Bird Brown: We need to find a way to stop the madness

I couldn’t have had a better couple of weekends of soccer than I experienced last month in the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association President’s Cup tournament.

The President’s Cup is part of a national tournament series designed for the second-tier teams in a club who are competitive, but to play in the State Cup would be playing against the “premier” teams from their own and other similar clubs. The MSYSA website says the tournament is set up for the almost two-thirds of their membership that do not participate in the State Cup.


I also couldn’t be more proud of my boys than what collectively they accomplished over those four days and multiple weekends to come out as champions. We took on all of the big boys of Maryland soccer — Bethesda, FC Frederick, Potomac, Maryland United, DC Stoddard (still don’t understand how they are in the tournament) SAC, Pipeline, and even our other team from Baltimore Celtic — and between the 2001 and 2002 boys teams rocked a 9-1-1 record on the weekend and two “state” championships, earning a trip to Charleston, West Virginia, to compete for the regional championship in June.

What made it even more impressive was the manner by which each team found their way to the championship podium.

My younger team who lost their only match to a powerful DC Stoddard team, had to scrap their way back to get another shot at them in the championship, play in ungodly windy conditions and battle them through a full length game, two 10-minute overtimes, and a grueling penalty-kick shootout.

The older team lost players to injury, to rescheduled high school sports, and even played one game with only 9 players, and still went through the tournament with only the blemish on their record from the goal I told you about a couple weeks ago in my column to tie the game.

Not bad for a bunch of Carroll County kids, right?

I spent more than 48 hours over two weekends in Aberdeen as the tournament schedule, although friendly to coaches with multiple teams to minimize conflicts, was brutal with me having to be there at 7 a.m. each day and leaving the fields sometime after 7 at night. In between games, as the soccer crazed fan that I am, I had to walk around the complex to watch many of the other games that were going on. I was impressed by the quality of the play that was going on at every field, whether it was the graduating seniors or the rising middle schoolers.

Granted there were a lot of fields and a lot of games going on simultaneously, but the one thing that I noticed as I gimped around the complex over those four days was that without exception every field had at least that “one” parent that really made a name for themselves with such unbelievable sideline behavior that I’m sure would make their mothers blush.

For the most part, parents and other fans on the sidelines were very well behaved, cheering on their own players and many even cheering on good play from their opponent’s players when warranted.

Most of the vitriol that supplied the fuel for the sideline behavior that I witnessed was directed at the officials and their calls on the field but I also heard many comments made about players in the match, several times I heard it about their own players!

I experienced some questionable officiating in some of the games we played, but to be honest there was some questionable play by players and the same could be said about my coaching and that of others that were there. Keep in mind, the officials at this type of tournament are generally some of the better ones we see. There was even one father I witnessed who at the end of the game offered to meet the assistant referee in the parking lot to continue their “discussion.”

I really don’t know how to stop this madness as it’s not an epidemic where everyone is involved and it’s still a minority of parents that behave in this manner, but something really has to change in our youth sports world with our spectators. When my teams used to play in the National Capital Soccer League, they had a requirement that each team provide a Team Sideline Liaison (TSL) whose responsibility it would be to monitor the sidelines of their own team and head this type of behavior off at the pass before it gets out of hand. That’s a start.

But the issue goes much deeper than that and I just can’t get a handle on it.

Is it because of the money that the parents have spent on the training, the league fees, the coaching fees, the tournament fees and accommodations that they have an “investment” in the outcome of the game? Is it because they are a frustrated former athlete who are living vicariously through their children?

Whatever is causing it we need to break the cycle. Stanford professor and psychologist Albert Bandura once said, “Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling from others.”


Is that the type of behavior we want to model for the next generation?