Cheer in moderation? Why parents are being asked to show less spirit

“In order to win with dignity, one must learn to win humbly.” - Unknown

When a recent Pop Warner football game ended in a 45-0 blowout victory, players and parents of the losing team walked away feeling defeated. While the final score was frustrating, it was the excessive cheering from the winning sideline that felt demoralizing, notes one parent.

Frustrations spilled over to Facebook after the game, igniting a flurry of comments from both sides of the team. From one perspective, the ringing of cowbells, blowing of air horns and celebratory dances during yet another fourth-quarter touchdown felt like salt being added to the wound. On the flip side, parents said they were unapologetically supporting their sons, some of whom hadn’t handled the football all season.

The ensuing heated debate over what constitutes sportsmanship is a conversation that is taking place on fields and courts across the country right now. In a Sports Illustrated for Kids survey, 70 percent of youth athletes reported that they have seen parents obnoxiously yelling too loudly during games.

The concerns about escalating behavioral problems on the sidelines have prompted several leagues to establish guidelines. The Ohio High School Athletic Association advises parents to “show respect for the opposing players” by treating “them as you would treat a guest in your own home.” The pamphlet released by the Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Committee includes a Parent Pledge that outlines proper conduct that embodies good sportsmanship, including:

  • Refraining from taunting or making any kind of derogatory remarks to opponents during the game.
  • Recognizing and showing appreciation for an outstanding play by either team.
  • Using only those cheers that support and uplift all the teams involved.

Some coaches and leagues have gone so far as to implement “noise-free games” that only allow clapping from the sidelines. The benefits are varied, but proponents say that the policy not only encourages parents to offer moral support to all the youth athletes, but it also helps players hear directions from their coaches.

Teaching by leading

Even if your child’s team or league does not impose such restrictions, the fact that other clubs view these actions as unacceptable should set off your etiquette radar. It is understandable that parents want to show their support, especially if they rarely get to see their child play, but the other team has no way to know the situation. And, even though it might feel like the perfect time for celebrating, remember that there is another group of kids who are heartbroken.

When winning comes easily, it can breed arrogance. Winning with grace, dignity and humbleness goes much further than just shaking the opponents’ hands and mumbling, “Good game.” It is important that as a parent, you model ways to offer the right amount of encouragement at the right moment while not embarrassing the other team’s players.

After receiving numerous complaints for excessive celebration on the sidelines, in October 2014, the North Austin Soccer Alliance (NASA) issued a statement to parents requesting that cheering is kept to a minimum. “Cheer for good play. Cheer for effort. Cheer every goalkeeper save. Cheer regardless of the color of the jersey or club logo. But cheer in moderation, and with respect for the other team,” says an email issued by NASA President Dave Campbell.

Even Mississippi State University, which adopted the cowbell in 1974 as its iconic means of celebrating its sports teams loudly and proudly, has implemented a strict policy on using the noisemaker. It can only be rung during the pre-game, timeouts, half time and after scoring.

Excessive cheering crosses the line when it becomes taunting or showboating. Despite the best of intentions, it usually comes across as disrespectful to the other team. Talk with your own kids about what kind of encouragement they would like to see from you on the sidelines. Respect their feelings if they let you know that some of your actions might cross the line.

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Nicole Kidder Follow

A published writer since 1994, Nicole Kidder is a social justice journalist who is pass... View Full Bio

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