When Pushing Hard Becomes Pushing Too Hard

Have you seen this video? (If not, you should know in advance that it’s pretty disturbing.)

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In the video, a freshman cheerleader at Denver East High School is forced to do a split. It clearly isn’t comfortable for her, and she screams and asks to stop. Instead, she is physically restrained and forced to continue.

According to the Denver Post, the cheer coach, Ozell Williams, has been fired. But even more shocking? The paper also cited a report that Williams had been fired from his prior job – just last year – “after similar complaints.”

When I saw the original report a few days ago, it was qualified with all of the “you haven’t heard the whole story” type remarks that we’re used to these days. So I waited to see what could possibly be shared that would make the video any different. And then I got annoyed – at myself.

What angered me the most was the notion that anyone (including me, apparently) could believe for even a moment that there was another story. It was a video of a child screaming and crying and clearly in pain. And the adults responsible weren’t helping. That’s the story.

It’s upsetting to that we’ve become so accustomed to winning, to buying into the notion of “no pain, no gain,” to believing that our kids just have to work a little bit harder, that we’d find any circumstances that would make this okay. It’s not okay.

Most kids don’t go pro in sports. Most kids play because they like it. They like cheering. They love clearing the hurdles. They get a sense of satisfaction when they knock the ball out of the park.

And I get that practice isn’t always fun. My kids do their share of complaining. Sometimes it’s too hot. Sometimes it’s too cold. Sometimes they’re tired. And yes, I make them go anyway.

But there’s a line. And when you cross over “practice isn’t always fun” to full on “I hate going to practice,” I think you’ve crossed it. And when it turns to “I’m being hurt at practice,” it’s gone way, way too far.

It’s not just this one cheer coach. It’s the football coach that makes you practice in the heat until you vomit. It’s the hockey coach who makes you do suicides until you can’t pick yourself up off of the ice anymore. It’s the soccer coach who tells you to lift weights without a spotter because results are more important than safety. As parents, we’ve all heard the stories. And all too often, we sit quietly because no one wants to be that parent.

This video? It didn’t make the news because of a parent. It made the news because a fellow cheerleader filmed it and alerted authorities. Another kid. Think about how brave that kid was. She dared to be the one who said, “This is not okay.” I hope we can all find that kind of courage. The courage to speak up and say that we won’t allow this sort of thing to happen to our kids (or to any kids).

Because sports are supposed to be fun. Otherwise, why do we bother?

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The Dreaded Physical

By Harmid (Own work) Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

At our school, sports clubs don’t require a physical while sports teams do. Ironically, that means that my child who plays ice hockey gets a pass on a physical while my child who plays field hockey does not.

I made an appointment for the dreaded physical weeks ago. Since a physical is a well visit, it was impossible to squeeze us in before school started. We got saddled with an appointment in mid-September with the advice to call and check for cancellations.

Fall sports begin at school on August 29, one day after school starts. No pressure, of course.

When I checked the schedule, I noted that tryouts weren’t until after Labor Day. Whew. I figured I’d borrowed some time. No dice:¬†Physical forms are collected in the first week.

That meant that I spent part of today scurrying to find a way to get a physical form completed. I emailed the school nurse and called our pediatrician. The latter told me that I was out of luck. The former told me to check Urgent Care.

I found an Urgent Care center that confirmed they would do a physical for school. When I arrived, I discovered that this was not a novel idea. I watched as the father of a boy about the same age as my daughter shuffled through his not-yet-completed paperwork.  Fortunately, ours was complete on my end. We just needed a few ticks of the boxes from the doctor and a signature.

First up? The eye test. We couldn’t possibly start with something easy. I say this because I am well aware that my child’s eyes are not perfect. She wears contacts and even though she just had a new prescription in spring, she advised last week that she can’t make out faces if they’re too far away. I called and made an appointment for… you guessed it: mid-September.

Somehow she passed the eye test (thank goodness) and the rest of the physical was relatively stress-free. We got the much-needed stamp of approval and our six page (yes, six page) physical form is ready to be turned in.

I was complaining about the whole process after dinner. It feels like such a waste of time because I know she’s healthy. Later, as I was checking through email, my husband read a story in today’s news about a kid who collapsed on the field during practice. He apparently had an undiagnosed heart condition. And just like that, the physical didn’t seem like such an inconvenience after all.

Don’t Be Like Bill & Heidi

My son played a tournament this weekend and despite the blazing sun (which was brutal despite the purportedly cooler temps), it was really lovely. The team played great, the kids had fun, and the whole thing was well officiated.

The best part was the collegial spirit. We watched a number of games in the tourney that weren’t even our kids – and cheered wildly for the amazing saves and clear effort. And even in our own games, we applauded the amazing kicks and appreciated as the parents around us gave our goalkeeper kudos. It was kids sports as it should be.

At one point, a parent from an opposing bench remarked at how terrific the day had been, and how well behaved everyone had been – including the parents. “That’s because,” one parent joked, “Bill and Heidi aren’t here.” The parents around him offered up a few nervous chuckles and more than one knowing glance.

To be clear, I don’t know Bill and Heidi. I don’t where they live, who their kids are, or what teams they cheer for. But I do know a lot of parents like Bill and Heidi. I suspect that you do, too.

Parents are typically much worse sports than the kids. The worst language, the cruelest comments, the most terrible slams? They tend to come from the stands.

I’ve heard parents insult the coaches and the refs using language that you’d never dare to use at work.

And I’ve heard parents yell at kids – usually their own kids – in ways that make me cringe. Sometimes, those shouts are slights on the other team, like, “They’re terrible, you should be winning by more!”

Other times, parents are coaching from the sidelines, pleading for their kids to do more, sometimes even if it’s destructive to the opposing team. We’ve heard the calls of “Finish them!” from the bleachers. It’s like something out of Karate Kid (points to those of you old enough to get the reference).

I’ve heard the “jokes” from the sidelines about kids being too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat. I’ve heard parents that think it’s funny to remark loudly about a kid who is slower than the rest of the pack or a kid who lacks coordination. Parents critique glasses and haircuts and shoes. They scream insults at the boys with long hair that they think look like girls and the girls who are muscular that they think look like boys. It should go without saying that those things aren’t funny, they’re mean.

And then there are the parents who think they’re helping. This summer, I watched as a father boasted about his daughter who was in goal for the gold medal match. It was clear that he was very proud of her. But then she dove for the ball and it sailed over her head, landing in the back of her net. She remained on the ground for a minute or two. I worried that she might have hurt herself. Her dad yelled at her to get up and then spent a number of minutes chastising her – loudly – for missing the ball. When she got up, she kept her eyes down. I think she felt beaten. And not from the other team.

A few years ago, at nationals for field hockey, I distinctly remember a couple standing on the bleachers screaming obscenities… at their own team. All I could think was, “They can hear you. And they’re NINE.”

And I missed the soccer game where afterwards, my son told me, excitedly, “They threw out one of the dads on the other team.” I looked at my husband and he nodded. I didn’t ask for details. I suspect that I already knew them.

I get that games are emotional. It’s nearly impossible to sit quietly on your hands and just watch. We all want our kids to succeed. We want the game to be fair (whatever that means). And to be honest, we really like to win.

But at the end of the day, it’s just a game. And all of the yelling and screaming? It won’t change the outcome of the game. And when the kids hear you? It’s rarely encouraging or motivating. As my goalkeeper once told me, “We can’t really hear you but when we do, it’s embarrassing.”

Fueling Up

fruitMy kids like to eat. I mean really like to eat. And when they’re full-on involved in practices, drills, games, or tournaments, they could eat all day.

I’m trying to encourage snacking because I think it’s more healthy than inhaling a giant plate of food at the end of the day. So I try to make healthy snacks available for the kids to grab. Initially, that meant keeping a bowl of fruit on the counter but I’ve realized that if there’s any prep required, they’ll bypass the snacks that require work and go for a handful of something else, like pretzels, instead.

So now I’ve moved onto plan B. I’ve taken to chopping up fruits and vegetables to leave out on the kitchen table – the easiest grab and go there is! It’s been much more successful though admittedly more work.

How do you handle it when your young athletes get the munchies?

The Waiting Game

My daughter had tryouts recently so you know what that means now: we’re playing the waiting game.

Rec sports are easy. There’s no pressure to make the team. Typically, if you have commitment and a checkbook, you’re good. But travel and school sports are another thing altogether. Those typically require tryouts.

Tryouts can be stressful for the kids because, well, kids. My daughter attended tryouts twice this year because her first wasn’t her best and she knew it. She was upset on the way home. This wasn’t a new team for her and I was reasonably sure that the coaches had seen her play enough to have already made up their minds about her place for the season. That still didn’t take away from the fact that what my daughter would remember about tryouts was crying in the car. And she loves to play so I didn’t want that to be the thing she associated with tryouts. So when she asked if she could tryout again, I said yes. She showed up the next week and it was a totally different experience. She left the court with a big smile on her face.

As parents go, the first time or so for tryouts may be unnerving but after that, it’s generally only stressful if you have unrealistic expectations. If you do your homework and research the team in advance, most of the time you have a pretty decent sense of whether your child is going to make the team (although in a club with multiple teams, exactly which team you make can be a whole other ball of wax). But even so, a new place can rattle you. A parent confessed their anxiety while we were chatting during tryouts. I quickly flashed back to another tryout when a parent said that she didn’t know what she was going to do if her kid didn’t make it because it was her “fourth time trying out.” That’s some dedication. I’m not going to question anyone else’s parenting because who’s to say what the right thing to do is for that particular child but I can say that when it comes to my own kids, I tend to think things happen for a reason. And if my child doesn’t make the team, it’s not the end of the world. There are other teams and other sports and other opportunities.

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck. I know that it does. Twice now, my kids have landed on teams that they felt were beneath where they wanted to be. The way I saw it, that meant one of three things: (1) it is what it is and you accept it; (2) it’s an opportunity to get better and move up; or (3) it’s not the right place for us to be.

The first time it happened, we chose door (3). And that kid? Totally made the best of it at a new place. It was 100% the right thing to do. The second time it happened, we chose door (2). That kid wasn’t happy initially but has ultimately embraced it as an opportunity to step up and become a leader. The jury’s still out on that one but I remain fairly optimistic.

Here’s the thing. After tryouts, there’s zero that you can do as a parent to change the outcome. It’s done. It’s in someone else’s hands. The waiting can be pretty terrible but ultimately, it is just that: waiting. Remember that your kids read you pretty closely when it comes to these things. And your stress over what could happen can translate a million different ways to little minds. So deep breaths. It will be over before you know it.

Fall Sports