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Behind the Bench: A few words about “sideline coaching”

This past weekend Upper Canada College and the Year 7 Hockey team hosted its annual Invitational Hockey Tournament. We were fortunate to have four teams from Montreal, two from Quebec City and four from Toronto. The hockey was exciting and competitive, and in fact the only negative thing I saw all weekend was a number of parents standing in the balcony area “coaching their team.” It reminded me to share the article below with our community:

A common sight at many athletic fixtures is the parent patrolling the sideline shouting instructions to his child (sometimes other children) in an effort to help “his team.” Sideline coaching is all too prevalent in youth sport today.

Most parents know that this is not desirable. Many parents are able to curb this activity and some parents struggle with this – even with the best of intentions. The situation I faced recently was a parent asking why is sideline coaching such a negative, especially if it is only once in a while? Added to this was the fact that this parent coached his son outside of school, so he really does know a lot about the sport. Not to mention, it seemed to him that the coach didn’t say anything to the kids on the field.

The answer to these questions addresses all the reasons why sideline coaching is something to avoid.

  1. Speed of the Game: Most games are fast-paced and take all of the athlete’s attention. The boys are focused on their opponents, their teammates, the play. There are few moments in the game when players can digest instruction from the sidelines while in the middle of play.
  2. Mixed Messages: The coach always has a game plan. The plan is always communicated to the boys before the game. Sometimes that game plan involves elements of play that the team is working on that spectators will not be aware of. A great example of this occurred with my U11 soccer team the other day. We were in the fortunate position to be up 3–0 over a weaker opponent just 15 minutes into the first half. We had prepared for this possibility in practice that week and the boys knew that if they encountered this situation that we would be focusing on controlling the ball and switching the field of play. The boys were executing this plan perfectly but were confused by the sidelines as the messages of “shoot,” “go,” “shoot” were almost constant from the sideline.
  3. Teaching Decision Making: One of the most important abilities for an athlete is the ability to make quick decisions on their own. It is often what sets apart the great athlete. Athletes that can look up and under pressure recognize the correct play to make, place to be, opponent to mark are athletes that are taking the next step in development. Sideline coaching can rob athletes of the opportunity to make these decisions for themselves – they hear the instruction from the sideline and execute it without looking or thinking for themselves.
  4. Mistakes: Mistakes are part of the ELM tree of mastery.  ll of our teams try to create an environment where E – effort is at 100%, L – listening to learn is critical and M – Mistakes are OK. We learn from mistakes and an environment where mistakes are okay is one where learning takes place and boys are comfortable taking risks. Sideline coaching can sometimes rob boys of the opportunity to make their own mistakes and learn from them.
  5. One Voice: This one goes along with # 1 and # 2. If the athletes are to hear any voice from the sideline, it should only be the coach’s. The coach has the game plan, has decided how much feedback he want to give their players and has been practicing with the team all week.

So what do we want to hear from the sidelines? Athletic competitions are exciting, they bring about emotional responses and we certainly don’t expect parents and fans to watch games silently with their hands in their pockets. Cheering in a positive manner for all good play by both teams is most appreciated. Sideline celebrations are a wonderful way to support your team and are most appreciated by all the athletes.

Want to take the next step? Be a “culture keeper.” If you hear someone giving instructions from the sideline, remind them, “We don’t do that here.” Feel free to share what you have read here to explain why.

Nigel White nwhite@ucc.on.ca 
Director of Athletics, 
Prep School




Blue: Whole School
Yellow: Upper School
Red: Prep School


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