Watching from the sidelines: Pushy parents . . .
Always offer praise and encouragement rather than bollocking them for throwing away a three-goal lead with all that tippy tappy stuff in front of goal
DUNTOCHER. The very name sends a shudder down my spine. Even now, my pulse quickens when I drive past the place. So, usually, does my car. This was the Scottish amateur youth football ranks, circa some time in the early 1990s. And this Duntocher side were a rough bunch, even if there were a few lads in my Gourock YAC team who weren’t exactly first picked for the school choir either.
But it wasn’t their players who were the problem. It was more the people who gave birth to them. If indeed they were parents. It is equally likely they were just groups of local adults who got their kicks on Saturday afternoons by intimidating visiting groups of adolescent boys. We might have been on the picturesque north bank of the Clyde but this was more Welcome to Hell than Welcome to Helensburgh.
It is possible the intervening years have made it more traumatic in my sub-conscious than the reality but I distinctly remember locals armed with cans of Kestrel and demon dogs (copyright Gordon Strachan) congregating by the side of the red blaes pitch that day.
I recall the serene, womb-like feeling of safety I felt in the company of 22 feral teenagers with a mouldmaster, rather than being chased on and off the pitch by the assorted hangers on loitering with intent on the touchlines.
My days in this midst of this milieu – aside from the odd appearance in the lawless old world of the Scottish football writers’ team – are long gone. Now I am more likely to be part of the supporting cast, sleakitly sending out an instruction or two from the sidelines. But the memories seemed pertinent when asked to consider the lot of the sporting parent, and exactly how pushy or otherwise it is appropriate to be.
The authority on this subject is an organisation called Positive Coaching Scotland, who recently organised a Hampden seminar touching on the personal experience of Chris McCart, of the Celtic academy, and Gregor Townsend, of Glasgow Warriors.
They have assembled some handy dos and don’ts for the Scottish sporting parent and most of it is self-explanatory enough. The first item on the list is to ensure that your child’s kit is always ready and available. I have checked the small print and there is nothing in there saying your eight-year-old should report for action with the kind of mohawk haircut, bling and entourage which would make a Barclays Premier League footballer blush. There is no mention of snoods.
It is also parental responsibility to make sure that your progeny has been fuelled correctly. By this I take it they mean a bowl of cereal and some fruit an hour and a half before kick-off, rather than a diet of blue Smarties and Irn Bru. Enough rest also helps, something not all teenagers achieve in these days of Twitter, Instagram and 24-hour entertainment.
And when it gets to game time itself, keep it positive. Don’t tut and shake your head when your child attempts a world cup pass, switches off at a short corner or fails to track a midfield runner. Don’t fall about laughing when he or she stubs his toe when hitting a penalty, allowing the ball to roll tamely through to the goalkeeper. Always offer praise for effort and encouragement rather than bollocking them for throwing away a three-goal lead with all that tippy tappy stuff in front of goal.
And the rules, of course, are sacrosanct. Don’t do an Arsene Wenger and look the other way when your child bites the opposing centre half or scream blue murder when he or she goes down, untouched, like a tonne of bricks in the penalty area. Leave the referee alone, even if he is actually the coach of the other team and you believe your child’s arm wasn’t in an unnatural position when he blocked that goalbound shot.
A few of those locals gathered round that Duntocher public park that day might have overstepped the mark but as long as you stay within these guidelines, don’t lumber your child with unrealistic demands or kill the fun element of it all, in truth it is precisely these kind of pushy yet positive parents who stand behind most sporting success stories. More Judy Murrays, and less Damir Dokics – Jelena’s father was jailed for threatening the Australian ambassador to Belgrade with a hand grenade – would make Scotland a more successful sporting place.
If that means you have to be more hands-on with your child’s development then so be it. You might even have to fill in every now and then when your coach pulls an Aitor Karanka and decides not to turn up. Not everyone who embarks on the journey will become a world class sportsman or woman. But without the right kind of parental sport behind them, you could make that strike rate virtually nil.
As for my own parents, while they cheerfully ticked all the boxes on the list, they were none the less positive I would never make it and pushy enough to make sure I had some alternative career plans just in case. They were spot on.
MONDAY Matthew Lindsay
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