Working Together On Life's Issues

PARENTS ON THE SIDELINE

You must be the change that you wish to see in the world. - Ghandi

PARENTS ON THE SIDELINE

I love spectator sports. As a mom of three sports-minded sons, believe me, I have had my fair share of cheering from the sidelines. As a college student at both USC and UCLA, I have rooted for the best of them.

And sadly, over the years, I have also been witness to some pretty rude behavior from parents who come to the field under the guise of “parental support” of their offspring. The tragedy out of Boston several years ago, where a father was pummeled to death by another dad at their sons’ hockey practice, is a horrific reflection on the degeneration of youth sports today.

I used to think this was occasional, but now, more often than not, a parent will forget the effort, concentration, skills and courage needed by their child to just get out there and play. Support turns to indignation. Positive cheering becomes taunts and putdowns. The child or teen may try to ignore the jeers, but words hurt, especially when they come from your parents.

It is as if parents are caught in a time warp and forget who is playing. They are on that field, striving for that college scholarship, hoping to be seen by college scouts, wanting to be the very best player on that field, developing a “win-at-any cost” attitude. If the child misses the ball, makes a bad pass, or is less than aggressive, that parent sees it as a direct reflection on his abilities.

I recall watching my son’s club soccer team play some years ago. Suddenly one mother (yes, moms are equally guilty), began yelling at her son, finding fault each time he handled the ball. I wanted to run over and politely shove my hand over her mouth. Finally the young man just lost it. He shouted at her to be quiet (not quite in those words), and then held up a certain finger. She yelled at the referee with shocked disbelief and ordered him to remove her son from the field. She was ignored and the game continued. I was saddened by their relationship and embarrassed for both her and her son.

At yet another youth game I witnessed a coach totally losing his cool. His team was behind. When he could no longer contain himself, his face lit up like a firecracker as he shouted one derogatory remark after another at the referee. The whistle blew. The game was stopped. The coach’s face was beet red with rage. He was ordered off the field as the nine-year-old boys watched in disbelief. I was to learn several years later, that this father died prematurely of a heart attack. I wondered if this was caused by his out-of-control anger.

The message sent was hardly “to win one for the Gipper,” or “when the going gets, the tough get going.” Rather, the lesson learned was that when events don’t go your way, it is better to blame others, to throw tantrums, to play dirty. Forget about digging down deep, playing with heart, or rising to the occasion.

Ever heard the term “a gentleman’s sport”? It is about learning new skills, increasing stamina, remaining calm under stressful conditions, thinking on one’s feet, playing clean. This is called sportsmanship.
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines sportsman as “a person who can take a loss or defeat without complaint, or victory without gloating, and who treats his opponents with fairness, generosity, courtesy….” These are traits we should be teaching to our children. Parents should have already cultivated these traits.

Isn’t it time that we grow ourselves up and look at sports for what it is—just good entertainment. It is not an excuse to injure the opponent so that they will remember “for next time.” Nor does it give us permission to take leave of our senses and show our “appreciation” to the team by rioting, as was displayed with a certain L.A. Lakers’ victory some years ago.

Adults—if you can’t cheer your team or child on in a positive fashion, please stay home, where the only damage you do may be a television set with hurt feelings.