Earlier this month, we were appalled to hear how young Emily Dyke, aged 14, had considered giving up her hobby as a referee at children’s football matches when she was verbally abused by parents. Yeah, you read that right. Parents called Emily a “f#$@ing disgrace” and told her “you don’t know what you’re f#$@ing doing” when she was refereeing Under-9 and Under-8 games. Even worse, some parents even justified their behaviour by saying, “She is a ref, she should expect abuse.”

After reading about this, we at GFI, had to take a collective deep breath before getting on with the rest of the day. Here is a teenager using her leisure time learning how to officiate football matches and this is what parents come up with? If you’re a parent, how would you feel if your child was at the receiving end of such nasty comments?


Such was the intensity of the parents reactions that Emily took to Facebook to express her hurt:

Emily Dyke Junior Referee Facebook Post

Emily Dyke’s Facebook Post
Image Credit: The Guardian

The sad part of all of this is that these aren’t isolated incidents. There’s stuff like this happening across the world at grassroots football and it’s time that we worked together to put a stop to it.

From our experience, one of the things that is imperative for any coach, club or academy worth its salt to have is a Code of Conduct for parents. Coaches need to sit the parents down at the start of the season, or when kids join an academy, and explain how things work and share some basic dos and don’ts.

In light of this need, here are some basic guidelines that can be extremely helpful for parents:

First things first, always remember that the grassroots game is for the children, not for the glory of the club, coach or parents.

  • Support: Be your child’s best fan and support him/her unconditionally. When you take your child home after a training session or match, please be supportive and always focus on the positive aspects of his/her game. In addition, support all the players in your child’s squad. Do not criticise anyone. Remember – children don’t mean to make mistakes.
  • Performance Over Result: Help your child to focus on the performance and not the result. Remember – winning is not as important as the performance. That said, every child must be encouraged to adopt a winning mentality – that means giving his/her best every time!
  • Assign Responsibility: Encourage your child to pack his/her own kit, clean his/her football shoes and take a drinks bottle (full of water or juice only) to practice and games.
  • Respect: Respect the facilities, whether at your club ground, an opponent’s grounds or anywhere. During games, do not criticise opponents, their parents or their officials. Never audibly dispute a referee’s decision. They will make mistakes occasionally. We all do. If you abuse or shout at the referee, you are damaging the spirit of the game. Respect yourself.
  • Discussing the Coach: Do not criticise your child’s coach to your child or with other parents. If you are not happy with the coach, you are always welcome to raise the issue with the coach after a training session.
  • Encourage Ownership: Encourage your child to speak with the coach. If your child is having difficulties in training or games, or can’t attend training etc., encourage him/her to speak directly to the coaches. This “responsibility taking” is a big part of becoming a mature person. By handling off the field tasks, your child is claiming ownership of all aspects of the game.

Grassroots football, as we have always maintained, is about having fun while playing football. Let’s keep it that way.

P.S. If we’ve missed anything, please do add your suggestions in the comments!