The Dad’s Guide to the Sidelines

  by Erik Wolgemuth

It’s a thrilling moment as a dad to watch your child pull on a jersey, to kneel down and tie up a pair of cleats you’re not wearing, and to watch her trot out to take the field. My guess is you remember the thrill that she’s experiencing…the pre-game butterflies, the teammate camaraderie, and the joy of sporting accomplishments. Somehow the thrill is only stronger when you find yourself on the sidelines and it’s your child on the field, but that doesn’t mean your transition to life as a parent-fan is natural or easy. Just like the athletes on the field, there’s sideline skill and sportsmanship. There are most definitely good parent-fans and those who aren’t so good.

Though there’s much to explore about the sidelines, here are four principles to help guide your experience:

1. Don’t be quick to judge.

It’s easy to scoff at that dad. The Uncle “If I could just go back” Rico. Way too intense, too much vicarious living happening, and the recipient of no shortage of eye rolls by fellow fans, coaches and referees/officials. Before hitting the sidelines yourself, it’s hard for you to imagine a dad being that out of touch…then it’s your kid out there. And suddenly those athletic memories and the intensity of your days in the game come flooding back in waves. Next thing you know, you’re about to be (or have become) the crazy dad on the sidelines. Best way to avoid this? Begin by not overlooking your own 

2. It’s okay to be vocal.

Thoroughly aware of the potential to be the type of dad referenced above, don’t take that warning as a recommendation to shut it. You can and should be vocal. Encourage boisterously. Support your team, be positive and let loose. When the game ends, your child should have no doubt whether you were actively watching and whether you were proud of their performance.

3. The name game.

For readily apparent reasons, you’ll likely gravitate towards being focused on your family member out on the field. Don’t, however, limit your attention, encouragement, and interaction to only your kid. As quick as you can, pick up the names of teammates and get universal in your support. A name-specific postgame high-five will have an impact on teammates as well as your own observing crew.

4. Postgame.

Over the course of a season, there will likely be great variety in the postgame atmosphere depending on a number of variables: score, personal performance, playing time, weather, etc. Regardless, there will consistently be opportunities to engage with your kid at a deeper level. Now’s the time for encouragement and discussions about sportsmanship, graciousness and teachable moments. And it doesn’t all have to happen immediately upon the closing whistle. Drive time on the way home, a postgame meal or even hours after a game are all moments you can seize.

Watching your kids from the sideline is a sweet moment as a dad. Just as you likely look back with fond memories of your days out on the field and the encouragement you received, now it’s your turn to shape those memories for your kids. Take your dadcraft to the sidelines and soak up those moments.


Time on the sidelines may make a number of additional dadcraft Dad’s Guides more applicable than ever: The Dad’s Guide to Nicknaming, When Kid’s (or fellow parents, perhaps) Meltdown, and – hopefully not too frequently – The Dad’s Guide to the Doctor’s Office. Above all, remember that Being Present is More Than Simply Being There. And don’t forget that the sidelines and the postgame are a great time to encourage the development of grit.

Picture by USAG- Humphreys; Used via Creative Commons license.