This past Saturday, I went to see the 15-year-old son of a friend play in a competitive soccer game in Oakville. The teams were first and second in the league, and the result would go a long way in determining the eventual league champion. Sadly, the circumstances helped fuel the spectators on the sidelines; I’ve seen it far too many times before. It wasn’t newsworthy, just disappointing and far too common. I’m not sure what it is about minor league sports (or even parking lots) that can bring out some of the most unwelcome behaviour amongst adults.
Standing on a soccer field was part of my life for a dozen years as my son played soccer at a variety of different levels: House League, competitive and for the high school he attended. There were some real highs and lows throughout those years: making teams, getting cut from teams; seeing boys injured; going to tournaments; team get-togethers; winning League/Ontario Cup/National championships, etc. I even helped manage the team for a couple of years until my knowledge of the beautiful game was not enough to enable the boys to improve their skills. Coaching was fun, but it’s sometimes harder to coach fourteen boys than it is to run an elementary school of almost 400 students (your greatest supporters and critics are standing only metres away watching your every move). In fact, it was liberating to find some outstanding people to coach my son Brandon not only about soccer, but about life. By the time he turned 10, I moved to the role of full-time taxi driver and sideline supporter.
I enjoyed being a soccer parent. Our car rides to and from games, practices and tournaments, were a part of my life for over a decade. When it ended last October, partially because Brandon was on hiatus from an injury, and partly because he had his own driver’s licence when he returned, I had mixed emotions. This summer as I drove by kids playing soccer, I often found myself reminiscing about those times with him. Those years seem to have gone by in a flash. But I quickly remembered how much you can do when you are not spending three to four hours a night five to six days a week driving to and from soccer fields across the province.
On Saturday, I was reminded what I didn’t like about being a soccer Dad: the behaviour that you witness from some of the “fans” at the game. Shocking, juvenile, absurd or ridiculous are words that immediately jump to mind. The cheering and supportive comments were too often interspersed with continual criticism of the referees and comments about the players on the other team, who are still 15-year-old boys. Right in front of me during the second half of the game, two moms got into it. They called each other names, threatened each other and accused each other of things like sticking out their tongues at each other. I thought, “Things still haven’t changed.” The players, who were nearby, were smirking and smiling at such ludicrous behaviour by the adults even though they were in the midst of a hard-fought, competitive game.
Late this summer, my son learned that he had made the McMaster Men’s soccer team. Although he has yet to dress for a game, he trains with the team and is awaiting the opportunity to show his coaches his skills during a game situation. For now, during home games, he is in the press box with some other teammates. I’ve been attending the Mac home games since before the Labour Day weekend. While I like to think I’m social, I’m not too keen to listen to the spectators sitting near me while I watch the game, so I’ve started to watch the game while listening to various podcasts or music. Listening to Metallica with good headphones tends to drown out the unwanted noise.
On Sunday night, my wife and I were in Hamilton for a comedy show and we took Brandon out to dinner. I was recounting for him what happened on the sideline on Saturday in Oakville. After I finished, he shook his head and said, “It’s the same at university, Dad. You don’t hear it because of your headphones. My teammates and I watch the game and laugh at the commentary. It really hasn’t changed since I was 7 years old.”
Since arriving at KCS 18 years ago, I’ve watched and coached a lot of sports. Because games and meets are most often held during the school day, not all of our parents are able to attend. But those that are able to make it to a basketball game, swim meet or soccer tournament, have demonstrated year after year respect for all the athletes who are competing, the coaches who are doing their best on the sidelines and also to the referees (who are often young students). Our coaches appreciate that, as do our athletes. The other schools that we visit take notice and comment positively to our coaches about the behaviour of our fans. Let’s work together to maintain this record as a school. Then maybe we can figure out how to translate this to the minor sports fields, gyms, and arenas throughout the province. Go Cougars!