As a former cheerleader, I would qualify myself as a cheering expert. I say this, of course, with a little smile and wink (like any good cheerleader). But seriously, those four years spent on the sidelines did not go to waste. Rest assured, this girl learned a thing or two. In addition to learning about jumps, kicks and discomfort of a too-tight pony tail, I learned how to cheer well. And by that I don’t just mean the memorized, choreographed “Go! Fight! Win!” I mean the tone in which we cheered. We were coached to never yell negative things (Oh man! Come on guys…Ugh, what are you thinking???) or to try and “coach” the players, (run faster, try harder, pay attention).
I suppose I am thankful for these lessons as a high school student, because it has become my automatic filter. As I sit on the sidelines of my daughter’s youth soccer games I began to realize, that not everyone is using the same filter. And I get it. It can be very emotional. I can only imagine how frustrating it was to watch me as a kid ― a completely mediocre athlete, not at all competitive or aggressive. I was like Rudy (you know, Notre Dame Rudy) minus all the grit and heart. But my parents were great. They came, they watched, they were positive and mostly quiet. Oh, my parents were both athletes in college, I might add. I’m sure they were hoping for more than the precious little athleticism than they witnessed but, they maintained their composure, always.
Today I sat on the sidelines of my daughter’s soccer game and was horrified by what I heard: parents publicly ripping into their children as they played. Screaming and yelling, as their kids did their best to not only compete athletically, but also to minimize the verbal blows that were being dealt to them by the ones they love. I understand being tough and bringing out the best in a child athlete, but this has gone too far. Think I’m crazy? Spend a Saturday on an athletic field sideline and I have a feeling you will be swayed.
As parents we are supposed to take a step back to let the coach do their job. Our role is to be a positive force on the sidelines. Oh, you used to play soccer/softball/football? You know what do to better than the coach? Great, why then didn’t you volunteer to coach? Oh, you don’t have the margin? Shoot, well then… know your role. Sorry to be blunt, but this needs to be said.
Today I saw beautiful, strong girls crumble physically and emotionally. Crying on and off the field. Trying to navigate a growing body and all kinds of new skills, their parent’s expectations and emotions should not be another thing that they have navigate. Carefully performing, sprinting and executing the best they can.
Here’s the deal. Keep the bar low. Your kids are not your identity. Their athletic performance really isn’t a reflection of you. They are much more than that. And frankly, so are you. I understand that this can sound very naïve and Pollyanna, but let me assure you…we need to have this talk. What I heard today is happening all over America every week, and it is not good. We can do better, because we know better. In our hearts we know that respect and kindness go much further than systematic shaming.
So the next time you find yourself on the sidelines let’s all become cheerleaders. Try to be silly and have fun. Speak with love and excitement. And you can lift up others, not just your own child. Choose to be a leader and lead by example… Let’s change the climate of these crazy sidelines, creating some sanity and peace.
How to be a Great Cheerleader:
· Relax. You made it. The toughest part of the day is hopefully behind you. You carried the chairs, filled the water bottles, found the uniforms, parked the car...now sit back, smile, and enjoy.
· Enjoy. Athletics have a TON of great lessons that can be taught, but you have to help teach and process and lead through them. Be on the look out for teachable moments or conversations you can have throughout the week as you see you child break through personal barriers or try their best or struggle.
· Body language. Clap. Jump up and down. Don’t pace. Oh, and stay off the field. Smile as you watch the game. Getting sucked into your smartphone doesn’t count, we can do better than zoning out or checking emails/social media for a few hours on the weekend.
· Maintain Perspective. At the end of the day, I am way more impressed by a kid’s character and integrity than solely their athletic ability. It is amazing to what watch someone score tons of goals or sink a bunch of shots, totally. But the moments that resonate deeper and speak louder are the times when kindness, bravery and character are shown…That is more of a result of parenting than goal-scoring, absolutely.