By Alex Flanagan
I’m convinced that youth sports would be a whole lot more enjoyable if all of us adults weren’t such A-holes to each other. It seems like too many sports parents are so self-absorbed and obsessed with getting their own needs met that they hardly recognize the other human beings around them. I know most of us aren’t trying to be jerks, but maybe if we asked ourselves a few questions at our kids’ sporting events we’d be a little more in touch with how we come across to those around us.
12 Questions to ask yourself at your kids’ sports events:
AM I SETTING UP TOO SOON? Before you drop your chairs, wheel in your cooler, spread out your blanket and hammer in the stakes of your tent, make sure the game being played before yours is over! You are not at a concert or in line for the release of the latest iPhone. It’s annoying and flat out inconsiderate to get in the way of parents who are trying to see the end of their kid’s game.
IS MY TENT BLOCKING OTHERS’ VIEW? It’s super cool that you are having wine and cheese social hour for your team during Friday night flag football, but do you have to set up your Giant White tent center stage on the 50-yard line? One of our Facebook readers recently wrote that her husband is in a wheel chair and that people will come set up right in front of him (sometimes with tents!) in the only area that he can be in a wheel chair to watch his son play.
AM I TOO CLOSE TO THE ACTION? Back the F*%k up! You don’t need to be under the hoop so your daughter can hear your instructions or behind the dugout reassuring Johnny that he can do this. I have one friend who gets a little too vocal, so she intentionally sits beyond the outfield during baseball games. She doesn’t bother anyone because no one hears her when she yells, most importantly the kids.
AM I CHEATING? I know it’s just a little white lie. A small bending of the truth. It’s because your kid wants to play with his best friend or only certain practice times work into your schedule. But it seems like a lot of lines are being crossed these days in youth sports. I’ve seen parents lie about their kid’s age to get on a better team. I’ve seen people under and over rate certain players to deceive the other coaches during evaluations for a draft. I’ve seen parents lie about illnesses and afterschool schedules to get their kids on certain teams. I’ve also seen parents exclude other kids from being on their team and lie about the reasons why. It doesn’t matter why you aren’t telling the truth. Lying is still lying and cheating is still cheating.
AM I ALLOWED TO BRING MY DOG? Almost all youth sports venues don’t allow dogs (unless they are licensed service dogs). That means don’t bring your dog. No, really. Don’t. It’s not the right place for the family pet and here is why. I’ve seen 2 dogs get into a fight during a game, dogs pooping and urinating on the playing field, dogs eating the snacks and chewing a shin guard. Just because you are a dog lover, doesn’t mean everyone else is comfortable with animals. I know a few families that have young kids who go into a full-blown panic attacks because they are afraid of dogs.
DO I NEED TO TAKE THIS PHONE CALL? We get it – you are important. You have business deals and conference calls and company meetings. Can you kindly step away, like in the parking lot or in your car, if you need to take a long phone call? We really don’t need to all know about your deadlines and work drama. I’ve taken a break from work to watch my kid play, so I don’t need to be a part of your cell phone conversations.
AM I TOO LOUD? I know you think it’s really cool to ring your bell, put your fingers in your mouth to blow out a deafening whistle or stand and scream at the top of your lungs every time your kid gets anywhere close to the puck. I don’t mean to be a Grinch about it, but could you limit it to a few times per game? The noise pollution at youth sports events has gotten so bad that some organizations are implementing silent games where parents are required to sign a form promising that they won’t say a peep. I’d rather clubs not have to regulate us on the sidelines, so do your part on helping eliminate some of the ruckus.
AM I BADMOUTHING THE OPPONENT? IF you are trash talking other kids and their families at youth sports event, you need to shut up. It’s rare that 9- and 10-year-old kids are intentionally trying to hit your kid with a pitch or land an elbow in your little one’s eye. Sports are physical and competitive and things happen.
AM I DISRESPECTING THE REFEREES? There is a shortage of referees in youth sports. Largely because it has become a hostile and thankless job. You are helping to create the problem if you are one of the parents yelling things like, “that was a foul!” or “come on man, that was interference.” “This guy doesn’t know what he’s doing.” “Are you blind, that was a strike.”
ARE OTHER PARENTS AS BUSY AS ME? YES! You are not the only person who feels like they are on an endless treadmill trying to keep pace. And having a busy schedule doesn’t give you the right to wheel in late, steal a parking spot and dump all of your negative energy on the parents sitting next to you. The way we live life these days has everyone busy. Whether you are a parent who has a job or are a stay-at-home parent, busyness is all relative and your busyness is not more important than someone else’s.
AM I TOO INVOLVED? If you never miss your kids’ games or sporting events or stay and watch every practice, that is a red flag and you are actually doing your kids a disservice for many different reasons. If you want your kids to enjoy sports and stick with it longer, then step back. “The burn-out correlation is directly tied to parental over-involvement,” says learning specialist Michael McArdle. “This does NOT mean parents are responsible for kids “burning out. It simply states that there is a higher correlation between parents who were a big ’part’ of the child’s sporting life and those kids who chose to leave the sport.”
AM I BRAGGING? Someone shares an achievement their child had and you fire back by bragging about how many goals your child scored last Saturday or how many trophies or blue ribbons he or she brought home. So your kid is awesome and a great athlete. There is a difference between being proud of your child’s efforts and deriving your own sense of self-satisfaction from your child’s sports success.
Alex Flanagan co-founded I love to watch you play in 2015. She was flying home from an NFL work assignment when a learning specialist, who was sitting next to her, shared 5 reasons she shouldn’t feel guilty missing her son’s game. She shared their conversation on her own website alexflanagan.com and the response was so overwhelming it inspired her to co-create ILTWYP to help parents like herself navigate youth sports.