Wednesday, Jul 02 2014 03:54 PM

Martz on Sports: Silent Saturday: Changing parents’ sideline behavior

"Johnny attack!"

"Megan, spread out!"

Spectators will hear these proverbial phrases often if they attend a youth athletic game on a Saturday morning in America.

No matter what age, or experience level, adults tend to bark orders at children from the sidelines in an effort to get them to perform to a higher level. But what they don't realize, is that they are actually doing more harm than good.

If adults could just imagine themselves undertaking a difficult task — like interpreting intricate instructions, filling out an important tax document or driving in traffic — than think what it would be like if someone yelled at them during the process, they would quickly understand what a child might feel like after being yelled "advice" from the sideline.

Still, many adults feel it's okay to do so, even though those same adults would probably never consider yelling at a child, especially their own, while they were sitting in classroom attempting to learn the alphabet, or struggling with a complicated math problem.

Has it ever occurred to these adults that by screaming from the sidelines they're not just invading a child's playtime, they're preventing that child from learning the game in a normal manner.

In fact, many youth sports experts say that shouting is detrimental to children's development as player and at worst, can turn them off to the sport entirely.

Take for example an 10-year-old girl in my soccer league this past season.

For the sake of anonymity we'll call her Ally.

Ally is a super player, and best of all never gives up, no matter how bad her team is struggling.

Every Saturday, Ally showed up to the fields, along with her dad who had a penchant for coaching Ally from the sideline.

Ally seemed to pay little attention to her dad's sideline directives, until a roar of disappointment and correction echoed from the sideline after Ally missed on a difficult shot on goal.

Ally turned to the sideline and yelled, "Dad just leave us alone."  

It was that moment I was inspired do something for Ally and the rest of the kids in the league, allowing them just one day to be just who they rare — kids having fun playing a game.

As a result, "Silent Saturday" — a day to give players a chance to play a game they love, without having to hear the constant pressure of coaches and parental interference. And a time for kids to showcase what they have learned over the season and to put it all together on the field as team.

To say the least, "Silent Saturday" made for a very interesting experiment, even though some parents complained that stifling sideline coaching just isn't normal.

Others cheered on players with horns, drums, bells and homemade signs, while coaches watched in near silence at the fruits of their labor.

The games played that day proved that with good coaching, any child in any age group can play well, and in some cases play even better with the decreased stress levels that sometimes can be caused by parents and coaches "just trying to help."

In the end, I hope that adults will recognize that sideline instructions only deny children a chance to make their own decisions, suppresses their creative instincts, and in the end, doesn't really help to make them better players.

What does help, is offering to kick the ball around with them in the backyard, having fun, and watching them have fun, while learning from the best teacher of all — the game itself.

MATTHEW MARTZ, is a Certified Youth Sports Administrator through the National Alliance of Youth Sports, and the Sports Director for the Bear Valley Springs Association.

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