"Parents are a mess," says Larry Swertloff, a volunteer coach and safety director for the Brooklyn region of the American Youth Soccer Organization, which fields 2,000 youngsters on local ballfields each fall.
They yell – at their kids, other parents, the other kids, coaches and referees.They prowl sidelines hurling invective, challenging coaches' decisions.They turn good sports into bad memories, torpedo children's confidence and eliminate all fun from the games.
Some, like Junta, get physical.In El Paso, Texas, stabbings and a gun threat forced officials to make parent classes mandatory in youth sports.
In Brooklyn, AYSO teams have reported "a couple" of referee assaults, Swertloff
Worse, "Kids are in tears all the time from what their parents say," he
says."Under-10s are being told, ‘You stupid girl!' And it happens publicly."Dads snarl.Mothers can be "catty and miserable," says Swertloff
On the sidelines, too often "parents are like 3-year-olds who watch a cartoon and think they're in it," Swertloff
says.As young soccer players swing into a kick, parents typically twitch."We call it the pelvic check.The parents lose themselves."
Money can play a role, in the promise of a college scholarship (no small matter as tuitions soar past $30,000 a year) or even more.Some parents want to propel their children into lucrative professional careers.
But the most common explanation for misplaced parental zeal is that parents use their kids' games to resolve their own hangups, "reliving their youth, trying to re-create an experience they never had," says Swertloff
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In Brooklyn, Swertloff
is enthusiastic about an AYSO program called Safe Haven.It instructs coaches and referees in federal laws that protect children and volunteers.
Safe Haven also teaches "how to coach kids as opposed to how to coach soccer, (defining) the boundaries a coach has with a player, how you communicate," he
says."Everything is positive, not negative.You say, ‘That was excellent, now let's try it this way.'"
AYSO also enforces guidelines: Everyone plays, teams are balanced (not stacked to win), and there's open registration with no tryouts."Anybody can be in as long as they are on time and in their right age group," Swertloff
In El Paso, Keith Wilson runs classes in "performance parenting," with mandatory attendance for every parent whose child is on a city team or plays on a city field.