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.”