My older daughter is earning some extra money refereeing soccer this spring. The oldest kids she has refereed for have been 10. She's learned a lot about human nature in the two weekends she's been the ref.
My daughter is almost 13. She's refereed a grand total of 5 games. She took all the training, but there's no teacher like experience. She's probably missed a few calls. She's made some good calls.
In the two weekends she's been a referee, she has been berated by the center referee, cussed at by parents and yelled at by several coaches.
I'll be the first to admit as a sports parent that sometimes we get way too caught up in this child's game. We see a bad call, and we get vocal about it. What we forget, though, is that guy or girl in the striped shirt is a person. They're human. They make mistakes.
Earlier this year, I had a few conversations with both my daughters that have made me a lot less vocal on the sidelines. Having my daughter be the one taking the brunt end of parent frustration as a referee has me thinking things over again.
In the past few months, here are five things I've learned about how to be a sports parent (or the parent of a child doing any activity) that our kids want to have at their events.
1. Let the coach be the coach. My older daughter told me one day that we needed to not yell directions to her on the field because her coach is often telling her something different. It gets confusing and frustrating for the kids when the coach says one thing and mom or dad says the other. They know they're going to disappoint someone no matter what they do.
2. Don't yell at the referee. As my daughter says, "They have feelings, too." I'll admit this one is hard when they blatantly blow a call. But the truth is that it's not the parent's job to deal with the referees. If the calls are too egregious, the coach will say something.
3. Be supportive. No matter how bad the game or how poorly your own child is playing, always have something positive to say when they come off the field -- even if it's just "You'll do better next time." My daughter told me she only wants to hear my voice on the field if I'm cheering for her -- not giving directions, just cheering.
4. Remember who you represent. No matter where we go or what we do, we represent Jesus. We don't leave him behind when we go to the sports field. As Christ-followers, how we treat our kids, the coaches and the referees reflects back on Jesus.
5. Remember it's supposed to be fun. We went through a year last year where soccer wasn't fun for our daughter, and she was miserable. In the end, it's just a game played by children. Our culture has built youth sports up to the point where there's so much pressure involved that we've forgotten that this is a game. It's supposed to be fun. At the end of the game, there should be pats on the back and trips out for ice cream -- not an entire drive home rehashing the game. If my daughter wants to talk about the game on the way home, we do, but if she doesn't, then we move on.
Even though sports take up a lot of our kids' lives in this house, we have to put it in perspective. We have to remember that it's more important that our kids are having fun, making friends and being healthy than it is for them to win every game. It's more important for us to sit on the sidelines and cheer than it is to yell at the ref or try to coach our kids from the sideline.
Because in the end, it's a game. And it's supposed to be fun.