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Are Children Learning or Performing? Sideline Behavior Matters

February 3, 2023 | Parents | by Skye Eddy

I have become especially aware of my son’s learning environment at school. I’ve asked him countless questions about his teachers and their teaching styles, and about his first impression of how his semester learning with them will go.

What is the best environment for our children to learn?

I want my son to experience classrooms where learning abounds. I want him to be provided space for critical thinking and curiosity, a learning environment where he feels safe making mistakes and asking questions, and is motivated with a sense of autonomy to challenge himself. I want him to experience the tests, quizzes and papers as a welcomed, albeit formidable, challenge to gauge his progress, instead of a stress-ridden experience where he is hyper-focused on the outcomes. I want him to feel like he has support and encouragement from me at home, his classmates, and his teachers and advisors as he dives into new subjects. 

And the same goes for him on the sports field. 

I want my son's environment on the sports field to be one in which he is able to experience learning, not performing. Learning on the sports field means being able to concentrate, having the peace of mind to be able to stay focused and acutely aware of the movements of the ball, his teammates and opponents. Learning on the sports field means trying new things, pushing previously conceived limitations, taking risks without the fear of retribution from coaches or parents, and feeling a sense of anticipation as decisions are made and a sense of inspiration as skills are executed.

What is a poor environment for our children to learn?

I absolutely don’t want my son's learning environment on the sports field to be invaded by hostile behaviors from parents who care too much and are screaming at the referees, players or just too loudly voicing their opinion about moments in the game.

I absolutely don’t want my son's learning environment to be muddled with distracting behaviors from coaches and parents who are telling him what to do in the moment he is making a decision. He doesn’t need someone telling him where to pass, or how fast to run, or where to throw the ball in. Instead, he needs the space to be able to think faster in order to perform better. Distracting him will not help him learn.

Supportive vs Distracting and Hostile Behavior

In order to learn, my son needs and deserves to be surrounded by supportive behaviors, not distracting or hostile behaviors. Supportive behavior means encouragement and praise at the appropriate times in a game - NOT when he is concentrating and trying to perform a task or make a decision. He needs to hear statements such as "Good Job", "Keep Working Hard" and "You Can Do It".

I imagine you feel the same way about the learning environment you want for your child on the sports field? Or course we don't want our children to be distracted or feel the stress of being in the presence of hostile communication.

And yet…our sports sidelines are out of control.  We show up with the best of intentions and excited to watch a game, and then before we know it – we are riddling the environment with distracting behaviors and allowing for hostile behaviors to go unchecked.

Supportive vs. Distracting Behavior

One thing I’ve found with the work I do as the Founder of The Sideline Project – is that when parents and coaches learn the difference between supportive and distracting behavior – the distracting behavior decreases.  While it feels like we are helping our children learn by telling them what to do – we are not. 

When we distract our children by telling them what to do we may be helping to positively change the outcome of a decision in the moment – they may make the pass that leads to the breakaway, or move to a better position to defend, or shoot the ball and score - so it may appear they are learning.  But, in fact, telling a child what do to in the moment – "Pass to…", "Go to….", "Shoot!!!"...does not lead to long term, cognitive growth.  When we distract our child with these behaviors we are helping them perform, not learn. 

Distracting behaviors lead to performing. 

Supportive behaviors lead to learning. 

You can make a difference in improving the sporting learning environment of children.  

I invite you to The Sideline Project - a program developed to improve sideline behavior.  

It's simple:

  1. Watch the 2.5 minute video about Supportive, Distracting and Hostile Behavior, 
  2. Read The Sideline Pledge, 
  3. Add your name to the virtual pledge wall.  

We know our children’s teachers are critical to their learning environment at school.  We know our children’s coaches are critical to their learning environment in sports.  And we also must appreciate the critical role we play as parents in facilitating the best learning environment for our children while they participate in sports.  

If you're interested in taking your learning and commitment to improved sideline behavior to the next level, purchase The Sideline Project 15 minute course for $4.99.

It’s time we eliminate distracting behavior, set strong standards and expectations around eliminating hostile behaviors, and be supportive of our children - allowing them to find joy, inspiration and learning on the fields.

Join The Mailing List!

We are one step closer to developing a more positive youth sports culture thanks to your interest:

Skye Eddy

Founder, The Sideline Project and Soccer Parenting. Skye is a career coach, sought after coach and parent educator, former All-America, professional, collegiate and State Champion athlete, and sports parent. Skye is a regular guest on podcasts and radio shows, and her work has been sighted in multiple national publications and books.

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