The Right Way to Cheer

Unbridled, equal opportunity enthusiasm from the stands is always welcome

Catherine Pearlman, PhD, LCSW

| 3 min read

Catherine Pearlman

I love to watch my kids play sports. But to be honest, I don’t care if they win. And I don’t particularly care if they play that well. 

Over the years, I’ve learned to keep my comments to myself. I try not to coach from the sidelines or quiz them after the games. Instead, I clap, cheer and smile whenever my kids look over at me. Occasionally, I cheer for another kid on the team, if I know the child. It always seemed weird to cheer for kids I didn’t know.

Then one day, a couple seasons ago, I got a glimpse of what sports could be like when all the parents share their enthusiasm with every player on the team. 

My son, Emmett, was in his last year of flag football. At the game, my husband and I noticed 10 dads — friends and family of one of the players — who appeared to be having a party in the stands. It was like they had just come from the best tailgate and couldn’t wait to see the big game. Their “big game” just happened to be flag football for middle schoolers. Instead of heckling “helpful tips” to improve play, they shouted supportive sayings to every player. They laughed — a shockingly rare occurrence on the sidelines. They cheered. They did the wave.

At one point my son made an interception. The dads went wild. Then Emmett did it again, but this time ran for a touchdown. The group of dads asked us his name. Then they started chanting “Em-mett! Em-mett! Em-mett!” My son did the tiniest of celebration moves to acknowledge the crowd, and we all chuckled. 

This group of men made the game entertaining not only for the kids, but for the parents. It was pure joy. I’m grateful that my son had the game of his life while these dads were around. Not for the glory. But because their enjoyment was contagious.

At the end of the game, the dads all lined up at the front of the bleachers and yelled for Emmett to come by for a round of high fives. Not one of these guys knew Emmett before the game. They treated him like the most coveted player ready to be drafted. Then they called over each boy on the team for their high fives. All of the boys went home with a smile.

My son is an average player with a good heart. He’s never the center of the big play. He’s typically one of the last players in and he’s mostly OK with that. That day, those dads brought their A game to flag football — and they made my son’s year. I wish every kid could have a section of sports parents like this at every single game. It certainly beats heckling our kids to do better. 

Catherine Pearlman, PhD, LCSW, is a therapist, avid youth sports parent and founder of The Family Coach. A version of this story originally appeared on her blog. 

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