Fans' View

Fans’ View: Snakes and Shields

Photo: Daniel Studio

“Dad, why would Maidana spit on someone?”

“If biting a player is a red card, shouldn’t spitting just be a yellow?”

“Dad, what are the Sons of Ben chanting? Are they being mean to the other team?”

Welcome to parenthood in the Pugh household.

Sporting events are an exciting experience for kids to share with their parents. Yet, it is impossible to keep everything rated G…or even PG-13 for that matter.

Take for instance the common Sons of Ben chant that invites the referee to perform…uh, fellatious acts upon them. One hero dad in my section tried to chant along even louder, but modified the chant to “Hey, Ref, REAL-LY BAD CALL.” Genius right?

So what are we to do as parents? Do we just put up our shields and shelter them from the world, or do we venture out and expose them to the venomous side of sports?

Each parent has to make that decision for their own children based on individual age, intelligence and temperament differences. For me, the joy that soccer affords is worth the risk, so we venture out (but maybe bring along a shield as well). The awkward, shameful or scary moments that sometimes rear their ugly heads in sports can become good teaching moments for children.

Here are some ideas for how to handle these difficult moments:

Do your research

Know what you’re getting into. At PPL Park, some sections are more family friendly than others. If you see the letters “N-Y” in the opposing team,  you can expect tensions on the field and in the stands to be a little higher. You should know a little bit about where your kids are developmentally based on their age. Are they simple, concrete thinkers? Can they infer and think abstractly? How have they handled seeing aggression or foul language in the past? These factors will help you determine if the event fits their readiness.

Prepare them

If you know there is a high likelihood they will witness bad behavior, let them know that in advance. Tell them that they might hear things that are mean or rude, that they can always ask you a question if they are concerned about something, and that you expect them to not repeat any of the bad behavior they see.

Ask a follow up question

When you get those questions that you don’t quite know how to answer, it helps to delve deeper and find out what your child is really asking.

When my oldest son was 5, we were watching an NCAA basketball tournament game, and he looked up at me and said, “Dad, why are the black players so much better than the white ones?” Needless to say my jaw hit the floor. How did he come up with this idea!? Did someone accidentally play him an old radio clip of Don Imus!!? What in the world do I say to squash this prejudice and help promote a positive view of diversity in the world? My head was swimming, and all I could come up with was a measley, “Uh…what do you mean, buddy?”

He replies, “Well, the team with the black shirts keeps making all their shots, but the other team hasn’t made one for a long time.”

Oh. Ooooh. Oooooooh! Whew! Crisis averted, but boy did I feel embarrassed at my own near-death experience.

Often our kids may ask us questions that seem scary or upsetting because our adult minds look at the world very differently than they do. If you’re panicking, make sure you accept their question without dismissing it. Saying something indignant like “Why would you ask a silly question like that?” is a surefire way to close down lines of communication with your growing, inquisitive child.

Kids aren’t always the best at articulating their concerns. Sometimes there is a deeper question hidden within the one that seems out of blue. “Did you see all that blood on LeToux’s arm? Is he going to die?” Perhaps asking about an injury they see on the field is their way of getting help with their own fears of being injured when they play.

If you’re still stuck, use the classic psychology tool of asking them a question back, “What do you think?”


If they did see something scary or inappropriate, resist them temptation to pretend that it didn’t happen. Ask open ended questions to see if they noticed what you did, what they thought about it, and ask for their ideas about what they would do in a similar situation. Discussing these tough situations in sports can often reveal a surprising amount of insight from your children.

You set the tone

Your children will often take their cues from you as to how they should react. Be careful about your choices, but honest with your feelings and your kids will be better off for it.

The bottom line is that as much as kids may idolize athletes, there is still no greater influence on their lives than their family.


  1. I can’t imagine what you must think of my parenting skills. HaHa. Great article Scott!

  2. Nice piece. Only explaining I need to do for my 7-year-old is when I inevitably yell “This team sucks!” at my TV.

  3. Awesome post! One of my biggest parenting issues is trying to control my 11 yr old yelling at the ref. I don’t want him doing it at his games and I don’t want him doing it at Union games. Even though in my head I’m screaming at the top of my lungs…

  4. My first year in the River End, there was a family of four that had the seats next to me. Father, Mother, and two kids (below 12).
    I once asked the Dad how they dealt with the fact that they are in the midst of some fairly inappropriate language. His reply, “They know what words they aren’t allowed to say.”
    They were there for our second year, but not for the past three.
    I personally advise parents to get tickets under the scoreboard, where the “Sons of Ben West” are a more family-friendly group who do G-Rated versions of the SoB’s chants.

  5. “Hey Ref, S on my Bs” is lame. I’ll take anger and vulgarity if its actually funny, intelligent, and original. That chant is none of that, and plays right into the national stereotype of us Philly fans. Just makes us look dumb.

  6. In our family, many long years ago, there were “Daddy words”, which I am proud to say demonstrated early on that: 1) life is not fair; and 2) that parents can be hypocrites. With some pretense of maturity,I have cleaned up the act a bit, and the kids seem to have survived unscathed. Nevertheless, I have tried to figure out how I will address the chants with my grandchildren. I agree with that father reworking the chant, and have in fact done something similar with “Hey, ref, what a bad call!” Having a hard time reworking “…SUCKS!”, even when it is about the time on the field.

  7. While these chants will always be there MLS could even limit this by hiring competent refs that know what they are doing. I think we can all agree on that.

  8. Good read.

  9. “Why would Maidana spit on someone” is probably actually a good teachable moment — he made a bad decision and now him and the whole team (and all the Union fans who won’t see a goal while he’s suspended) will pay the price.

  10. el pachyderm says:

    My challenge is trying to demonstrate to my kids the quiet indifference that I teach as a way of living…. we have no control over outcomes to games we do not play.
    We are not the Union. The players and the FO are the Union. We did not lose. They lost. Ultimately we have no control and therefore must frame and reframe that reality when rooting for a team even the officiating.
    All of this I teach to my kids…then have to walk away or tourniquet my tongue when I want to lose my mind after The Striker launches a shot into Delaware river (again!) or we give up a gol (again!) less than a lingering fart after scoring one.
    Displaying quiet indifference. Tough one for me… Rat Bastards!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Fat Uncle Phil from Urkel says:

    Thank God I don’t want children, ever. All this seems like a giant pain in the ass. Thank you for raising the future social security payers so I don’t have to.

  12. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Upfront: the only children I have ever had all have had four paws.
    Also upfront: Well Done, Scott Pugh! And a separate Well Done to the editor(s) or author who thought to discuss the issue. My wife and I have worried about it when discussing with whom I should share her ticket when she doesn’t want to go.
    As I observe my own behavior as a coach and my behavior as a fan I notice that my moments of outrage and hence outrageousness vary inversely with the degree of responsibility I carry in the game itself. I have never been thrown out of either a baseball game or a soccer game when I was the head coach. As a baseball assistant I got myself tossed once in roughly a decade. As a soccer assistant I was red-carded twice in three and a half decades. As a Union fan, when the referee commits an outrage, I release my emotions.
    I need to work harder to do so with humorous, creative linguistic agility, [hey ref, are you the author of the Iliad or the Odyssey] but those moments of inspiration do not always emerge reliably. Perhaps the SoBs might sponsor contests with rewards for humorous, linguistically creative and agile expressions of disdain for both opponents and referees in two categories, with and without actual profanity, with bonuses for polysyllabic frequency? Of course beverage refreshments favored while tailgating may inhibit the aforereferenced creative Muses.
    Apropos of nothing, did anyone else think the used beer departments at the Lancaster Barnstormers’ stadium were bigger and better than those provided in PPL Park?

  13. Wish you sat near me. I am surrounded by 10-11 yo boys who shout throughout the game. The jeer of choice is “[player] you SUCK!” If a player is fouled and goes down they scream at him to “Get up! You’re not hurt!” These taunts are directed at Union players! My son (15) is much more understanding of this bad behavior than I am. He attributes it to “poor coaching.” The parents just roll their eyes and shrug.

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