Athlete, Parent

Keeping Safety a Priority: How to Deal with Unnoticed Injuries as a Parent

My daughter plays U13 soccer. We have a fairly well behaved team with a coach who is VERY clear that parents should shut up on the sidelines. He has made clear that we parents need to let him take care of any communication with the referee and we are to cheer positively from the parent area.

This past weekend, my daughter headed a ball in the box. I could see immediately that she took the header off the crown of her head (too far back). After the ball left her head, she gripped her head with her two hands at least four different times. She looked at the referee who looked at her while she was gripping her head. Within 20 seconds of that, the ball went out of play and our coach substituted four girls into the game but my daughter was not among those girls who needed to be subbed out.

And there I sat, a dad on the sidelines. There was a CLEAR concussion protocol situation. The ref missed it. The coach missed it. What do I, as a parent who has been told sternly along with the other parents to keep my mouth shut, do? My daughter is in a small amount of peril and the rules of the league say "no coaching from the parent sidelines" and there are stiff penalties for parents getting involved.

After the game, I talked to my daughter about the situation. She confirmed that she was hurt and that she thought the ref was going to stop the game. She also said she looked to the sidelines to ask the coach for a sub and the coach didn't notice. I told her that there was nothing I could do and that in the future, if she is hurt, she needs to sit down.

That said, head injuries are significantly different from ankle and leg injuries. We can't expect the player/child to be "of right mind" in the wake of a hard hit ball to the head. Frankly, the incident leaves me feeling like a bad parent. My first instinct, that I suppressed, was to scream at the ref. In retrospect, I should have walked out to my daughter and stopped the game, probably resulting in me being banned from games but perhaps meaning I was parent of the year instead of an idiot parent following the supreme rule of "parents are stupid and should shut up".

What do you do when the coach and the official fail you? Sit there like an idiot or intervene?

PCA Response by Ken Harkenrider, PCA Trainer

The dynamic you describe is often one we see on the sidelines of youth sports these days…“a coach who is VERY clear that parents should shut up on the sidelines,” “no coaching from the parent sidelines,” and, even more extreme, “the supreme rule of ‘parents are stupid and should shut up’ ". The sentiment behind these statements is not brand new, but have definitely evolved over time, quite honestly, in direct response to some pretty awful parent behavior!

Parents often direct their natural instinct to support what they think is in their child’s best interest toward what genuinely is in their best interest! Let’s face it, no one on earth has a higher motivation to act in a child’s best interest than mom and dad. However, a parent’s energy must be properly aligned in order to support the efforts of athlete and coach. When that happens, it adds to, rather than detracting from, the formula that leads to best possible performance. As that alignment happens on a regular basis no coach in their right mind would call a parent “stupid” or tell them to “sit down and shut up.”

All that said, your question focused on a specific circumstance, the possible head injury to your daughter. I would love to think the best of these adults (both coach and official) as they dealt with this situation, and to believe that they did not intentionally ignore your daughter or purposely put her in peril. I would be deeply saddened about the overall state of youth sport should that become the norm. But nonetheless, neither came to her aid! What to do?!

I would equally love to think the best of these adults should you have taken the step to intervene. As you point out, head injuries are different than other injuries. Not knowing the symptoms she exhibited, it is hard to tell from this vantage point the seriousness of the injury (you mention she was “in a small amount of peril”) or the urgency of the care necessary at the time. Should you have intervened to the extent that you were simply alerting either the official or the coach to the injury that had occurred, I am hard pressed to believe that the full consequence of being banned from future games would have been applied. Clearly your number one priority in this instance is the safety and well-being of your daughter…should you have acted in such a manner as to make obvious that was your only concern, and then received punishment for bad behavior, I would feel confident in suggesting a meeting with league administrators, etc, to discuss that situation. Again, ensuring athlete safety can never be an afterthought!

Moving forward I would encourage you to do several things you have already alluded to, indicating you know what the right answers are: it is right to behave on the parent sidelines, positively supporting not only your own athlete but all those competing from both teams; it is right to teach your daughter to advocate, properly and respectfully, on her own behalf, wherever necessary and possible; it is right to prioritize your daughter’s health and safety, even if it means overriding the “keep silent” rule, should you deem it urgent; and finally, it is OK to raise issues of improper administering of league rules and guidelines with administrators who oversee coaches and officials. No one wants to leave a contest feeling they are a bad parent, nor should they be made to feel that way by misguided individuals. Enjoy these precious years as your daughter competes and do everything in your power to create those future “good old days” memories!