People seemed outraged when a video of two Texas high school football players assaulting a back judge from behind and then spearing him with a helmet during the 4th quarter of a Friday night football game went viral. Seeing it is disturbing, disheartening and defies EVERYTHING we are trying to teach our children through sports. But was it surprising? No. Not really.
Take a minute and Google search “parents and fights and youth sports.” Where I live, two teams were just suspended for the season after a brawl between parents broke out at a San Diego Youth Football 14-and-under game. Seeing it on video, it looks to me like one hostile, inappropriately loudmouthed parent is being a complete a-hole when emotions escalate so wildly out of control that a massive brawl breaks out. Punches are flying, bodies are being thrown in between bleacher seats. Meanwhile, the kids, who were in the middle of playing a football game, are watching it all unfold from the end zones, where they’ve been trained to go in the case of an emergency.
Aside from exercise, some of the reasons cited by parents for why they sign their kids up for athletics is to teach them responsibility, respect, leadership, winning and losing with dignity, and social skills, like how to get along with others and how to resolve conflict. So why then are so many parents acting so ugly at their kid’s games?
Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner coaches his 11-year-old son’s football team. Kurt shared a story with me recently about how disturbed he felt when an opposing coach got so mad about a call that the he ranted and refused to get off the field until the referee reversed it. Kurt agreed with the referee, but didn’t want his kids watching the other coaches bad behavior, so he told the official to just give his opponent the call. Another friend told me of a mom who gets so extreme and vulgar during her child’s tennis match that her own daughter had to ask the chair umpire to remove her.
Just like our darling little children run the wrong route, shoot an air ball or drop an easy pop fly … officials make mistakes too. Obviously. When they do, isn’t it a perfect opportunity for us to teach our kids that life isn’t always fair? That when you know you’re right, sometimes you have to sit back and swallow your pride? That even when you do everything perfectly and nail it, sometimes you don’t get the job or win the account?
As I pulled into my son’s soccer game the other day I saw an older man giving a pep talk to a young man in a black-and-white striped shirt that matched his. I assumed the pair were related and as I passed by, I said, “How cool your son is following in your footsteps.” He laughed and corrected me, “Oh my children are grown, that’s one of my referees and he’s officiating his first game today. I’m here to tell him good luck.”
It was the first time it had occurred to me that like my son who was learning to play soccer, this young man was learning the skill of officiating. Shouldn’t he be shown all the compassion, respect, and excitement that my child and his teammates receive from the crowd?
Since that moment, I’ve decided there are a few little things all of us should demand of ourselves and our children. Balls should always be handed to the referee. Thank you’s should be said to coaches AND officials after games and practices. No sour grapes for bad calls are allowed on the ride home. In fact, complaining about bad calls should be banned altogether. As parents we need to demand that there is no place in youth sports for adults losing it on children, other coaches, OR officials. There is nothing wrong with being competitive or wanting to win, but if we expect good sportsmanship from our children, then we have to show them what respect and good sportsmanship looks like.