There are five ways for parents to model good sportsmanship on the sports sidelines: cheering for the team, not just your child; refraining from criticizing players; thinking how other parents and fans see you; not putting your child on a pedestal; and having fun and not treating parents from the opposing team as the enemy.
1. Cheer For The Team
Jill had always been a gifted athlete. She had been the top scorer for her youth soccer team since first grade and her skills were head and shoulders above her peers. Unfortunately, her parents also stood out. They stood alone on the sidelines, their eyes focused like laser beams on their daughter, cheering only when she made a brilliant move or drove the ball into the back of the net. Not surprisingly, the other parents found their behavior tiresome and self-centered.
Listen to the comments you make at your child's game. Are you singling out your son for the touchdown run but forgetting to praise the guard who made the block that sprung him into the clear? Show support for the entire team. Instead of focusing on your child, choose cheers that compliment the entire team, like "Good team effort," "Way to go, defense!" or "Great blocking, line!" If you single a player out for praise, spread the wealth. Praise not just your son or daughter, but others as well. The players in the game may never hear your words of encouragement, but the ones on the bench will get the message that you are pulling for the entire team, and the parents in the stands or on the sidelines will hear the same thing. Inclusive cheers build team spirit.
2. Don't Criticize Players
I remember standing with a group of parents after a middle school soccer game one beautiful, crisp New England fall afternoon. Our team had just suffered a heartbreaking loss when a player failed to connect on a pass to a wide open forward poised to score the tying goal on a breakaway. The father of the forward - who had scored both of our team's goals in the 3-2 loss - complained that it was "too bad we don't have any players who can score. My son had to play forward instead of shoring up the defense." As the mother of one of the forwards who "couldn't score" I was aghast at the insensitivity of the parent's comment.
Best to keep your critiquing to yourself. No one likes to hear the "know it all" father providing a play-by-play commentary on the game loud enough for everyone in the stands to hear. It's usually parents like these who, if they could hear themselves make remarks like "The guard opened a huge hole for the running back. Why didn't he get the first down? We need to try someone else at halfback!" would ask, "Why the heck did I say that?" If your child has been the target of insensitive comments like these, you know how important it is to keep your criticisms to yourself.
3. Think About How Others See You
A parent always needs to think of how his or her sideline behavior is perceived by other parents, coaches and players. He needs to imagine what a video playback of his behavior would look like. Would he see himself helping to clean the sidelines after a game or tossing a coffee cup on the ground in disgust after the opposing team has just scored its seventh goal? Would she hear herself leading a positive cheer, hands clapping with a smile, or see herself booing and making an obscene gesture at the referee? Would she see herself smoking near the player's bench (see sidebar) or handing out oranges to players at halftime?
Your child will have the best experience if she knows that you on the sidelines supporting her and her team and that you have put the interests of the kids first and left your ego and personal agenda at home.