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Seasons of Good Cheer: Be the Supportive Fan Your Kids Need

By Scott Beller

Daddying Editor


"Dribble!...Pass!...Run faster!..."

"Why aren't you shooting?!"


"This isn't the team I saw play yesterday – let's go, girls, get it together!"


"NO – What are you DOING?!"

These are just a few of the negative gems I heard dropped loudly by some other teams' "joystick" parents at a recent travel soccer tournament while I waited for my daughter's team to warm up and take the field for the next game. I don't doubt those parents thought they were helping. I'm also certain they were absolutely not.


Postgame with my Firebolts, 2018

For the past seven years, when at a soccer game, I've usually been blessed to roam the opposite sideline – the players' side – as a coach. From that position, I couldn't hear what other parents were shouting at their (and sometimes my) players. Now in soccer coaching retirement, I miss having the privilege of being on the other side.


As I listened to rival moms bellowing unpleasant taunts at each other in the guise of "cheering" for their kids' teams, I wondered when did parents cheering for their kids turn into an exercise in controlling and berating them? What I heard that day wasn't cheering and it wasn't supportive. It was demeaning, dispiriting…and relentless.


And then I thought of my mother, Mary Barham, for very different reasons. That woman really knew how to cheer for her kids. The most important part of that previous sentence is the word “for.”


My mom always cheered loudly, which could be embarrassing, at times, but her words were always positive. Out on the pitcher's mound, I tried to block out her frequent bursts of encouragement like, "C'mon, Scotty, fire it in there!" or "Way to go!" or "No problem, let's get the next one!"


I pretended not to notice even though I heard her every time. Just as I suspect those soccer players heard their parents.

Mom taught me that our kids need positivity and understanding the most when they’re at their most embattled. She knew that to tear us down when we were probably already beating ourselves up was neither constructive nor instructive.

As an adult, I finally realized that cheering loudly was another way my mom countered the destructive verbal abuse my father aimed at me, on and off the field. Every encouraging word from her restored me, little by little, hammering out the emotional dents my father inflicted.


There was never a doubt my mom was on our side. She wanted us to succeed. When her kids were struggling, she nudged us forward with encouragement, not humiliation. She wouldn’t allow small setbacks to discourage us. She helped us put such things behind us so we could focus our attention on the next task.


She also knew when to just be quiet. To listen and offer a hug.


I’ve tried to follow her example, though I’m not infallible. I do get frustrated at times if my girls and/or their teams aren’t playing as well as they could. But, because of my mom, I know there’s a time and place for critiquing performance, and I don’t believe it should be during the heat of competition or delivered from the bleachers.


Mom taught me that our kids need positivity and understanding the most when they’re at their most embattled. She knew that to tear us down when we were probably already beating ourselves up was neither constructive nor instructive.


So, I’ve learned to sit on the sidelines and be a vocal fan and supportive dad. I save my coaching points for later (after muttering them to myself during games) when emotions aren’t so high, and I try to keep them positive to help my girls build on what they’re doing right, recognize mistakes and understand that we all make them, and figure out how to adjust in order to avoid making the same mistakes again.


Learning how to let my kids go, boost their confidence, and show them I trust them to fly on their own has certainly been a process and one that is ongoing. Thanks to Mom, I’ve at least gotten better at knowing when to chime in and when to zip it (mostly zip it unless I’m cheering a win, big or small, a great play/effort by them, their teammates, or even an opponent). This goes for all areas of my kids’ lives, not just in their sports pursuits.


I guide them when it feels necessary, but not to make them feel inadequate or small because of mistakes. All I expect is that, win or lose, they play to the best of their abilities, be supportive teammates, and show good sportsmanship. As a parent, I think I should hold myself to that same standard.


It’s easy for parents to be positive and cheer for their kids when they’re winning. That’s expected. What’s more difficult is how to cheer for and build your kids back up when they’re not.

It’s easy for parents to cheer for their kids when they’re winning. That’s expected. What’s more difficult is how to cheer for and build your kids back up when they’re not.

The sideline experience at the travel soccer tournament left me deflated (and my kids weren't even playing in that game!) and feeling sorry for those other young players who had to endure a constant barrage of negativity. It also gave me another reason to miss my mom, who’s been gone since September 2019.


When I spoke at her funeral, I shared this:


When I told her “I love you,” she always replied, “I love you more.” I didn’t want to believe she was right.


When I became a dad, I realized she was.


She gave me affirmations over and over not only because she meant them deeply, but also so I’d still have her voice in my head, every moment of every day, loudly – embarrassingly loudly – cheering me on and building me up just as she had at Howry Field or Wakefield Park or Jefferson High School from the concession stand windows.


I want her to know that I heard her. I hear her now. I love her and I miss her.



I’m glad I wasn’t able to ignore Mom's cheers. I’ve tried my best to follow her example and I know I'm a better dad for it. Today is her birthday, and it makes me sad that I'm unable to hug her or hear her cheerful voice again.


Love you, mom!


 

Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, Morgan and Lauren, imperfect husband of rock-star mom, Elisabeth, former soccer coach, forever loving son, Editor of the Daddying blog, and DCG's Director of Communications. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 25 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.