The Role of Adults in Child (Mis) Behavior

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Number eleven had apparently forgotten that he was playing soccer. He more closely resembled an MMA fighter.   Recklessly and relentlessly, he swung his elbows at our players, kicked at their shins, and sent them to the earth with extended forearms. What role do (non-parent) adults play when a child misbehaves?The referee, a well-meaning but inept father from the other team, blew his whistle when our players were thrown violently to the ground, but he never issued a warning to number eleven, nor did he explain what eleven had done wrong. It was extremely frustrating on many levels.   The ref during the first half of the game (full disclosure—it was me) had kept control of the players on the field. Kids were playing hard, but not in a dirty manner. Secondly, and more to the point, number eleven pummeled and punished our players without a single comment from his coach. Had one of our players displayed even a fraction of the savagery that eleven showed, Emil, the head coach, or I, the assistant, would have pulled him off the field with an explanation as to his misdeeds. Eleven’s coach, however, watched the proceedings without comment.

Eleven’s behavior became increasingly bad as the game went on, and Emil and I considered pulling our boys off the field to keep them safe. Blessedly, the referee blew his whistle signifying the end of the game. We had won handily, but I felt no joy- still outraged by eleven’s style of play, and the adults who had let it happen. I replayed the first half in my mind. There had been no hard fouls, only a couple of blatant off-sides penalties. They were easy calls, but the opposing coach hadn’t thought so. “One of our parents will ref the second half,” he called threateningly.   At the time, the plan had seemed fine. It seemed fair that one of their parents would officiate the second half as one of ours had officiated the first. I should have been more concerned however, but I was blissfully unaware of the overly aggressive play to come.

So, who was at fault? Number eleven holds some of the responsibility, obviously.   He did perpetrate the shoving, elbowing, kicking, pushing and hacking. However, he is a child playing on a team coached by an adult who did nothing to stop the egregious behavior during a game officiated by an adult who did nothing to alter eleven’s style of play. What a disservice to number eleven (not to mention to the many bruised and battered boys on our team). I considered saying something to eleven post game. In retrospect, I would have approached him, complimented him on his aggressive mentality, but given him suggestions how to do it cleanly. At the time, I chose not to say something. Eleven probably would have misinterpreted any such communications as criticism (and who could blame him). It is not, after all, the job of an unknown adult to advise him how to behave. It is the job of familiar adults: coaches, referees, parents. Sadly, none of those adults did their job, and it is likely that number eleven will play as recklessly and unsafely when we have our rematch.

One can view the opposing coach as a parent who lets his child scream and bother others at a restaurant without taking any action. The parent was not doing the yelling, but the problem starts and ends with him. We are, after all, ultimately responsible for our children’s behavior. The opposing coach did nothing to address his player’s misbehavior so it persisted much in the way that a screaming obstreperous child will continue unless addressed by a parent. Calming such a child is not a herculean task. Talking to the offending child in a patient, soothing voice and really listening to what it is that is bothering them will frequently dampen the fire of his irritation. Not doing so, will fan the flames of his tantrum. One could view the referee (a parent who presumably knew number eleven) as a non-stranger adult who should have helped as well. A calm comment regarding number eleven’s transgressions would probably have curbed them. The lack of such a comment led to greater and greater transgressions.


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