Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Sideline Commentary

I'm a little shy to admit this and I hope you take me at my word, but I've developed quite a severe case of bleacher butt. You see, I've sat on more than my fair share of the cold, flat, uncomfortable bleachers as my kids get first downs, shoot hoops, swing away and spike the ball. But it's my own fault as I've always encouraged my kids to play sports. I think it's good for them to be a part of a team, try their hand at a new skill and make new friends. But it's not all fun and games unfortunately. Just as I've seen the benefits of playing sports there is also a downside. Every coin has two sides doesn't it?

Sadly, the good ol' days of friendly neighborhood pick up games are gone and the only opportunity my child has to play in a game is on a structured and organized team. That means league play, competition and conference match ups. And whenever you have competition you have fans, fans who cheer and unfortunately jeer. Nothing ruins the fun like a foul mouthed, over demanding parent with unrealistic expectations on their child, the ref or the coaches.

Have we forgotten referees are employed to judge the game? That means they use their judgment, not yours to make the calls. You sit on the sidelines. They are on the playing field. You can be assured they will literally see things from a different point of view. In all my years of bleacher sitting I've never once overheard a fan say, "Boy, that referee was fantastic!” Usually, both the winning and losing team leave the game frustrated. You can count on the umpires to accuse your team of being out of time, over the line and off sides. But guess what? It will be ok. You don't have to come unglued and have a coronary for disagreeing with a call. Let's let them make their judgments and we can be free to understand that is part of the game.

After the referees, the coaches are the most vilified person in the game. This has always confused me since coaches give up amazing amounts of time, energy and talents for your kid. And they don't get paid nearly enough if they get paid at all. Many of these courageous men and women coach because they have a servant’s heart. They desire to help, encourage and be a positive role model for a generation dying for mentors. So to sit on the sidelines and criticize the individual you’ve allowed to shape your child's talent and attitude is the ultimate definition of counter productivity. If you can do a better job, by all means volunteer next season and you can lead the team to a perfect season.

Except that you'll never be able to coach a perfect team in a perfect season. Why? Because we're talking about children. Chances are the same kid, who can't remember to put the milk away and his socks in the hamper, is probably not going to be the next child prodigy athlete. Despite your shouting from the bleachers, kids won't remember the play, even though they've run it all year. They will swing at bad balls and make terrible passes. I've never been able to understand the parent who, as soon as the game is over, greets their kids with nothing more than criticism and disdain. I want to interrupt the barrage of insults and remind the adult that they are talking to a child! Have they just endured an entire game from the bleachers so that they can be the loudest voice of discouragement in their child’s life?

But this is not to say we're unrealistic about our children's ability. If my kid never hits the ball (and he hasn't) or gets off the bench (been there done that) I make no excuses for him. The last thing my son needs is for me to puff him up unrealistically. Likewise I won't blame the coach, the weather, the umpire or the other team. My kid struck out. Kids strike out. It's ok to strike out. It's ok if he is not the greatest every time in every sport. We play to learn the game, and be a part of a team and have fun. Josh Hamilton, famous Texas Ranger outfielder once said, "Baseball is a game of failure. You can't expect to succeed every time you go to the plate, or strike out every batter, or throw out every base runner. Accepting failure is a tough thing to do. Don't be hard on yourself. Sometimes you must fight the urge of perfectionism." I think players and parents of players would do well to heed his advice.

Listen, I know there are bad coaches and terrible referees out there. I know there are super fans and sore losers. I wish every team experience was a positive one but I know that is not possible. Instead I believe it's the responsibility of parents to support and cheer for their team and offer appropriate encouragement or criticism when absolutely necessary. Playing on a team should be a fun and learning experience for everyone. Even for those of us watching from the bleachers. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!

(This article appears in The Daily Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting Series)


  1. I remember when my kids played sports. My all was good there. But my daughters played softball and what wasn't good about that was the fact that their step-dad (my ex) was their coach. He thought he needed to be extra hard on them cause they were his kids. Many an after game argument between the two of us (without the girls) and eventually he quieted down...after an ump threw him out of the game and off the field. Served him They can laugh about it now that their adults but at the time, they were frustrated.
    I wholeheartedly agree with you on this one.

  2. Hi Stephanie-

    Though I don't have children, I've watched somewhat "objectively" at exactly what you're discussing. It is heartbreaking that the old neighborhood pick-up games have all but evaporated in favor of structured, parent-directed activities. It does children no favors.

    And - thanks for stopping by my "Tails" blog (much belatedly). I appreciate your comment! I'm having trouble with having them post so I'm sorry I'm a bit late getting back to you!


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