There is some kind of Newtonian law that the more a kid sucks at a sport, the more vocal his parents are on the sidelines. Often, this coincides with Galileo’s hypothesis that these are precisely the same parents who are “experts” at the game being conducted, though they have never coached and never played a sport in their life. A handful never even played on the chess team.
My high school physics is fuzzy, but I am pretty sure they call this the law of inertia. I have had lots of time to ponder these and other theories of motion, as I have been banished to Dante’s ring of hell known as the Spring sports season. I have three kids who play on six different teams in three different sports. Compound this with the new United States Soccer Federation’s birth year mandate that has caused all travel soccer teams to unamicably split up, forcing every child to attend round-the-clock tryouts in every town within a 30-mile radius. (And I live in New Jersey, the most population dense state in the country, so that's like, 30 towns.) So instead of spending the usual 7 days a week on a field, I’ve been spending 11. (Yes, we had to adjust the calendar to fit it all in. We also extended weekends to 5 days and shortened a night’s sleep to 4 hours, which gives our kids so much more time to play sports. You’re welcome.)
All this is a circuitous way of saying that I spend a ridiculous amount of time with other sports parents in my ear. And lately, the antics and acoustics of (well-meaning?) sideline spectators have my head spinning. Yelling at the ref. Giving the other coach the stinkeye (and our own)! Blessing us all with their play-by-play analysis. Telling their kids (and other people’s) where to go and what to do!
Putting aside the fact that these kids need to learn to think for themselves out there if they're ever going to be decent athletes, let's talk about criticizing coaches for a sec. Sure, it's easy to bash the boss from the padded perch of your Tommy Hilfiger lawn chair with built-in sun canopy—the grass always looks greener from the sidelines. But remember that coaches are parents just like you. And they are volunteering their time to do this while you sit back with your large Dunkin coffee and bitch. If you don't like the job they're doing, then the next time no parent raises their hand, step up and do it yourself. By the way, anyone who officiates youth sports is a glorified volunteer too. They don’t get paid enough to put up with your verbal slapdashery. Who cares if the ump or ref made a few bad calls? There will be another game tomorrow night. And the next night. And seven hundred more before your kid is even 12. Yelling at officials sets the worst example of sportsmanship ever. Fairly ironic since learning sportsmanship is in fact one of the biggest benefits of playing to begin with. Don’t even get me started on badmouthing paid trainers. We hire them because they are experts, certified in their particular sport, and sure as hell armed with more developmentally appropriate information than most of us moms and dads. They don’t come to our house and tell us how to parent better, so sit back and let them do the job we fundraised all summer to pay them for. Just as bad as all the gameday yelling is all the behind the scenes whispering. Gossip, negative comments and rumor spreading divide the team, undermine the coach and make youth sports far less fun than they’re supposed to be.
And isn’t that the point we’ve been missing, people? Unless your little Billy or Betsy is on the fast track to a pro career AND that’s really the life you want for them, youth sports should be fun. They’re a chance for kids to get off the couch, be motivated, make friends and learn how to be a team player. The real game we should want our young players to win at is the game of life. And in my book, that is the beauty of sports. The disappointments and failures are just as crucial as the victories, and how we parents handle them will teach our kids tons. Friends and neighbors, if your child is on my child’s team and you’re wondering if you're the parent I'm talking about, let me assure you, you’re not. (Because your kid doesn’t suck, right? So neither do you :-) Still, if the sports shoe fits, feel free to take your foot out of your loud mouth and use your hands to start clapping instead. If we all approach these games with a positive attitude and respect, then everyone wins. Not least of all, our children.
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