Spring sports should be fun, teach chil­dren about in­tegrity

The Covington News - - Sunday Living -

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.

Kari Apted

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