JUST last weekend I took my children to watch their Mummy play in a Ladies, Mothers and Others Gaa blitz organised by Mayobridge and I came away from it thinking how we could all take lessons from the day. All the teams at the start warmed up together, there was a complete emphasis on fun, participation and enjoyment from minute one until the last of every game. Not one single refereeing decision was contested from the sideline which got me thinking, is that because the sideline was full of children watching their parents and not the other way around?
I can at times be quite animated along the side-line at senior games, I am not going to disguise that fact, but when I go to watch my two girls play, you wouldn’t even know I was at the game, I always tell them they did fantastically, reiterating the point strongly to them that it’s about enjoying it, making friends and having fun at that age (u-12/u-14 Girls) and also make a point of thanking their coaches. We probably don’t realise it, but as parents we can possibly be the biggest obstacle to coaches of underage teams, without even realising we are doing it.
Just as recently as a few years ago an article emerged in a local newspaper in Leicester to say underage football is so out of control at this moment in time in England that someone could be killed, and that the main source of aggro was coming from the aggressive behaviour of parents!
There has been incidents of parents threatening to stab referees, a head-butting incident, young players being man-handled, damage to changing rooms and over 10 games have been abandoned due to out of control parents.
You may be reading this thinking ‘ah sure that’s over in England, that’s soccer, would never happen in the GAA’. However, I have witnessed first-hand in the last few months at u-8 to u-12 tournaments, out of control parents putting unnecessary pressure on the coaches and more importantly on the players, none moreso than their own children. We have also seen the high-profile incidents with officials in Roscommon and Wexford so we know that it is rife in our own games and something needs addressed asap.
I know we see coaching courses advertised regularly and child protection courses which is brilliant but I really feel every club should run a series of courses for parents in how to conduct themselves at underage games or training.
There are ways in which clubs and coaches can educate parents to become better sporting parents, here are a few;
Be supportive of the Children, don’t pressurise them into playing and support the decisions they make both on the field and off the field.
Give positive praise, know when to show praise and when to keep quiet, and don’t forget to praise other players on the team and also the opposition, show appreciation of good play.
Be calm and composed – if your child gets tackled aggressively or is involved in something contentious, let the referee deal with it and keep control of your emotions.
Promote the process of taking part and being involved, don’t talk about, “you have to win this one”. That pressure of ‘having to win’ is one of the main reasons children leave sport.
Allow the child to express themselves and play their own game, let the child make decisions and make mistakes. If they make mistakes they learn, don’t try and play the game for them.
Engage positively with other parents not just from your own club but from other clubs, positive relationships help create a more positive environment for everyone.
Celebrate participation, even when there is a defeat, try to put a smile on the children’s face straight away, remember you didn’t lose the game; you are there to support and help.
Provide an excellent role model to the child by watching your body language and your language – remember children will not always remember what you said but will remember how your words made them feel!