Friday, September 4, 2009

Kids, Parents, and Sports: It's Their Turn.

This article was first published last week in DFW's NeighborsGo publication, and on Today it is used as my offering for Fatherhood Friday. Let's see how many uses we can get out o' this puppy.


Somewhere today a kid is stepping onto a playing field. Her first soccer game in her speedy pink shoes, his first freshman at-bat. And that standout day will be punctuated in some cases not by how well your child played, but by how you led them to the field.

We have all seen the stories in the news, tragic in some cases, about parents who went too far. And yet, most of us consider those cautionary tales as extreme, and nothing like what actually happens at our kids' games. I gotta tell you, though, some of the rest of you aren't impressing us much either.

Do you remember what it felt like to be eight years old, standing on that mound? On that field? Were you standing there wondering what flavor slush you would get after the game, or were you sick with worry about what your Dad would say about the grounder you fumbled? Or if he'd start trouble with that guy in the stands. Again.

It's been awhile, I know. Maybe 20 years? maybe 30? You didn't get picked, you struck out. One second, one lapse in concentration and that ball went sailing by, much like your youth. I hope for the sake of the relationship you have with your child that you finally realize this cold hard fact. It is no longer your turn to play. It's his.

I've heard some of your pathetic arguments. Competition builds inner strength and commitment. Scholarships aren't given to the weak and carefree. Talent is wasted without focus. I have news for you. If you put that kid on that field, he will learn with your help, or without it. And he will love you for your guidance and encouragement, or hate you for being the embarrassment at the game instead of the father who should have been.

Sports didnt get hyper-competitive, my friend, you did. You invented the two-a-day, the club team, and the smack-talk. Sports turned into stepping stones for higher education, revenue generators for schools, proving grounds for respect and adoration, and the place where parent-child relationships went on the disabled list.

Rein it in. Pull it back.

I know this is tough to accept, but this isn't your turn at bat, it's his. If he catches the ball it won't make up for the one you dropped. The only thing you can do to help that kid now is to develop his sportsmanship, and pure love of the game. The good news is that after all these years, you will get to play this time. And you can play really well, or you can really strike out. The only way the "w" in the win column will be yours today, however, is if your child feels your pride and encouragement no matter what happens at the plate.

Your kid and I are both hoping you'll just do your best, and have fun.

Fatherhood Friday at Dad Blogs

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Daddy Files said...

Fanatics=Bad. Competition=Good.

Competition does build strength. Team sports do teach cooperation. And winning is a good thing. Sure when they first start out it's about having fun and learning the game. No question. But as they get older it becomes more than that.

I hope when my son is a teenager that he does get upset when he loses. After all, you play to have fun but also to win. It's not a bad thing to teach our children that winning is important. It's not everything, but it's important. But it's certainly not a "pathetic argument" as you put it.

There's a middle ground there that I hope to strive for as a future sports parent. You don't have to be either a raving sports parent lunatic or a hippie who gives out participation ribbons to every player regardless of performance. As long as you're supportive, teach a genuine love for the game and don't overdo it then you'll be fine as a sports parent.

But let's not treat competition and winning like they are evil concepts. Doing that simply raises the level of mediocrity instead of encouraging excellence.

Halftime Lessons said...

Daddy Files-

I don't think competition is pathetic. I think competition is a pathetic excuse for poor parental control on the sidelines.

I have a 5yrold little girl who just started soccer, and already there is a father who is trying to control the game and tell the coach what to do from the sidelines DURING play.

I think that teaching competitiveness is important. But that quickly translates to poor decision making when you are yelling from the sidelines. His little girl, and mine for that matter, have no idea whether he is yelling FOR them, or AT them.

That was the point I was trying to make.

I agree, competition is good.

But sideline behavior isnt always.

Denise @ Sunflowers, Chocolate and Little Boys said...

Great message Jay. We try to encourage and cheer our boys on, no matter if they are doing great or not-so-great. We want them to enjoy it.

Jenn@ The Crazies said...

Jay... I so needed this NOW! Right in the middle of football... mind if I share the link... I know some parents who NEED to read this!!

♥georgie♥ said...

Great post jay!
my approach to my kids extra activities is support thats it, nothing more nothing's their world now...I just blog in it...

Cheryl said...

I'm all for competition, but some of the parents need to be banned from the games. My youngest plays football. At the last meeting, the coach mentioned parents calling him to ask why their kid wasn't playing. I told my kid I would never do that. He needs to prove himself on the field and in practice. I will be there cheering him on, no matter where he is standing.

Teacher Tom said...

My father came to every, single one of my baseball, football, soccer, and basketball games all the way through high school. He never really said anything, but "Good job," although one time he said he thought I'd been ripped off by an umpire.

When I was a senior in high school he let me know that he had a meeting and simply couldn't make it to my soccer game that afternoon. Here I was 18, and my dad had seen every game I'd ever played. I told him, "No problem," I understood.

Just after half time I looked over to the sidelines and there he was. Man, I never felt more loved in my life.

Under the Influence said...


We had a dad on our team who would yell at his kid from the sidelines and tell him what to do. He always listened to the dad over the coach because dad would be the one to reem him out in the car if he made a mistake! It was pathetic.

Sarah said...

And this is why I have been dragging my feet about getting my children involved in the team sports. I can barely handle the competitiveness of the academic world with some of my friends - athletics would crush me. And yes I mean the adults. The children couldn't care less who's smarter or faster or better at the game/task. They just want to make sure there are snacks afterward.

PJ Mullen said...

I was never athletic growing up, so there aren't many stories from brief playing days. However, if my son does get interested in sports it is my job to encourage him. I would hope that the competition would drive him, but at the same time I expect both of us to act honorably, even if we feel that he has been 'robbed'.

Lee said...

I've never agreed with the people that get super crazy at games, but I've always had this inner hatred for those games that "don't keep score". "We just want the kids to have fun".
Sports are a way to teach kids HEALTHY competition, and working for something.
It's always been a pet-peeve of mine.

Bob and Jenn Peacock said...

It is funny how childrens sports can turn parents into nightmares! I really hate the parents that spend the whole game yelling at their children; the children are there to have fun for hell sake.

Dave said...

I remember when my oldest son was in league soccer. There was one @$$hole dad whose son was by far the best player on my son's team but who *never* gave that poor 10-year-old any affirmation, only grief. He yelled at him constantly during games, telling him how to play, scolding him whenever he made a mistake. He even yelled when the kid did something well but just not as well as he could have. It was abuse. If it had happened just a couple of years later, the refs probably would have made this dad leave the field.

WeaselMomma said...

I am all for competition, but first they much learn sportsmanship and the rules of the game. Overzealous parents that you speak of have crossed the line and do need to reel it in, but encouraging and teaching are what will make the child love the game and want to excel.

Em said...

I was just flipping through the stations and there's High School football on tv.

Only in Texas?

Dave said...

Has anybody read "Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen" by Joe Drape?

I haven't read it; I just heard an interview with the author this weekend on NPR, and it seemed relevant to this discussion of sportsmanship and the relative importance of winning.

NPR interview:

Amazon book listing:

posthumous pointer
To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one's self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - this is to have succeeded. - Emerson