Please tell me you’re not one of THOSE sports parents!

As a parent in the stands of Youth League Football and their opening day yesterday, I forced myself to take 24 hours before taking any action regarding my disappointments. The 24 hour rule is one that some of the finest coaches recommend for parents who wish to voice their opinions pertaining to the game, the umpires, the coaching decisions or plays. Yet I have taken that 24 hour rule and have applied it to three years of being a parent to Little League and Youth Sports participants and feel it’s time to voice my own observations.

Every weekday afternoon my children arrive home from school and instantly our home transforms into a near suburban Olympic event. Rushing to get homework finished, checked and packed up for the next day. Making some poor attempt at setting down to enjoy a family meal where the days events and concerns are discussed and then the children race through the house with one leg in their uniform pants while searching for their cleats. Which of course they just know they left by the door the night before. Next we are out the door and heading to practice, something that is obviously needed in order for a team to learn how to play together.

As I set back and watch our team practice, I see not one, but two coaches that volunteer their time unselfishly in the name of fun and sportsmanship. Neither coach has children on our team or any other team for that matter. Yet day after day they rush around and manipulate their own schedules to accommodate the need for dedicated coaches.

I’ve also watched as parents take our coaches for granted. Consumed by their own agenda and need to push their children, and I wonder  why those parents feel their situation is superior to others. Parents repeatedly approach our coaches in haste wondering why their child didn’t get to play more, when each team has an excess of players that our coaches have to work in to the games regardless of skill or dedication. All this takes place while I try to explain to my own kids the reasons why they must set the sidelines, show team spirit and support for those who ARE on the field, including those kids who show up for practice maybe once or twice per week.

How am I supposed to teach my children the art of sportsmanship when they are forced time and again to watch as other players take the field because our coaches would rather hurt a quiet child’s feelings than endure the insults and criticisms of a disgruntled parent?

As a parent, I would rather set in the stands knowing my child is on that field because of his own dedication, not because the coach is worried about my post-game wrath.

Perhaps I became a bit spoiled over the last few years when my children had coaches who strongly encouraged the kids to have fun and not be overly concerned about winning, spoiled because my children’s coaches called a parent’s meeting before the first practice and made it known with a mandatory and mutually signed contract that if obscenities were heard from the parent’s in the stands or any one child that the child would be off the team.

It was during those years that I developed my rose colored views of what little league and youth league really are.

It was during those years that I was honored to witness children having fun; learning sportsmanship, coaches discussing the mistakes that were made and immediately embracing the child telling them they would do better next time. It was then I saw two extraordinary coaches lead our team to become champions of the league and tourney. I realized these two men possessed something rare when it comes to coaching that can’t be taught – they were natural born leaders that were actually leading their team by setting an unparalleled example.

Although my children may not be the best players on the team and although they may not score the winning runs or touchdowns, my children have a passion for sports and a willingness to learn the game. I resent the fact that my children are forced to endure the ramifications of small town politics and overbearing parents.

Each time my children walk away from a game I find myself playing Florence Nightingale to tiny bruised emotions trying to find just the right words to lift their little spirits when the reality of it all is not the fact they can’t play or they are athletically challenged, the truth is a small portion of parents control the game.

Ask yourself – if you were a coach and had to deal with a parent like you, would you coach?

If the answer is a profound no, then it’s time to make a change.

Remember, these coaches, umpires and referees are volunteers. What would become of youth league sports if these volunteers became too weary and just gave up on the effort? What would you have your child do then?

Personally I would like to see every coach implement a Coach-Parent-Player Contract. Whereby everyone takes responsibility for their own actions and we all learn that bad behavior, tardiness and truancy pertaining to both practices and the game are NOT rewarded.

My disappointments could fill far more than a simple editorial when considering the parent’s who volunteer to be a team mom or team dad and make a rare grand appearance. What impression of dedication does this project to our children? If your schedule is too busy, leave the task to someone else. Don’t step up to plate for a position you can’t possibly fill.

And to the parent’s who sign their kids up for several sports at one time. How can this possibly teach a child to focus on one project and give it 100% when they can only commit 50% of their time or less to each sport or project?

Or to the parents who take our coaches for granted and see them as babysitter for two hours a night at the low, low rate of $30 or so a season. Why not stick around and support your child? Create a situation where the two of you might just have something cool to talk about!

At the very least, I hope my ramblings will be thought provoking and bring about a period of self reflection and positive change for many who are involved in the leagues of our youth; be it coaching, playing or cheering from the stands.

Originally written as a Letter to the Editor of our local paper in September 2004

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