This summer, I was sitting at my son’s baseball practice and I heard the coach call for one of the players to hustle out onto the field. He was tying his shoe and looking for his hat when I heard his mother yell from our seats, “Give him just a second, Coach! Apparently, he needs to finish touching up his makeup. Any day now, buddy!”
I remember how intensely those words struck me and the look on her son’s face when he heard them. My heart ached for that kid as he scrambled to get his hat on and run out of the dugout.
When I was younger, I played tennis. I tried basketball in elementary school (I was awful…really, so bad), and in junior high, I discovered my true love: volleyball. I played for 6 years, both on a club team and on my high school team. Our high school team ended up winning the State Championship my senior year. I’ve been in a competitive sports environment, in case you’re already questioning my credentials.
I think participation in sports as a child can be an amazing opportunity. There are so many lessons to be learned that can be used later in life.
If you show up late, you have to run laps. I was taught punctuality.
I learned that you can work your butt off at something and someone will always be better at it than you. Hello, humility.
You can’t win games all by yourself; you have to rely on the strengths of others to fill in the gaps. I’ve used this one as an adult more times than I can count.
Yes, sports can be fiercely competitive and intense, but that’s not the problem here. The problem is with the sports parents. Sports parents who have lost their grip on the reality of who’s out there playing and who is sitting in the stands. Sports parents who act more like children than the children do.
If you have a child in sports, you know exactly which parents I’m talking about. The ones pacing the sidelines, veins popping out of their necks, yelling at their child to do something better. These same parents may even belittle the coaches (many of whom are there on a volunteer basis, by the way) just like they do their children.
A few weeks ago, my son joined a basketball team. When I walked in to the gym, I noticed these signs were hung all over the place:
My gut reaction was, “Do they really need to put signs up about this?” I got my answer pretty quickly.
There was a parent on our team that yelled at his daughter no matter what she did on the court. Whether in a practice or at a game, he was always screaming at her to do better. Then, toward the end of one of the games, she got the ball and threw it up toward the basket. It didn’t go in, but she got her own rebound, re-positioned herself and tried again. This time it went in! She turned to look at her dad with a smile so bright, it was like looking into the sun. Her pride literally shone out of her face. And what did he say when she looked at him? “Make it on the first try next time and you won’t have to work so hard!” I doubt I have to tell you what happened to her big, beautiful smile.
I’d love to know what these sports parents get out of this behavior. What purpose could it possibly serve? By screaming at your child, do you think you’re going to get better athletic performance from them? Do you think you’re going to bring the two of you closer together?
SPOILER ALERT: YOU’RE NOT.
You are not on that field. They already have a coach. If they lose, they will feel that sting of disappointment without your help. Our job isn’t to break them down, it is to build them up.
So, if you’re a sports parent, I’m begging you – please be a good one. Cheer your kids on. Tell them you’re proud of them no matter how the game ends up and perhaps most importantly, don’t be a reason someone has to hang up a sign.