Looking for the Losers in youth soccer? Check the sidelines

I’ve always been a Reluctant soccer mom. My kids constantly joke about getting me a “soccer mom” T-shirt to wear as I grudgingly drive them all over creation.

My husband, a former Division I player, is more committed – training my sons on the weekends and evenings, while convincing me that soccer teaches much more than ball handling, dribbling, slide tackles, and goal kicks.

Soccer, he says, with its focus on teamwork, collaboration and sportsmanship could help them become good people, not just good players.

I guess they won me over because I have spent every weekend this fall at the Bernalillo Soccer Complex, where I have become a keen observer of the worst kinds of human behavior. And I’m here to tell you, dear reader, that the parents are not all right.

From shouting expletives to screaming insults at children and referees, I’ve watched parent behavior become increasingly Despicable over the past three months – a phenomenon that’s made me question what my children are actually learning at soccer.

During a recent weekend, at a regular-season game, a parent on my own son’s team screamed a Swear word and kicked a chair when the other team scored. He also yelled a steady stream of insults at the players (on our own team) that drowned out any and all encouraging cheers.

I was leaving a voicemail for my friend who called me back in alarm to ask who the man screaming in the background was. I was so upset by this parent’s behavior, I texted the Coach and asked him to address it. The Coach sent a Stern message to the parents the following week that was unequivocal in condemning this sideline behavior.

So I entered the end-of-season tournament tentatively hopeful.

Within a matter of minutes, my hopes were dashed. At my 10-year-old’s first game, a parent on our team got into a verbal altercation with the ref that turned so toxic that the ref threatened to end the game early.

After the game, I heard the parent lamenting, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

In the second game, a 12-year-old boy asked the ref if he was blind as parents screamed Merciless directions and admonitions at their children – the very same parents the Coach had disciplined the week before.

At the third game, a parent received two verbal warnings from the ref who threatened to clear the sidelines if the parents didn’t settle down.

Parents, wake up. Your kids are watching you.

(Recently), my son blamed his weekend loss on the ref, imitating the exact language I had heard the parents use the week before.

The referees to whom the parents direct their vitriol and ire are often children themselves or retired folks coming out to ensure that the kids can play a fun and fair game. There is nothing fun or fair about soccer these days.

You might be tempted to say, “What’s the big deal? It’s only soccer, after all,” and it’s just a few parents who are over-excited or who think their kid is the next Lionel Messi. But these tiny Dramas that play out every weekend on the soccer field serve as microcosms for society.

And we’ve all seen what happens when people refuse to lose graciously, haven’t we?

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