Watch­ing from the side­lines: Pushy par­ents . . .

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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

KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON: Just watch­ing the warm-up can be anx­ious view­ing for par­ents of young ath­letes

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