As parents, we often find ourselves walking a delicate line between support and overbearing involvement in our children’s activities, especially when it comes to youth sports. This delicate balance was brought sharply into focus for me last year after a soccer tournament with my 9-year-old son.

As the game unfolded on the field, I found myself eagerly shouting instructions and encouragement from the sidelines, as I had done countless times before. You know, things like “Hustle Back!”, “Got to get rid of it!”, “Got to be faster!” but this time, something was different. Midway through the game, my son, simply looked at me with frustration.

After the tough loss, he looked defeated. I sat him in the back of car and was helping him change for the 3 hour ride home. Today was different! Instead of his normal question of “Dad, how did I do?” it was replaced with “Dad, I need to talk to you!”. – He turned to me and said, “Dad, I’m trying really hard to listen to the coach, and I need you to be quiet!”

We get in the car for our long ride home. In the quiet moments that followed, I took the opportunity to reflect on my actions and the impact they were having on my son. I realized that my desire to see him succeed had blinded me to the importance of allowing him to take ownership of his experience on the field. By constantly interjecting with my own opinions and advice, I was inadvertently undermining his confidence and autonomy as a player.

I realized that my well-intentioned attempts to support my son were actually hindering his experience on the field. My eagerness to offer guidance was overshadowing his ability to listen to his coach and trust in his own abilities.

It was a humbling moment, one that forced me to confront my own behavior and reconsider my role as a soccer parent. As I watched my son in the rear view mirror, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of admiration for his maturity and resilience to talk to me.

But more than that, his words made me realize the deeper significance of our relationship. In that moment, my son wasn’t just asking me to be quiet on the sidelines; he was asking me to trust in him, to believe in his abilities, and to support him unconditionally, even if it meant swallowing my own pride.

It was a pivotal moment of growth for both of us. For me, it was a wake-up call to become a better listener, not just on the sidelines, but in all aspects of my relationship with my son. It was a reminder that being a supportive parent means more than just cheering from the sidelines; it means being present, empathetic, and willing to let go of my own agenda in favor of what’s best for him.

As we drove down the road, I made a promise to do better and I have! To be more mindful of my words and actions, and to create a supportive environment where my son feels empowered to learn, grow, and thrive, both on and off the field.

Now, I sit quietly (for the most part) on the sideline and simply enjoy watching my son play. Now, when he ask, “Dad, how did I do?” I answer him honestly with either something like – “You played great today!” or “Well, that wasn’t your best game.” He understands I’m always going to be truthful with him, because my expectation of him is to always be truthful with me.

No matter what before our conversation ends, I always hug him and tell him “I love you! and I LOVE watching you play!” He’s developed into a strong little player but what I’m most proud of is the person he’s turning into.

So here’s to the journey ahead, filled with lessons learned, moments of humility, and endless opportunities for growth. And to my son, thank you for teaching me the true meaning of support and for inspiring me to be a better father, both on and off the soccer field.