It’s common to hear fans on the sidelines screaming instructions or slamming the ref. You’d probably shrug it off—until you remember the soccer players charging up the soccer field are 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds.
The whys behind some parents’ out-of-control behavior are varied.
"Some of them see their kids’ success as kind of a reflection of themselves, so they get angry, they feel they look bad if the kid doesn’t do well," says Gloria Balague, clinical assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "Others totally want to protect their kids from any disappointment or anything negative so they yell at anybody they think is on the path to their children’s success."
So what’s a parent to do? Balague offers these tips:
• Before the season, decide what you want your child to learn. "To me, the goal of youth sport is to keep them in the sport, to make sure they enjoy it, that they learn, that they progress. It’s not to make them mini-champions," she says.
• Gather the team’s parents and create a code of conduct. The American Youth Soccer League, with dozens of programs throughout Illinois, has parents sign a pledge, says Tom Tobin, national director of programs and volunteer services for AYSO. The pledge is available at
• Absolutely avoid giving instructions to your child while they are playing, Balague says.
• After the game, the first question shouldn’t be "Did you win?" The first question, she says, should be "Did you play hard?"