To Shout or Not to Shout?

August 16th, 2015

It was awkward when I realized my own husband was sideline-shouter. It was nothing disparaging, mind you, just random things like “Yeah, cross to the middle,” and “Get it get it, woo!”

There are few things that embarrass me, for this for some reason, did. I tried to gently broach the subject by asking:  “Umm, do you think it’s confusing for the girls when they are hearing from lots of different adults?” I really tried to sound innocuous.

“No, I’m just encouraging her; she likes it.”

According to our daughter, she does.

But the issue with our young athlete, like so many kids who participate in rec soccer leagues, is that while she appreciates encouraging cheers, I also think
the finer mechanics of the game are unfamiliar and she gets easily distracted.

Wow. I do sound like a prude.

But imagine how distracting it would be to have these same kinds of well-meaning parents encourage kids from the back of classrooms during math lessons:

“Hey, great job! Algebra’s hard, but you had that first step! Just remember you have to multiply before you divide, buddy. Good try, woo-hoo!”

I asked the coach if the parents’ sideline yelling bothered her.

“Only if they tell them something different than I am.”

On the third time I hassled my husband about it, he became eerily quiet; punishing me with pretend indifference.

Am I just a jerk, as his hurt silence suggests? Am I withholding cheers simply because, understanding the game little more than my 10-year-old, I don’t know what to shout? Perhaps I’ve just done way too many in-depth stories about parental participation in kids’ sports.

Let me tell you, if there’s anyone who takes youth sports more seriously than involved parents, it’s child psychologists. Granted, their main concern is abusive yelling (which is supposed to be addressed when parents sign the code of conduct forms at the beginning of the season).

“A new study found that ego defensiveness, one of the triggers that ignites
road rage, also kicks off parental ‘sideline rage,’” according to Science Daily, “…that a parent with a control-oriented personality is more likely to react to that trigger by becoming angry and aggressive.”

Oh brother, that’s just not at all what I was looking for. Here’s something a little more benign from Psychology Today:

Never instruct your child from the sidelines. You may be telling her one thing, while the coach is advising her differently. Your intervention can easily confuse her, diminish her ability to perform and undermine the coach's authority,”

Right!? But then in the same article, the author says this:

“Act as your child’s cheering squad. When you stand on the sidelines, your child should read encouragement and love in your face.”

Now I’m feeling defensive for my husband; for all the shouters! We are supposed to “cheer” by showing encouragement and love in our faces? Our kids will be so distracted trying to read our loving expressions, they’ll get pummeled!

In Canada, Ireland, and Australia, some clubs have banned parents from yelling criticism or praise. The “Silent Sidelines” movement has signs and logos. (Seriously, couldn’t they have sprung for more than a creepy clip art ghost head?)*
Quiet sidelines are a goal for some teams in the U.S., too. For instance, when St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny coached his son’s youth baseball team, he set strict guidelines:

“We encouraged (parents) to play with their kids at home…take their kids to go get some ice cream after a game, even when we lost,” Matheny told NPR in an interview this Spring, “But mostly, during the game, do whatever you could just to take yourself out of the picture. The kids don't necessarily need you to be yelling words of encouragement… they interview collegiate, high school and even lower-level athletes: ‘What do you want your parents to do at the game?’ And the overwhelming answer is ‘absolutely nothing.’”

When I shared this quote with my husband, he was incredulous. “Well, it will be really quiet when I’m not there AT ALL. If I’m getting up at 7am on a Saturday and freezing my butt off, I want to be able to cheer.”

Then I was the silent one. Nothing kills a post-victory celebration like parents giving each other the silent treatment after yelling about the merits of yelling.

So now I’m working to interpret unsolicited verbal feedback as excitement and joy, because at the innocent beginning of sports participation, that’s the real goal, right?

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