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Life Lessons From the Sidelines

I shouldn’t be surprised…but I always am when I learn an important life lesson from my sons.

This past weekend, we watched as my soccer-loving son played a double-header match against stormy skies, stopping for lightning only once, but getting wet for a good part of the few hours we were on the fields.

Even in rain, we love watching our boys play the game they love so much.

We won the first game, 2-0. The second game of the double-header started off badly: within the first two minutes of play it was evident that the opposing team was out for a revenge win.

We could forgive some of the slide tackling – the field was slippery with rain. But you can’t blame the slippery field on elbows into backs, shirts tugged by other arms and hands, and from-behind bumps that knock over the fast players.

After the third such incident, without a whistle to call a foul, the parents went a bit nuts.

My son had a fast break with the ball with three defenders chasing close behind. He stepped into the box and went to kick the ball and one of them pushed his back while the second tackled him from behind.

He went down. And didn’t stand up.

When the whistle finally blew, the players on our team took a knee, but the opposing coach called his players off the field for a “timeout coaching session.”

This was the last straw, and I became that grizzly sideline mom and screamed at the coach to have his players “take a knee!”

Youth sports writer and blogger, Bob Cook, writes in his article about this very subject:

“It’s not a written rule that players do this [take a knee], and I couldn’t tell you when this started. But it’s become so ingrained in the sport that when that protocol is breached, people get upset.”

I was upset. But it wasn’t a broken rule, and I should have kept my mouth shut. I immediately regretted yelling, because I was inserting myself into my son’s game, on his turf.

What are our roles, as parents on the sidelines?

To support our players and encourage them in their sport. That’s it.

I crossed a line last week because I felt cheated. I felt that the referee wasn’t protecting my child from the unnecessary roughness from the opposing team. It’s part of the referee’s job to ensure the safety of our kids during a game.

Parents aren’t allowed to run out on the field when their child falls in a heap on the grass. For good reason.

I heard a wise parent recently talk about her son’s involvement with a sports team. Her son told her she wasn’t invited on the field. That was his space. She agreed.

This is great advice for sideline parents…especially as parents to boys.

I know that I need to see the soccer pitch as their territory, not mine. If we want to raise independent, well-rounded boys, then we need to stay off the field. This includes keeping our angry yelling off the sidelines as well.

A growing boy needs a time and place to figure out how to become a man. For sure, parents have a big role in their growing up – especially in the teen years. But we can absolutely let them have their space…especially on a field with other boys who are becoming men.

Parents have been given this incredible and terrifying job of teaching their children to eventually live without needing them.

This can be played out in how we support them in their sports. I can easily offer a consolation after the game and positive encouragement from the sidelines. I can be present at all their games.

But when he’s on the field, that’s his place.

So even after my faux-paux this weekend at my son’s game, I have some hard-learned advice for all the sideline parents out there filling our weekends with long drives to games, mud-and-grass-stained laundry, sitting in rain or heat:  Step away from the field.

Our boys are becoming men on the turf, fields, pitch, and diamond.

Let them.

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Sharon

    I was with you until you said “.. especially for a boy” I completely disagree.. we should not be treating our boys and girls any differently. It is also ok for boys to grow into men and show when they are hurt or need help. This article was such a disappointment.

    • Kelsey

      Maybe she doesn’t have a daughter? She only mentions sons. Just a thought!

      • Elizabeth Smith

        yep! i commented/explained below…hope it helps!

  2. Rebecca Lemon

    I thought this article was spot on until the “especially for boys” comment. Everything written here applies to girls becoming women too so I don’t understand the author’s intention to include that line. She never went on to explain why this is more important to boys than girls. Disappointed with the unnecessary note.

  3. jenn

    This article rings so true. As a parent AND a coach, I couldn’t agree more that we need to let our kids have their space. The “especially for boys” comment really seemed out of place, and I’d love to hear the author’s thoughts on that… an over sight? Or is there a specific idea that was left out.

  4. Elizabeth

    Thank you for your comments. You are all absolutely correct that this extends to both girls and boys. The phrase reads, “especially as parents to boys.” As a mother to three boys, I am disheartened that there are parents who still yell from the sidelines to their sons to “toughen up” or “stop throwing like a girl” or to “fight like a man!” I don’t want to raise another generation of boys who take that advice and apply it in their adult relationships.
    I originally wrote this for an audience of moms of boys, and the original title was “Lessons I Learn from My Sons.” The line “especially as parents to boys” could be taken out to make it more applicable to the broader audience here. And the remaining language could absolutely be gender-inclusive. I apologize that my words were offensive and disappointing.

  5. Susan H Kunkel

    This was just what I needed. As a mom of a 16 year old boy I am stepping into the background and letting him grow towards manhood. It can be very hard sometimes.

    • Elizabeth Smith

      Thank you! And it is a a constant struggle…and not just in their sports. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Leah

    Thanks for giving us the context and background Elizabeth and makes perfect sense. I’m raising two girls here and I can see similarities in this story and their activities. Agree completely on the struggle to allow our kids to stand up for themselves, become their own person – and as parents the hardest thing is to give them that space and not interject and do it for them. We recently had a situation that was different but similar with my two girls in a talent show. It was not a physical issue but was the same in that we trusted those adults in authority of the program to be responsible and do their jobs. They failed and my girls were the casualty. SO hard to teach them to respect authority when that authority is abused (or maybe that’s another article yet to be written?). Step away from the field can be used metaphorically for all of us to just “step off” as my old high school self would have said. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Elizabeth Smith

      I actually googled several sources to make sure that the “take a knee” was a written rule. It isn’t, and this team as TWICE now not taken a knee when one of our teammates goes down. One of the players said out loud that they would “cramp up” if they took a knee. While I do realize the importance of keeping moving so your muscles don’t cramp, I’ve yet to see that happen. And I’ve watched hundreds of soccer games! :-).
      I hope your future experiences are better than what you and your girls endured!

  7. Penny

    I have yelled the exact same thing at an opposing team who had players who I felt were ruthlessly unsportsmanlike. I too felt bad and like a bit of an ass. The thing to do is to write the league president a letter and I didn’t do that. I wish now, several years later, that I had.

    I’m so very happy that my 15-year old has left soccer and is now playing ultimate frisbee, where there are no referees and the play is completely based on the integrity of the players and coaches. It is simply A-mazing. I’ve never seen such bonded players and kindness across teams. I’m a convert and will never go back to the more conventional sports.

    • Elizabeth Smith

      We live in a small town and Ultimate Frisbee isn’t an option here, but I know it’s a great game! We are a soccer family through-and-through (now my oldest son and my husband are referees!). I need to write another article about being the mother of a referee (ha ha!).

  8. Gabrielle

    Great sentiments here! Our boys are both soccer players, and we are longtime seat holders of our local MLS team so we see both sides of the pitch. I never experienced a team taking a knee until my son played baseball with a city league a few years ago, and until last season it wasn’t a ‘thing’ in the local soccer leagues. I don’t agree or disagree with it but frankly, professional teams don’t practice it and I don’t mandate it on the field. If players are being respectful and clearing the area around the injured player, I don’t see the necessity in it. I realize that this wasn’t the heart of your article anyways, and I do really really appreciate your thoughts on letting the pitch be their space. I expect coaches and refs to be in charge when my boys are on the field for practice or games, and it’s so frustrating, and sometimes heart breaking, to see parents yelling from the sidelines constantly. Unless it’s cheering and encouragement of course, and then yell away! 😀

    • Elizabeth

      Thank you! and you’re right – there isn’t a necessity in the “taking of a knee” but it’s the culture of our teams here, and this one team ignores it each time.

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