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This article also runs in the Find It section of the Press Democrat on Friday, November 2.

In his early days of little kid soccer, 4-year-old Taz was a natural. He would pounce on that ball as soon as it hit the field, dribbling around the daisy pickers and cloud counters to score goal after goal. I was definitely a proud mama.

But once Taz moved up to the bigger leagues, the games got a bit rougher. The players knew what they were doing as they continuously nabbed the ball from Taz and scored on our team over and over. The coach on the sidelines was going crazy, practically jumping out of his skin as he yelled for the players to get in front of the ball or to just pass it to the one talented player on our team who was probably ready for pro-ball at 8 years old.

And what was I doing? I was on the sidelines, yelling like a banshee to my former soccer star, wondering what the heck was going on that caused him not to take that ball back and score like he used to.

“I want to quit,” the Taz finally told me.

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because soccer just isn’t fun anymore.”

He finally admitted to me that being yelled at by the coach, and then by me, embarrassed him and made him feel bad. It made me take a really good look at what I was doing.

I was yelling at an 8-year-old to score a goal – as if it mattered in the scheme of life. Wasn’t the point of him being on a soccer team to have fun and learn how to be part of a team? So why they heck was I yelling at him?

I took this conversation to heart, and I’m proud to say that I am proactively my kids’ biggest fan whenever I see them on the field. My job is to encourage and cheer them on when they are playing, and to practice with them when they have things to work on.

Of course, anyone who has their kids on a sports team knows the reality that many of the parents haven’t yet learned this lesson, and probably won’t. I have witnessed some things that make me ashamed for the kids on the field.

At Taz’s baseball games, parents have loudly badmouthed players as they stood at bat, heckling them as if they were at an MLB game instead of a Little League game. I’ve seen parents yelling at their own child from the sidelines for striking out or for missing a fly ball. At one particular baseball game, an umpire was repeatedly badmouthed by a group of parents in regards to how he was residing over the game. What these parents didn’t realize was that this umpire’s son was sitting there, hearing every single word these parents were saying about his father. He told me later that his father, a man who was volunteering his time to be a part of his son’s baseball experience, was on the verge of quitting because of instances like these.

Soccer isn’t immune either. In the past few weeks at DQ’s games, I’ve seen parents yelling at the referees, screaming at their own children, and insulting the players on the opposite team. At one particular game, I witnessed a coach receive a yellow card for repeatedly breaking the rules on where he could coach, consistently argue with the referee’s calls, and then spent 10 minutes belittling the umpire to the players after the game.

What is the purpose for putting our kids on sports teams? Is it to make star athletes of our children? Is it to teach them proper etiquette on and off the field? Is it to help them learn how to play by the rules, play well with others, and feel good about themselves?

Is poor sportsmanship and being a horrible example helping with any of these goals?

Our kids deserve better examples from the adults when they are on the field. They deserve to be encouraged and cheered on rather than yelled at by their parents. Those who are volunteering their time as coach, referee, umpire, or anything else deserve respect from everyone on the field – even if their decisions are disagreed upon. After all, it’s possible to disagree or question a call and still be respectful. Coaches should remember that their main purpose during the season is not to win the games, but lead the kids towards being better players both in skills and in their demeanor.

Most everything about children’s sports is awesome. From team building exercises to learning new skills, kids have a really valuable asset in sports they can use on and off the field. But when the purpose behind placing them on a team is forgotten, the access to positive life lessons is too. And that, to me, is a real tragedy.

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1 Comment

  1. Matt Witthaus

    Sometimes parents of children in Little League and Club Soccer are living unrealized dreams of sports greatness via their offspring. That pro contract they never achieved suddenly seems achievable through this younger version of themselves. Not so. Even Kellen Winslow junior, who’s father Kellen Sr. was a pro-bowl tight end and played several years in the NFL for the Chargers, is now out of football. It doesn’t happen sometimes, even for the progeny of decorated athletes.

    Some parents can’t control themselves or their protective instinct regarding their children, and thus the umpire is always the problem; it’s not because the pitcher on the other team made a good pitch, or your kid failed to protect the plate with two strikes. If he or she doesn’t do well, it’s because the ump has a screwy strike zone, or the coach is playing the wrong kids -not yours- at certain times of the game. I’ve witnessed a volunteer umpire removed from his post by a gang of disgruntled parents, because they didn’t like the way he called the game. I’ve seen a coach removed from his post because of the way he dictated playing time.

    For the record, I took part in none of this. I thought the ump in question was not only a decent umpire, but he seemed to have fun doing it, and I felt bad for him when he was canned. Where coaches are concerned, I try not to get into the way they manage, coach, or handle their players, including my son. If a parent wants to coach their child, they should do it on an individual level, and never try to substitute their instructions for the coaching they’ve already received. Volunteer as an assistant -they need all the help they can get- for your child’s team if you want to do that. NEVER question the way the coach manages, unless they are verbally abusing or somehow mistreating their players.

    I have personally never witnessed anything like you describe -though I do hear a lot of grumbling over calls- and I’ve never seen parents heckle opposing players at bat. But when that stuff happens the umpire has the authority to toss that parent off the field. The behavior you describe is totally unacceptable, and I would recommend talking to whatever league official or president is responsible, so you can at least ascertain what the policy is and how it’s enforced. As I said, there was a lot of dissatisfaction with one particular umpire, but no parent openly ridiculed him. Instead they banded together behind the scenes against him.

    Parents should automatically hold themselves to a standard that protects the kids from doing anything but having fun playing a sport, while getting them exercise and interaction with other children in a team setting. To me, that’s what youth sports is about. When you’re cheering for your kid, however, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of the moment. Cheering and encouragement is welcome, derogatory comments and heckling is NOT. We the parents have to properly draw the line for ourselves how much of that to provide when their child is running/executing a play. I try to remind myself that I’m overstepping the coach -and probably confusing my kid- if I were to scream non-stop at him during a play or at-bat.

    But we want to believe, sometimes, that our child is maybe destined for greatness. There is always the notion of high school and collegiate athletics and what one can do if they dedicate themselves to a pursuit of a sport, lurking in the dreamy centers of one’s mind. This can be approached in many ways and not all of them correctly. I can’t speak to anyone else’s methods, but for my part, when it comes to my son, and his future playing career, I remain realistic. You have to work hard to be a professional athlete, and your chances of going pro are still relatively slim.

    I don’t lie to him about his performance. If he had a bad game, I tell him so, but try to accentuate the positives, if he had them. More than anything, I tell him to have fun. Lately he’s been liking basketball.

    School is number one priority. My son lost the last three games of fall-ball for failing to maintain his grades. I told him this was his first taste of what they call “eligibility.” ;-)

    October 31st, 2012 7:49 am

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