Stop Taking Your Kid's Soccer Match So Bloody Seriously

No one trusts anyone to behave like a human being anymore.

Corralled like animals, that’s what we were. A beautiful autumn Sunday morning, the sun shining, the air crisp, and we were herded into pens like bloody cattle.

Let me take you there. We’re in a middle-ring suburb of Sydney. Parking spots impossible to come by, overpriced coffee a little bitter and too hot, dogs on leashes, parents on even shorter leashes.

Here’s what happened. The home soccer club ushered the parents, siblings and hangers-on of each team into two small roped-off area at opposite ends of the sideline.

We could not leave those enclosures. We could not stride the sideline to follow the path of the ball. We could not walk over and pat our 11-year-old kids on the shoulder at halftime and offer words of encouragement. We were prisoners in a public park.

Why?

I put that question to the guy from the local club who was patrolling the enclosures, making sure no parent dared step outside them. He gave me this sneer like I was a troublemaker.

Snarky officious local club guy told me that on one or more occasions in the past, parents have abused officials, kids or other parents. He said they couldn’t risk that again, which is why we were separated into corrals, and did I want to argue with that?

Oh, you bet I did.

I told officious rope guy that these kids are 11, and that soccer is a thing they do for healthy fun and socialisation. I told him that we parents were here to offer encouragement, and to enjoy the game, win or lose. I told him that none of us had ever abused anyone, and that he had no right to tell us where we could or could not stand outside of the field of play.

He said we could stand where HE said we could stand.

I said this was a public park and we could stand where we liked, a line he’d clearly heard before.

Dumb. I played right into his hands. Now I was the bad guy. I was the dad who’d gotten out of bed at 7am on a weekend, driven his kid halfway across town, and I was the bad guy.

Sigh.

I’ve seen some extremes over the years as a sideline dad in junior sport.

I’ve seen sport be too nice. In three seasons of AFL Auskick, my son’s games weren’t scored because – god forbid – someone might feel disappointment at the character-building outcome called losing. The kids kept score in their heads, which always gave me a sneaky thrill.

I’ve seen sport be nasty. I remember a hockey game where kids on the other team yelled “You’re shit” to my daughter’s team after the little brats scored their eleventh goal. Must’ve been some great parenting behind that.

I’ve seen sport be sneaky and duplicitous, like the time a mum hid paperwork from other parents, because she didn’t want other kids getting into a rep team ahead of her own.

And now I’ve seen the assumption that every single parent is a ticking time bomb of sideline rage ready to explode at the slightest provocation.

I get that some people take junior sport too seriously. I’ve seen the terrible acts of sideline rage that bob up on social media and the news from time to time. But the assumption that any of us, at any moment, might become that person, made my Sunday morning decidedly uneasy.

I don’t know what else to report. My civil disobedience began and ended with the conversation with that bonehead club official. All I can say is that the nanny state is alive and well at a junior football field near you, as it is throughout society.

No one trusts anyone to behave like a human being anymore. That’s the essence of this. Someone broke a bottle once so, hey, no more bottles ever! A parent once abused someone so, hey, let’s treat all parents with great suspicion and officiousness because they, too, are potential abusers!

I hate that attitude almost as much as I hate the tiny percentage of parents who can’t actually behave.

My son’s team lost 5-2, for the record. But they played well. I just wish we’d been allowed to get close enough for them to hear our cheers of support.