Can We Fix the Sideline?

Alan Stein Jr. thinks so

Laura Lambert

| 6 min read

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For Alan Stein Jr. — a sports performance coach turned corporate speaker  — changing the culture of the sideline is a personal passion project, and the driving force behind his most recent book, The Sideline: A Survival Guide for Youth Sports Parents

“My goal is to bring a level of awareness to parents,” says Stein, “to bring them in alignment with what they are actually doing.”

What exactly are parents doing? Plenty — and some of it rather iffy. For Stein, these are the big three.

  • Berating the referees
  • Yelling instructions from the sideline 
  • On the car ride home, or at dinner, undermining coaches and referees

And he has a few ideas that could change Saturday morning games for the better. 

“I say all of this with the smile of a recent convert,” says Stein. “I’ve made every single mistake.”

Let’s start with a simple question: What is going on on the sidelines?

I played most of my sports in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and while there were certainly some loud-mouthed parents then, it’s gotten exponentially worse. My guess is that the conduit is that things have gotten more competitive across the board. At a high level, the money has gone up, the pressure has gone up, the specialization has gone up. It’s a cocktail of all that stuff. 

It’s funny because if you ask any parents why their kids play sports, they’ll say: to have fun, to make memories, to learn life skills… all the politically correct answers. And I don’t say that in judgment. Those are the best reasons. 

But then you go and watch during a game, and they are valuing winning, playing time, future scholarships. That’s where the problem lies.

So where or how do we start fixing that disconnect?

I think we can agree, the crazy parents who are punching umpires… we don’t have to worry about saving them. The rest are well-intentioned good human beings who tend to yell at refs or undermine the coach at dinner that night. We need to get them on board. 

And who’s responsible for getting them on board — coaches?

I think it’s a shared responsibility. 

It’s about creating the best environment possible for the kids. 

Personally, I can tune out all the crazy parents. This isn’t for me. But if it takes away from my kids’ experience, that’s different. We need to ask ourselves: Are we creating an environment that is as meaningful and memorable as possible? 

For some reason, sports in general, but in youth sports in particular, it’s like there’s a completely different set of rules. How adults behave on the sidelines… you would not even consider behaving that way in any other part of life. You don’t stand at the back of math class, yelling instructions. When they get their first job, you don’t go to Target and yell at their coworkers. 

Do you have any examples of what remedies have worked well? I’m thinking of the Little League in New Jersey that makes parents who heckle umpires take a turn behind the plate. Or the Offside Facebook page, which outs and shames youth-sports-parents-gone-mad.

As a general rule, and this is simply my perspective, I don’t really think that shaming or guilting someone is the best way to go. 

One of the things I put on social media, a pet peeve of mine, is people who don’t return their shopping carts. There’s a site called Cart Narcs. Someone sends me that link once a week. While I applaud their mission — if you just left your cart at Target, they make fun of you in order to get you to put it back — the people just get inflamed and defensive. There are borderline fights. 

I don’t like to make people feel bad. I lead with empathy and compassion — from the assumption that this person who is screaming at the ref, they’re doing it because they love their kids. 

So, awareness is the first step. No one is going to fix something they’re oblivious to. No one gets better when they are unaware. The parents yelling at the referees or yelling instructions to the child, most don’t even realize they’re doing it. 

The other part I try to bring to their attention is this: In the history of all of sports, no ref has ever changed a call because a loud-mouthed mom yelled from the sideline. So, your yelling is futile. To say you are wasting your breath is an understatement. 

At the end of the day, what do young players really need from their parents?

Unconditional love is number one. We should all be letting our children know if they score 10 or no points, win or lose, I love you. 

Number two is simple: Encouragement and support. How can I help provide the resources and support you need to play the sport that you love? 

I have 13-year-old boy twins and an 11-year-old daughter. We have four guidelines for playing sports.  

  • Play as hard as you can play. Give your best.
  • Be coachable. Have respect for your coach, listen with your eyes and ears. Acknowledge that they know more about sport and life than you do at present.
  • Be a great teammate. Cheer your teammates on, make extra passes, be the teammate you like to play with. 
  • Have fun. 

If you give great effort, are coachable, are a great teammate and have fun, I’ll drive, pay for and support you to the fullest. If not, you’re undermining the purpose of why you’re here.

The best part is, whether my kids go on to be mediocre or an Olympian, those four things are still the foundation.

To learn more about The Sideline and take a free assessment to see if you’re “Sideline Ready,” go to thesidelinebook.com

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