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Keeping your cool on the sideline

Winter sports season can bring out the best and the worst of us as parents. Parenting coach DANIELLE RIDGWAY shares her tips for supporting your child on and off the field, while keeping your cool on the sideline.

Are you a shouty, sporty parent? I must admit, I’m guilty of it too.

Inside of me, there is an over-zealous teenage netballer who can defend slightly within three feet, get away with it, push a little when the umpire’s not watching, and snatch that ball, sending it back down the court with the conviction of a kid on Smarties.

So, when I’m on the sideline watching my boy in the Under 8’s soccer team, this netballer self has me yelling things like, “Get in there!” and “Alex is there if you need!” Am I enthusiastic? Yes. Is it helping my kid? Not really, and it’s a slippery slope before things can get out of hand.

Last Sunday at my 10-year-old’s football game, the parents on the opposing team were tense. A “sub” was refused, a penalty was argued, and in the final quarter, a mum yelled, “EYE GOUGE!” and began screaming and pointing fingers at the umpire.

The child who’d allegedly taken the eye gouge was left sitting on the field while the adults yelled at each other. (Thankfully, the child was not injured at all.) Among the chaos, I looked over at my son with his teammates, who were all looking stunned and confused. The game was called off, and we all went home a bit shaken.

After a quiet ride home, I looked over at my sweet boy and said, “The adults let the kids down today; there was nothing you did wrong.” Then he asked me, “Mum, if it was me who got the eye gouge, what would you have done?” I told him I would have run onto the field squealing and carried him off over my shoulder. He didn’t believe me, of course, but at least I made him laugh.

Sport matters

Sport teaches our children valuable lessons in teamwork, commitment, friendship, and resilience. As parents, we’re not just spectators; we’re role models, shaping our children’s understanding of sportsmanship and fair play.

When we yell seemingly harmless things from the sideline like, “Get in there,” “Mark your player,” “Kick it,” “Go for it,” our child hears:

I don’t know what I’m doing.

It’s akin to your boss standing at your desk yelling, “Write the email,” “Make the phone call,” “Deliver the project.” You get the idea.

So, if your inner netballer or soccer player can’t be tamed, just stick to the golden rule our grandmothers taught us, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.”

Danielle’s tips for keeping your cool on the sideline:

  1. Pause before reacting: Give your child space to learn from their experiences on the field. Save coaching for post-game discussions, where you can listen to their thoughts before offering your own insights.
  2. Ask your child how you can support them: Sometimes, all they need is your presence and a promise of a post-game sausage sizzle.
  3. Mix it up: Spend half the game watching and half chatting with other parents. Your child will know you’re there, providing support without overwhelming them with instructions.

Danielle’s tips for supporting your kids during the game:

  1. Offer comfort: Hugs and reassurance go a long way in comforting a crying or injured child. Wait for them to signal when they’re ready to rejoin the game.
  2. Handle meltdowns with care: If emotions run high, offer hugs and support until they’re ready to calm down. Avoid probing questions until they’re in a better state to discuss what happened.

Maya Angelou said, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.’

Ultimately, it’s the relationship between you and your child that’s key and creates lasting memories. The scoreboard, tactics, winning, and losing — that’s all just a game.

Danielle Ridgway is a Conscious Parenting coach and runs a Parent with Confidence programme.

Aktive.org.nz offers these additional tips for being a Good Sports Parent – and adds that respecting the referee and valuing variety and playing different sports are important too.

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