Spring sports should be fun, teach children about integrity
My Saturdays are no longer my own.
In a few weeks, my older son, Zach, starts playing softball. It will add another ballgame to our already busy Saturdays, packed with guitar lessons and our son Eli’s soccer games. We will not have another free weekend until sometime this June.
There are lots of things that I’d rather do than drag the family out of bed at the crack of dawn on a cold weekend morning.
We have to rush through breakfast, find shin guards, cleats and uniforms, bundle everyone up and head to the fields. Then I get to wedge myself into an uncomfortable folding chair and watch my son Eli gaze at the clouds for 45 minutes, pausing occasionally to notice the black and white ball zooming past his feet. And I paid more than $100 for this privilege. Still, team sports promote physical fitness, build friendships and help teach kids teamwork. In an ideal world, they’d also teach good sportsmanship, but it seems that many parents and coaches have forgotten about this concept.
My husband coached Zach’s flag football team last year, and it was quite the learning experience. We had a great team, with nice parents and a good assistant coach. It was the behavior of other teams’ parents, coaches and even the league administration that surprised me.
One opposing team didn’t play by the rules. They were apparently more interested in winning than in protecting their young players because they allowed their boys to play football without wearing mouth guards. The league rules stated that guards were not optional, but this team never wore them. It’s easier for a little kid to play football without a distracting hunk of plastic in his mouth giving an unfair advantage over the team that is abiding by the rules.
Maybe my husband and I are too stringent from all our years in the military, but we were livid about the league’s casual reaction to this breech of character. Why is it OK to send children the message that it’s fine to break the rules as long as it helps you win?
Another team was coached by a Jekyll and Hyde persona who screamed angrily at the kids one moment then tried to laugh it off the next. If he’s still coaching, I sincerely hope he found some medication to help him level out a bit.
My hat is off to Eli’s soccer coach, Mr. Heath. He’s the kindest, most sincere coach we’ve had since our sons started playing little league sports five years ago. I don’t know how he remains so calm while keeping six active boys in line. The man clearly has a gift that I do not.
Even if I’m not having the time of my life at these games, at least I act like I’m having fun. I cheer the efforts of our team, and even our opponents. How can you not cheer for these adorable little boys in their long jerseys and saggy shorts? It doesn’t matter what team they’re on. They’re all precious. I can’t imagine ruining it by worrying too much over scores or performance. It’s all about fun at this age, and I say it should remain noncompetitive until kids are grown.
But some parents behave as though their child’s acceptance to Harvard hinges on the outcome of a little league game. The 11-year-old son of a friend actually had someone else’s dad screaming in his face after a soccer game because of some perceived injustice. Had I witnessed that, I might be sitting in jail on assault charges because an adult treating a child like that is just never acceptable.
Sports are supposed to be fun. I think I’m going to make a T-shirt to wear to games that says, “Relax. It’s just a game.” Or maybe I could make posters to hold up with witty slogans like, “Cheers not Jeers” and “I heart good sportsmanship.” I am really getting fed up with super-jock parents screaming at little kids and bending rules over something that, in the grand scheme of life, counts for little.
Sometimes I question whether there’s a better investment for our money than funding little league team sports. I understand families who choose sports that have a more individual focus such as karate, bowling or gymnastics. But team sports are what my sons have asked for, so I’ll keep cheering them on — and hope that other parents do the same.