People who have coached or umpired for any type of youth sport know first-hand kids want to win and will do their best to bring home the victory. But parents also take competitions seriously, which occasionally creates problems.
Sports can stir up strong emotions, and some parents will berate their child over their performance, or quarrel with the decisions made by a referee or coach.
But parents aren’t the only abusers. Some coaches are so focused on winning they will severely reprimand players over simple mistakes.
Each summer, my oldest son would join softball and soccer teams. I’m not a sports fan, but I always attended his games to cheer him on. I will never forget a T-ball game that was coached by the father of one of his teammates.
T-ball is played by children 4 to 6 years old. The ball is not pitched, the batter hits it off of a stand. It’s fun way to introduce youngsters to the sport.
But this coach took the game much too seriously. He apparently thought he was coaching a world championship playoff. His son was on the pitcher’s mound and after fielding the ball, tried to tag the runner instead of throwing it to the first baseman, and then tried to tag the runner on the way to second base.
His father was livid. In front of both teams and their parents, he tore his 4-year-old son to ribbons instead of calmly coaching him. The poor child stood on the mound in tears, sobbing as his father screamed at him.
After the game, most of the parents threatened to pull their kids from the team and report him to the league if he didn’t change his ways.
One summer, several parents talked me into coaching my son’s American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) team. The AYSO program is designed to be a fun way for kids to learn the game. Coaches are not supposed to put a heavy emphasis on winning and the rules state that each team member must play at least half the game. No child, regardless of skill level, is to be left sitting on the bench. The referees check the team roster throughout the game to make sure that each member has played at least two full quarters.
But to some parents and coaches, winning is everything. The players aren’t allowed to just have fun and learn the game, they are expected to win. Parents also put a lot of heat on the coaches and referees. If the coach pulls their all-star child from the game to allow a less coordinated player have the required time on the field, he might be tarred and feathered, especially if the team is losing.
Some parents try to live out their unrealized dreams through their children. I had a young boy on my team who obviously had no interest in the game. He was only there because his father demanded that he play. During one game while he was playing goalie, a ball got by him, putting the other team ahead. His father came unglued. He ran down to the end of the field and began to yell and scream at the boy. He even threatened to take a strap to him when they got home if he didn’t start paying attention.
I called a time out. The players were only 10 years old. When I asked him to back off, he became very hostile with me. I finally told him that if it happened again, I would have him banned from the field for the rest of the season and would also inform child services of the threats he had made to his son. I had no problems with him after that.
Some parents refuse to believe that any call against their child is justified. Several times I saw our teen-agers learning to be referees get chewed out by a player’s parent. Because of their inexperience, they would occasionally make a bad call. I taught my players to respect the referee’s decision, and accept the fact that mistakes will occasionally be made because being a referee is not an easy job. But it’s difficult to teach good sportsmanship when parents refuse to practice it.
I was inexperienced, but I really tried to be a good coach. I enjoyed working with the kids, but I also got tired of being yelled at or threatened. There were a few times that an angry father threatened to take a swing at me. Asked to coach the next season, I declined.
One small community in New Jersey has come up with a great solution to the problem. Instead of banning the abusive spectator or coach, the leagues make the punishment fit the crime. Those who abuse a referee or umpire are required to serve in that position for three games. If they refuse, they will be banned from all sporting events until they fulfill that obligation. Brilliant, make those individuals experience how difficult and thankless the job can be.
A poem written in 1895 by Mary T. Lathrap titled “Judge Softly,” encourages us to treat each other with respect, understanding, compassion and kindness.
“Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps, Or stumbles along the road. Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears, or stumbled beneath the same load.”
Good words to remember the next time you attend your child’s sporting event.
I coached youth basketball in Winfield for 40 years! I totally agree with your article! So many coaches are win at any cost no matter how the kids are affected! I feel sorry for officials especially in basketball 🏀 who have to put up with parents and coaches crappy behavior! The first thing I tell my players at the first practice is we’re here to have fun! I don’t care whether we win or lose as long as you give 100% and play to the best of your abilities! And to respect the referee’s and your opponent’s, because without the referee’s there would be no games for you to participate in! I was lucky I had good parents and kids! So parents behave yourselves at the games or stay the heck home! Coaches coach the right way and remember the game is for the kids and for them to learn the fundamentals and enjoy playing! So don’t coach if you can’t control yourself on and off the court! And remember winning isn’t everything as I told my players your not going to win every game but your not going to lose every game! Be good sports and enjoy playing the game!
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