early childhood neurodevelopmental consultant for GymbaROO. She is the Editor of GymbaROO’s parenting magazine: First Steps, their digital articles and the co-creator of GymbaROOs free online video series for parents of babies: Active Babies Smart Kids. She is the mother of four children. More on Bindy Cummings here. More articles by Bindy Cummings here.