How to Survive the Sidelines

5 strategies for the reluctant youth sports parent

Samm Davidson

| 4 min read


Arriving on the sidelines feels the worst — furiously scanning my surroundings for a safe space, as I shuffle in with a couple of other kids in tow. Without fail, and despite every internal pump-up speech that I afford myself, the scene immediately induces anxiety and discomfort. Because while some parents live for the sideline circus, I do not. 

In fact, I really dislike it. Which is terribly unfortunate because my kids are beginning to love sports, and I love watching them. And as a former athlete myself, I get immense joy out of seeing them compete proudly and happily. But I don’t enjoy the (often crazy, overly intense) sideline culture that I am thrust into as their spectator. 

Thankfully, over the past couple of years I have crafted some important survival strategies – ones that work in a variety of venues and circumstances. So if you, too, are attending your child’s game while working through a little sideline phobia, fear not! I’ve got you.

Know the crowd

As with most problem-solving strategies, step one is to assess the current situation and identify the issues. The sideline is no different. You will notice the sections of bleacher, grass, or court that are louder than others, the parents who wander off in the distance, and those who pace loudly peppering the team with their own instructions. It’s easy to identify those who view the game as a fun, entertaining, pastime and those who have already spliced up game-footage for the college recruiters. Once you know who is who, and what is what, you can make your next move.

Find an ally

This is of the utmost importance, both for your enjoyment and your sanity. And don’t worry – allies come in many forms. Best case scenario, you find another parent with like-minded sports values and crowd etiquette. But it can also come in the form of a grandparent, sibling, or cell phone. As long as you have access and connection to another human being who can provide the necessary understanding or distraction when necessary, you are golden.

Have a pre-planned exit strategy 

For me, this is easy, because with four kids I can always spark a quick meltdown or fake a diaper catastrophe. “Oops! Nap time! Gotta go!” The little ones add complexity to game-viewing for sure, but they really come in handy when I need an excuse to wander or leave. Other great excuses might be a dog who has been left at home for too long, a friend who ran out of gas, or a neighborhood alien invasion. 

Last one might be tricky though. 

Bring shareable snacks 

This one might not be a fan favorite for true introverts, but hear me out. There will likely be kids in the crowd, and they will flock to snacks. And guess who doesn’t want to be close to all the wild, loud, game-distracting little ones? The crazy parents you are (likely) trying to avoid! So grab some cheese puffs, pass ‘em around, and lure only kids and well-balanced parents to your space.

Tune it out

This final strategy I certainly have not perfected myself. Regardless of your sideline company, keep your focus on the game and namaste away the rest. Download the Headspace app for a quick pregame meditation, and let the spectator noise roll off like Gatorade flowing over a championship coach’s back.

But the truth is, some of the wince-worthy behavior is simply unavoidable. Luckily, games are relatively short and survival is likely. And if all else fails, go sit with the other team.

But it’s probably pretty crazy over there, too.

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