The much-anticipated match-up between our youngsters and the boys from Ohio was finally underway. After the first whistle, more than the static energy emitting from our blankets charged the air, as we watched from the sidelines on that freezing 27-degree morning. It was day two of the Adidas Invitational and our boys had shed the lackadaisical approach they displayed in the match on the previous day, which ended in a poor result.
This morning, they exhibited energy and focus that reminded me of the cliché: “When the road gets tough, the tough get going,” as our boys rose to the occasion of playing the No.1 U12 boys’ team from Ohio.
I tucked the blanket tightly around my body, silently praying that my husband would feed off the almost tranquil atmosphere that had settled onto the pitch within minutes of kick-off. Tranquil, because the self-assurance displayed by the Ohio boys was mesmerizing, their playing style was one of validating each other, as one player talked to the other in the orchestration of their creative strategy. They owned their game and demonstrated self-possession that was admirable for 11 and 12 year old boys.
“Wow,” I said to myself and glanced at the mom sitting next to me. She nodded, “these boys are talking to each other,” she said, “I am impressed,” she added. This was a pleasant, new experience for us. A learning opportunity, even as our talented youngsters silently worked hard at playing the game they love.
“I LOVE it,” I intoned, casting a worried glance towards my husband and the handful of dads edging a little too close to the pitch. They were the usual suspects, known to think aloud at soccer games, despite numerous admonishments.
Low-key, occasional directives emitted from the Ohio coach to his boys. And a few commands issued from the formidable force of four coaches assigned to our boys that morning - the official team coach, the two dads (former coaches from different clubs), and a third dad (I am still not sure what purpose he served), all crowded our youngsters’ bench area.
It was fifteen minutes into the first half when the Ohio boys scored. And the loose constraint exhibited by the wayward dads began to unravel. They let their emotions rise to the occasion, fearing that a thrashing was eminent - witness the Ohio boys’ blistering previous match wins of 9-0 and 6-1. The dads took it upon themselves to ‘help the boys out’ and tell them what to do, i.e. coach from the sidelines.
“D-UP! D-UP!” (translation: defend, defend!)
“You are useless there, move up!” (Even though the coach had told the kid to stay in that position).
“What are you doing?"
“You don’t need a wall there?”
“Is that ten feet? Ask for ten feet before you take the free kick!”
“Move the ball up field!”
“C’mon, no more than two touches! One touch football, c’mon!”
“Pass! PASS THE BALL. Pass it!”
The sidelines were perfect pandemonium by now, with horrific testosterone-filled bellows engulfing the pitch. I had heard enough. I got out of my seat and approached the dads.
“Can you hear the way the Ohio boys are talking to each other?” I asked, feeling like a Kindergarten teacher.
“Yeah, our boys never talk to each other,” an astute comment from one wayward dad.
“Well, maybe it’s because you dads are so busy yelling instructions at them,” I responded.
“Whoa, I’m moving away from your wife,” one of them commented, his smile barely concealed his ego.
“Stop stifling them, let them play their game,” I continued.
“We have to tell them what to do,” another dad informed me.
“You are not their coach!” I reminded him. “Model some positive behavior on the sidelines, please.”
The ridiculously annoying banter continued for a few minutes longer as I maintained my position as referee of the wayward fathers; trying to stymie the continuation of the toxic behavior; even as I was not able to contain the dad that kept stomping up and down the sidelines.
What is it about youth soccer matches and their propensity to bring out the worst behavior in dads, and moms? A soccer mom recently slapped a referee at a local tournament - scandalous behavior! I for one am fed up with the bad behavior. Maybe I should launch a campaign to eradicate it for the benefit of our young athletes; to foster more positive parental behavior on the sidelines.