What is it exactly about parents of young athletes that can potentially bring out the worst in them? The parenting “styles” that I’ve seen crawl out of the woodwork at sporting events makes me seriously wonder about what kind of adults we’re going to have one day.
While any sport has the potential to bring out the worst in over-competitive parents (see hockey, baseball, and soccer examples) our experience has been that nobody takes the cake the way football does.
I’ve shared briefly that we are trying a new football league this year, based on some coaching issues last year. More specifically, we had a coach that called kids losers, belittled them at practices and games, and told them they were a disgrace. We’re not the type of parents to praise kids undeservedly, but there’s a big difference between asking kids to earn praise and not completely tearing them apart, especially as an authority figure, and especially when the kids are between 6 and 8 years old.
This year, we’ve got some really fantastic coaches. The after-game speeches this weekend told the kids that while they didn’t win and need to work on some things in practice, there were some things they did right, and they need to keep doing them, and that the coaches were proud of the kids for getting out there and working hard, even though there’s room for improvement. It was a happy moment for me, as a mom, to not have to be on pins and needles during the game or after the game about what the coach was going to say to my child and his teammates.
What hasn’t changed, though, is the language the parents use. At Saturday’s game, I heard a little of everything, from the f-bomb more times than I could count, to commentary on what a s— call that was, to someone that actually used the term “n-word-ish”, which I didn’t even realize was a term, let alone wanting my 4 year old to ask me what it meant.
I’m not saying we’re perfect parents by any means, and we’re about healthy competition, but what happened to fostering a team spirit? It seems like at least once a practice I hear one parent or another yell “Don’t let (kid x) knock you over! Look how tiny he is! He shouldn’t be knocking anyone over!”
You know, in addition to your kid hearing you, kid x can hear you, too. He hears that you think he’s tiny and incapable. That’s your child’s teammate, why are you tearing them down just to make your child feel better or more motivated?
There’s also a difference between encouraging your child to continue even when something is hard, and being inappropriate. Calling your child a wimp or a baby or a loser when something is hard for them seems a little over the top to me, even though I understand the intention is just to motivate the child to continue and persevere. I’m not a psychologist or anything, but it seems to me that there has to be a better way to communicate that you want your child to continue in spite of difficulty versus bullying your own kid.
I guess it’s possible that I’m being over-sensitive, but I don’t want to believe that. I don’t want to believe that name-calling and hypercompetitiveness is the way we make children into athletes. I don’t want to believe that equal pressure needs to be applied to little league and the pros. I don’t want to believe that children will respond in a positive way to being told they’re worthless. I want to believe that we, as parents, can step up, even at sporting events when we want to have our kid be the best on the field.
In that spirit, I’m instituting a few commandments:
1) Thou shalt follow thy child’s ambitions- including not being more competitive than your child and not forcing them into a sport or position that they’re not comfortable with because you become metally fixated on that goal.
2) Thou shalt treat thy child’s teammates with respect- it’s little league, not the NFL/PGA Tour/MLB/NBA. There are kids out here that are just trying it out for a season, and there are kids here that are naturals. Be proud of the natural talent of the good kids and the struggle of the newer children equally and don’t pit one child againt a teammate.
3) Thou shalt “know your role and shut your hole”. You can be a coach, or a spectator, or an official. You cannot be all 3, so if you’re just a spectating, stop screaming at the kids playing the game.
4) Thou shalt recognize thou art not in a bubble. We can all hear you. Including other people’s small children. Keep it to a Shrek-level on the language.
5) Thou shalt back off the coach, assuming he’s not actually harming the kids.
6) Thou shalt pat your kid on the back first. Even if you want to correct something or run a play by play of everything your kid needs to work on, the first words out of your mouth should be praise for something they did right. You can find something, and if you can’t, try harder.
Agree? Disagree? Have more commandments? I’m interested. Leave a comment, but try to leave your football language on the sideline when you do it 😉