We’ve all read about the overzealous sports parent who yells at his/her kid, coaches from the sidelines, maybe even has words with the ump, opposing coach or parents. (Well, hopefully people still read more than 140 characters of a tweet.) Although I believe many sports parents profess to disagree with the behaviour, I still see it at almost every sports game my children play. As if yelling at them during a game will do anything at all but interrupt their focus. As parents, we just can’t seem to help ourselves. I count myself in this category, although I will say I am a recovering negative sports parent.
However, there is another side to the sports parenting coin that is becoming equally disturbing – the Excessive Celebration Parent. I’m not saying we should not cheer to support our children and their teammates – quite the contrary. I believe we have the power to help our children overcome their doubts and help them build confidence by yelling things like, “You’ve got this!”, “Great job!”, “What a catch!”, “Great hit!”, “That’s a great pitch!” and the like!
Remember however, each of these small victories are also a small loss for the opposing team and children. When your pitcher strikes out the other team’s clean-up hitter, you feel extra excited. You cheer a little louder, maybe even jump up and clap. Great for you, but what does the hitter feel like? At some point, he or she will understand that your extra celebration can be taken as a sign of respect, but when these kids are between the ages of 9 and 13, everything is a struggle. Their emotional state is in flux as their bodies and identities change. Your example, whether it is positive or negative, has some extra weight now because of this time in their lives. The consequences of YOUR actions are bigger and that means it is even more important to set a good example.
My boys love the game of baseball. Unfortunately, at age 11, the baseball community in North Texas is getting very small. It is rare that we play against a team with no former coach or teammate on it. If you play in a league rather than tournaments, the chances of playing against former teams and coaches is amplified even more. One particular team, our home for more than 2 years, is especially difficult to play against. The boys are all good ball-players. The parent coaches are all passionate about the game and their team. The parents are all invested in the success of their children and the team. Typically the games are close and hard-fought. I have continued friendships with several of the parents and coaches through Facebook and see the kids still treat each other as friends rather than rivals. A laugh between the baserunner and the defensive player trying to get them out. A slap in the helmet or a fist bump for a good hit. I see these interactions between the children at every game and it warms my heart.
The parents and coaches however are a different story all together. One family, who we never played with, but have been on the same teams at different times, won’t make eye-contact with us or talk to us any more. I have no idea why. At a game last season, I noticed that one of the father/coaches, a person I consider a friend and who in his professional life is a great roll-model, ran out on the field and belly bumped his child after every scoreless defensive inning or after any great hit. It made me feel a bit strange – offended even. When talking to his wife later, the actions were attributed to trying to encourage the child who had been in a hitting slump. I still thought it was a bit much, but I let it go.
Then, this season, in our second game against this team the tie was 0-0 after five and a half innings. Their team was the home team so they got one final at bat. Time had expired and they had one runner on second with one out. They hit the ball right to first base for an easy out, but the runner on second ran to third on the hit and rounded the base headed for home. The runner stopped on the base path and looked at our first basemen who had the ball. It was enough to get the first baseman to throw the ball – to third base. The error gave the runner the opportunity to steal home and the game was over.
As the runner crossed home plate, this father/coach charged onto the field yelling, jumping and whooping with such vigor his shirt was flying up to his armpits. Another father/coach was running around his team high-fiving them and yelling like they had just won a million dollars. Their entire dugout emptied onto the field around first base jumping, yelling, hugging – players, parents, coaches alike. Yes, the game was exciting. Yes, it was hard-fought. However, this was game five in a twelve game season. The run was the result of an error not a fantastic hit. And finally and perhaps worse of all, this massive celebration took place not three feet from the player committing the game-ending error and before the teams had shook hands and complimented each other on a well-played game.
The next morning when I asked my sons about it, one said, “I was too busy being mad about losing to notice what the coaches were doing.” The other, one who had been in right field just behind the error said, “I felt really bad when Coach X started jumping up and down celebrating. He did it right in front of X. I mean it wasn’t like they made some crazy good hit or incredible play. We messed up and they scored. I felt really bad for my teammate and they were all around him.”
Of course, it’s all just written off a sour-grapes when you’re on the losing end of a game. Whatever complaint you have, be it bad officiating, coaches influencing calls, bad coaching, poorly behaved parents, it’s all just because your kid’s team lost. But that just illustrates my point even further. This is your kid’s game, not yours. Even if you are a coach and you have been working for months with your kid on one specific skill. It is the kid who accomplishes the goal, not you! Once the game begins, it is the kids who own it, not the parents, not even the coaches. I may give a bit of credit to the third base coach who told the runner to go home, but come on! Act like you’ve been here before. Conduct yourself with dignity. Behave like an adult and show respect to all of the players who went 6 scoreless innings and finally made one game changing error. Remember that you are setting an example to your children – and heck even the parents and coaches around you. How would your kid feel if this took place around him and it was his error that lost the game? (And because I know YOU are probably reading this I’ll say we both know he would be doubled over in tears and still at first base!)
My children all play sports. (Like you don’t already know that – haha) I want them to experience success and failure on this smaller scale because in a game, there is ample opportunity for growth through a struggle that lasts for just 90 minutes rather than a lifetime! I guess in the end, they do need both good and bad examples to learn from so maybe I owe you a thank you for showing them how NOT to act when they have sporty kids of their own. But, really, I’d just like to see grown ups behaving like grown ups.