I just came back from a weekend of varying degrees of lacrosse. It was all “college level” but I’m convinced, more than ever, that the worst thing about sports, and enjoying sporting events, can sometimes be the parents. I’m all for following your child’s athletic endeavors… cheering their team on to victory… commiserating when referees and officials make calls you deem questionable… but that’s about the ONLY place where I agree. Our job, as parents, is NOT to coach our children, if we are not the coach. We are to be supportive… nothing more and nothing less.
Friday night, we were on hand for two club lacrosse games. The first game was pretty tame… parents complained about calls that were either made or missed, depending on their point of view. I was spared much of what was said… I’ve learned to plug in a single ear bud and listen to some “head banging tunes” while attempting to shoot the game from a photographer’s point of view.
That being said, the second game was a huge challenge for me. I had my music going… Drowning Pool “Bodies”, DMX “Where the Hood at” and “Ruff Ryders Anthem”, along with Fort Minor “Remember the Name”, Kings of Crunk “Get Low”, and Steve Aoki/Laidback Luke “Turbulence” were all shuffling through my playlist. We were playing a traditionally rough team, but I was unprepared for a MOM to yell “make him sorry” when our goalie left his net to bring the ball into play. A mom? Really? The rest of the game was equally frustrating. Our parents were primarily cheering generic and positively focused themes of Poke check!… Get the Ball!… Go Hoos!, while the opponent’s fans had reached down and came up with “Hit Him!… Crush Him!… Get Him! Thankfully, this was a blissfully short game. Two running halves with the entire game completed in an hour. I don’t think I could have taken much more that evening.
Sadly, I was in store for much worse the following day. The game I was shooting Saturday was a conference lacrosse game that was not expected to be a win for us. We were hopeful for a “good game” against a historically tough opponent but I was truly unprepared for how bad things got over the course of the game. The boys were putting forth, in my opinion, a valiant effort against a team that had blown them out in the past. To be within a handful of goals by halftime was amazing and I was proud of the work done these young men.
What was most upsetting was when one of our parents decided to personally heckle and single out a player on the other team. Seeing him sink to this level, in a college game, made me embarrassed to be on the same team. Clearly, no one had ever stood up to him while his son was in HS to explain that this sort of behavior was neither productive nor helpful.
Youth and college sports are terrific places for our children to learn life lessons… what to do… what NOT to do… how to portray yourself in public… how to make your point without turning into a bully or using inference to try and turn others to your twisted version of reality. Our children are watching us… they are watching to see how we handle situations and they will mimic what they see, especially if it’s shown to be an acceptable behavior. If we yell at the ref, scream at players on the other team, or whine when we don’t get our way, doesn’t it stand to reason that our children will repeat this behavior and become our own worst nightmares?
Two weeks ago, I was unhappily invited into one such situation within our High School/youth program. A disgruntled parent decided to voice their opinion to the coach…something perfectly acceptable within the confines of a private conversation. The problem came when this parent decided to voice their displeasure to the entire team, coaches, and myself (the athletic director) while insinuating that they were not the only disappointed family within the program. ” I know I am not the only parent concerned just the parent willing to express my concerns”. After saying that they “respected what we are trying to do”, the parent went on to complain that their team was being “set up for failure” and that they “do not have any chemistry as our opposition has pointed out”. If a parent wants to voice this concern to a coach, I support that right. When that same parent decides to call an entire program into question by complaining in a blanket email, I take great exception. I was LIVID…
Over the next few days, there were some terrific messages that were sent out to the entire team… defending the coach, our program, our schedule, and our kids. No one called this parent out for their message but everyone who took the time to respond did so by sharing the way they try to raise their kids. Praise in public… reprove in private. Wasn’t this part of what we were supposed to learn as kids…. so we could teach the same thing to our own kids when we became the adults?
I was blessed to have been placed in a humbling situation just after I got married. We were watching a HS football game in Michigan and the kicker was having a hard time getting the ball off before being tackled by the other team. I was feeling “above it all”, since we didn’t know anyone on the team, and thought it was a good idea to yell that they should replace the kicker… get some kid who could get the ball off… when a parent on the team told me to “shut up… he’s doing the best he can”. Wow.. such a small comment but it had a huge impact on me. I sat back, embarrassed for having been yelled at in public like a little kid, but I got it. The kicker was doing the best he could… and if I couldn’t cheer positively, I wasn’t welcome to cheer at all. After 24 years, the sting of realizing that I was being a verbal bully, even if that kicker couldn’t hear me, still remains in my head and colors how I see things today.
As parents, we have the ability to make their kids into sportsmen (and women) or into bullies. As parents, we have influence over their kids that can help build or break a program. As parents, we should all THINK BEFORE WE SPEAK/WRITE and ask ourselves…. is this message helpful or hurtful… am I acting in the best interest of my child… would my child be embarrassed if they knew what I had said/written?
Let’s all do our part to raise the game, whatever the game may be, to a higher standard than is currently in vogue. Let’s teach our children how to be positive… responsible… respectable. Free speech isn’t always free…. sometimes there’s a tremendous cost in how it affects our community. Think, people, before you cheer. Let’s teach our kids to build one anotherup instead of tearing each other down…