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.