Sport

The Last Word – Time to keep your mouth shut and let the kids play

May 22nd, 2016 6:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

ZIP IT! Parents and adults at underage games need to know their boundaries.

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HANDS up, I’ve been guilty of it before. I should have known better, but I saw quite quickly how wrong I was and stopped. 

Noisy parents at underage games are one of my pet hates.

I’m a reasonable, easy-going guy, who prefers the quieter/easier life, but even I have my limits – over-vocal parents, coaches and adults at underage games, who don’t know when to stop.

It grates me, annoys me, and I’ve had enough of it.

A switch flicked last weekend when, and not for the first time, I was at a match – in Kerry – where the boundaries of what’s acceptable and not acceptable to say were muddied by parents who became too engrossed in the game to see the bigger picture: that it’s just a game.

It led to flak being thrown my way for saying what I feel and know is the truth, but there comes a point, as a parent trying to set the right example, when you need to stand up for what you believe in and stick to your principles.

Everybody reading this column now will know ‘a noisy parent’, that person at an underage game (be it GAA, soccer, etc,) who – possibly well intentioned – shouts at the referee, hurls abuse at the opposition, tries to coach the team from the sideline and, in extreme cases, even railroads their own team.

It’s horrible to hear and we, as parents, should know better and should be able to control our emotions and our behaviour.

It’s the wrong example to set for kids, who play the game for enjoyment, but parents/adults seem to forget that sometimes, with a cacophony of shouting and screaming at games, and referees feeling the brunt of it.

This needs to stop. 

Yes, by all means encourage and support kids, but, as Antonio Mantero has pleaded time and time again in recent years, let the kids play.

Antonio is the man who has rolled out the excellent Silent Sideline Weekend initiative three times in this country in recent years, with another one scheduled for early next season.

On a designated weekend at schoolboys’ soccer games, spectators and coaches are forbidden to shout, dictate or direct from the sidelines. Essentially, they’re gagged. They have to keep their mouths shut.

Clapping is allowed for goals scored and efforts from both sides – but, importantly, it’s all about the kids, let them play, let them learn from their mistakes, let them make the pass they want to, without direction from the sideline, let them make their own decisions.

Over 100 clubs signed up last time and, hopefully, a lot more will do so the next time it’s being held. Check out www.thecoachdiary.com for more details.

Parents need to be educated on the damage they’re causing to their kids when they overhype games, because, without knowing, they can create a ‘stressful sport environment’ if they place too much emphasis on winning. Studies have backed this up, as what a parent might consider helpful advice could actually place more pressure on the kid.

In my work, I’m out and about, and at underage games I’ve heard and seen a lot – parents running to the back of the goal to try and distract an opposition’s player taking a free in a GAA game, coaches encouraging blatant cheating and, once, calling for one of their players to hit an opposition’s player, fathers laughing after their sons overstep the mark on the field, mothers shouting insults at opposition players, referees called cheats (in more colourful language), and the list goes on. It’s disgusting.

This is underage sport. Kids are kids for only a few years and they should enjoy these times with their friends, not have them blighted by pushy parents living vicariously through their son/daughter.

Those who persist in over-stepping the mark are letting their kids down. Sadly, they don’t see it. And I feel a degree of sympathy for them as they’re so blinded by what’s going on in front of them that they can’t step outside the bubble, take a breath and realise this isn’t life or death – it’s meant to be fun.

More clubs should enforce a rule where parents must sign up to a code of conduct at the start of each season, and if they break the rules that are set out, then they can be banned.

We’re already at the stage, in a league up the country, where the two teams playing will share the same sideline, away from the side that parents are standing on, just to have distance between the young players and the parents/adults.

I was at an underage GAA game recently where, on the back of the match programmes, seven lines were printed:

The players are children.

The coaches are volunteers.

The referees are human.

This is not the All-Ireland final.

Show respect to players and coaches.

First priority is having fun.

Enjoy your day.

Yes, I will still get excited at games. I’m only human, but I also recognise that there’s a line that I can’t cross. Hopefully, others will, too, because our kids deserve better than this. 

And, if you, like I did, stand up and have your voice counted, then we can start to, one by one, help educate parents and adults to, as Antonio Mantero says, let the kids play. It’s the least they deserve.

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