Written by: Jeremy Baumhower
With the summer sports season upon us, I wanted to share a little reminder for parents — don’t be an asshole while sitting on the sideline.
Like many parents raising children in the suburbs, sports is often the focal point of my day. My kids play travel basketball, travel softball, travel soccer and travel baseball. Yes, their games and practices consistently overlap and it takes a former logistics coordinator to map it all out. No, we are not crazy. No, my children are not better athletes than yours. My kids simply love playing these sports, and love to compete.
Because we live in a more affluent community, recreational sports leagues are not as competitive as they once were. Meaning: Parents can afford to pay for private lessons and travel clubs. Their ability and willingness to spend money often confuses their vision of the athletic prowess their children possess. Any child who practices a specific sport 4 to 5 times a week will always be better than a child who practices once or twice. Travel programs begin forming as early as 6 & 7U (children under 6 and 7-years-old).
Little Jimmy might be a baller, but he should be because mommy and daddy are dropping thousands to make that happen.
Herein lies the problem.
Since the cost of sports have dramatically increased, so have expectations. There are parents who view monies spent on travel programs as an investment for the child’s future. Few believe their baby will become a professional athlete, most hope their child will play through college and get a free education.
This additional expenditure tends to create a little extra stress on the sidelines, especially during the younger years. Stress creates pressure which can sometimes evolve into adults behaving poorly.
I’ve been to over a thousand sports games for my children and have yet to see a professional scout. Al Avila, the General Manager of the Detroit Tigers, and I have yet to cross paths while he was sitting behind the backstop of a 10U game holding a radar game. No matter how many times I dreamed of spotting an old man wearing MLB credentials, clocking pitches and taking extensive notes, it’s never happened.
So why do we parents act like every pitch, every dribble, every tackle matters in a game between 6th graders? It doesn’t. Even if the game was for the championship, it still doesn’t matter. A trophy is just a poorly constructed stack of plastic parts held together by a bolt and nut. It represents success and a moment in time.
What will last longer than that trophy is the learned behavior of children from their parents on the sidelines as they competed.
Did you know that referees are human beings? I think many forget this when walking from the car to the sports complex. Referees or umpires are paid a small amount of money to call the game as fairly as they see fit. Their goal is fairness and invisibility. They are not perfect and they are not always good at what they do — but isn’t that a tremendous metaphor of life? There is always a chance of an outside influence on our success and failures, but it’s how we mentally prepare for them that will dictate our future.
Referees are often used as scapegoats and become unintentional teaching tools of how to place blame and treat others. Bad refs are a part of any game. Yelling at them after a blown call does nothing to positively affect the outcome. Nothing.
Parents who chirp at a referee or sadly a child, change the atmosphere of a game. Bad behavior is often contagious and creates additional sideline scrutiny and sometimes animosity between the two cheering parental factions.
They started chirping, so we started chirping louder and the next thing you know parents are coming to blows in the parking lot … all after a soccer match starring 9-year-old children. It’s silliness and bad parenting.
I don’t care if you’ve spent $10,000 on private lessons, the one major thing that will stick is how you behave in both winning and losing scenarios.
If you are going to invest in travel clubs, make sure you do your homework and scout the coaching staff. Make sure the adult instructors behave in an honorable manner, treat all children with respect and are not hot-heads. You should also ask about the coach’s philosophy on playing time. Does everyone get to play or does the coach play to win every game? There is a huge difference.
The only thing worse than a bad umpire is watching your little Jimmy ride the bench, when you know he is the best player on the team.
When it is all said and done the athletes wearing the fancy uniforms are children. Little creatures discovering every day on how to be human. We, as the sports-attending society, are a great influence on how they will see the game and each other.
I’m not perfect and I’ve been caught up in the moment many times. But when I go to see a game, just like the athletes, I try to learn from my previous sideline errors.
Here are some things I’ve learned on how to act while watching children play a game of basketball.
- Cheer for a child (on either team) when they hit a foul shot, not when they miss.
- Cheer for a child (on either team) who makes a tremendous pass, not when they travel or double dribble.
- Never encourage your child to use their elbows as hidden weapons or to foul to show toughness. It’s never okay to hit another child, even in the key.
Here are some things I’ve learned on how to act while watching children play a game of baseball.
- Cheer for a child (on either team) who makes a fine defensive play, not when they error.
- Encourage a child on their way to the dugout after striking out. The greatest hitter in the history of baseball failed 6 out of 10 times at the plate. The game is about dealing with failure and how the players’ approach during the next opportunity.
Please comment below and share other sideline “dos” or “don’ts.”