Killing Us Softly With His Song

Parental misconduct during kids’ hockey games is so frequent it has become cliche. It is always inappropriate to shout obscenities at the opposing team or the referee or your own kid. A swift kick out of the rink is both necessary and de rigueur.

It’s not so clear cut, though, when it comes to those parents who don’t disrupt the game with crudity or nastiness but instead, with excessive encouragement and attentiveness.

One such man was at my daughter’s soccer game this afternoon.

At first, I thought he was an excited father who didn’t get to see many of his daughter’s soccer games. His voice was pleasant and upbeat as he shouted out directions to one player (or maybe two) by name, play by play. He stood very close to the sideline and was leaning in so that much of the time, his head was over the line. It was mildly annoying but I didn’t let it get to me. I felt for the guy; he was overjoyed that he got to be a part of his kid’s game.

But as time went on, it became clear that he wasn’t just shouting directions to his own child. He was shouting to all of the players on his child’s team. If he had a child on the team at all. I was beginning to think that he was a coach who was standing on the wrong side of the field. He had a sheet of paper in his hand, which he referred to occasionally as he offered up his instructions. When things weren’t going well for his team, which was quite frequent during this game, his voice shifted to a frustrated inflection but quickly recovered its “go get ’em” tone.

At this point, this man’s behavior was disruptive to my enjoyment of the game. It was hard to focus with his constant, persistent commentary.

“Is he a coach or a parent?” the woman next to me asked.

Several spectators sitting or standing near us either answered or leaned in to hear the answer. After a little back and forth, we decided he was a parent. The sheet of paper in his hand was a team roster, downloaded from the school’s webpage. That’s why he knew every single player’s name.

He moved from one end of the field to the other at the start of the second half. Clearly, he needed to be close to the players so they would be able to hear him and follow his instructions. He spent the entire second half of the game guiding his team’s players with his play by play advice. We spent the entire second half trying to ignore his loud, constant chatter.

I know. Get over it. Some parents are more vocal than others. Sometimes, I’m known to shout out words of encouragement or disappointment during one of my children’s sports events. But there is a line that I don’t cross. Or if I do cross it, it is a mistake and I realize that and reel myself in. The majority of parents I’ve seen at the hundreds of games I’ve attended recognize the existence of that line and under most circumstances, do not cross it either.

In the past, when a parent has acted as this man did, either an official or a coach or a spouse or one of the players (usually his child) advised him (or her) to stop shouting orders onto the field. It’s confusing for the players and distracting for the rest of us. But today, nobody stopped him.

As much as it bothered me, I wasn’t going to be the one to do it. He wasn’t committing a criminal offense. He wasn’t being verbally or physically abusive. He was simply breaking the unwritten code of how to be a spectator at one of your children’s sports games.

Would you have said something to him if you had been there? Would you have been able to ignore him? If you answered no to both those questions, would you have done something different to stop him? Or do you think we need to learn to just accept that some people behave in ways that we do not like and it is none of our business to interfere?








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10 thoughts on “Killing Us Softly With His Song

  1. Hi Sarah,

    Wonderful to wake up to my most favorite song of all time!! As I read your blog, I began to see why you picked it and being able to relate to your experience, I had a flood of frustrating emotions come to the surface. Having kids that have grown up on the athletic field, nothing quite compares or reeks more havoc on the emotions than a sports game gone bad by parents, players and even refs! Wait until you have an experience of a combination of all three – just awful!! I have come home so upset from games not because of the “win/lose” situation, but more so because of the unacceptable behavior of parents, coaches, and refs, which then explains the poor behavior of the kids. I have seen them use sports as a form of physical and verbal violence. The adults are usually worse than the kids. Would I have said something? Possibly. Depends on the situation. There have been times when I have spoken up to the adults and times that I have not. Sometimes I have gone to a coach or the athletic coordinator. When I have, it has been done so with the utmost care as to not stoop to the level of others. Bottom line is yes, sounds like he was in the wrong. Most schools have a WRITTEN code of appropriate parent conduct. My school has sent letters home to parents to remind them to abide by this code. The saddest fact of all, is that the poor kids pay dearly for it. Most of them feel stressed, overwhelmed, and develop lack of confidence and low self esteem because of this kind of behavior. Shameful!!
    Thanks for letting me share! Going back to enjoy the wonderful song again!!

    1. I love that song and I love Roberta Flack singing it. So glad you enjoy it too.

      It’s the ones who are right on the line between inappropriate and acceptable conduct that make it hard for me to feel comfortable doing or saying something. This guy was a real annoyance and I know the kids on our team wanted him to stop shouting but was he doing something unacceptable? Don’t know.

      Thanks for commenting, Kim!

      1. Am I allowed to reply again?!!

        Totally agree – I meant to end my piece with the fact that this parent sounded right on the line. I was really referring to the more extreme situations. Any disruption that goes over a line for other parents, kids, coaches, refs, (usually explained in a parent handbook or by a written document), is usually addressed by someone. I try and let the coaches and refs handle it for the most part – though I have spoken up when it has continued and increased over a period of time. When someone crosses the line, they are usually confronted by the coach, ref, or director. I have seen parents kicked out of games and even “banned” from coming to an entire season of games (for going over the line). I guess that line may be different for everybody. Most people with a good head on their shoulders have an instinct of that line. Time will tell with this parent. My instinct tells me that if he continues, he may be spoken to by someone. Probably an impatient ref and that is not pleasant to see!

        1. Reply away. I love hearing from you.

          From my point of view, I hope he does figure it out because he didn’t seem like a crazy guy just way overzealous and distracting. Thankfully, he is not a parent from our team, so I won’t have to deal with this every game. Of course, there are others . . .

  2. It’s so funny watching other parents at kids games until it’s not! Reached an agreement/plan with our kids I get to scream their names once per game. It let’s them know I’m there and watching. t’s also become fun because we can laugh after the game about when I choose to use it- early, late, crucial situation? Sometimes I wonder though does that guy know what a ding a ling he is? Does his kid cringe when he shows up? I’d never have guts to tell him but kind of feel like someone brave yet polite might be doing everyone a favor. So yeah that’s my position someone should tell him just not me! lol

    1. I can’t imagine that kid doesn’t cringe when her father shows up. I like your agreement with your kids although I’d think it would be difficult to remember not to shout out their name at certain moments (like when they do something great or not-so-great). The key is to have the discussion with your kids about how they feel about your communicating with them or about them while they are on the field or court. Someone SHOULD tell him. Just not ME either. 🙂

  3. Lord knows I’ve spent my share of time on the soccer sidelines, and I agree that I’d expect to see either the coach or a parent that knew Mr. Obnoxious to call him off. And if they didn’t, then like you I’d probably just stand their seething.

  4. I agree with what Liv said above. I’d expect someone who knew him or the coach to say something but in the absence of that, I’d try to ignore the guy as best I could. I’m always amazed at how some people can live their lives with so little regard for how their behavior impacts other people.

So what do you think?