I love youth sports, always have. I’ve played, I’ve coached, I’m a parent of two children participating, and now I write about it. Lacrosse, specifically. But this is about the whole youth sports culture. The dark cloud which tarnishes youth sports – parental behavior.
I’m not pointing fingers at any one sport, or any specific parent. This is just a general overview of what I’ve seen over the 49 years that I’ve been alive.
I started playing hockey in 1980 after the US Men’s Olympic hockey team won the gold medal. Just thinking back to that time and place almost brings a tear to my eye. What a memory! My parents signed me up for youth hockey, and I loved it. I was a rink rat. I spent all of my time at the rink. Practice, games, open skating, flirting with the figure skating girls. I grew up there. One thing that always sort of saddened me was that my parents didn’t attend a lot of games.
My Mom came to more than my Dad. I didn’t make the connection that it wasn’t my play, or the sport, but the environment at the rink that was the problem. To this day my Mom still cringes about those games.
“Those parents were awful, the screaming, the swearing. I hated it.”
I think she is still jaded by it today. That was my first experience with the ‘Bad Parent.’
In sixth grade, we played a team a half hour from our home rink. I was walking with my teammates to the ice, coming out between the stands, when some of the opposing team’s parents started swearing at us and shouting racial epithets. I couldn’t believe it. I was in sixth grade. Now, being the smart ass that I was, I gave them the finger and fired back a slew of well-placed f-bombs. Maybe not the best thing, but, if you knew me personally, it wouldn’t shock you.
Welcome To The Dark Side Of Youth Sports
I, as well as most of you who read this, have witnessed the outrageous behavior of some parents during games. It is part of the culture now. I’ve done it. I’ve screamed at my child like a madman, argued with a coach and questioned a referee’s call.
I admit it, and I’m ashamed of it.
I once saw a referee clear out a sideline at a U11 game. He kicked out all of the parents. If they didn’t leave, the ref’s wouldn’t officiate any more. I’ve seen a youth umpire in little league have to be personally escorted to his car by the Chicago police because of some unhinged parents.
When you see these things, you begin to reflect on your behavior. At least I hope you do! We’ve probably all been to a tournament and noticed a bunch of parents on the sidelines with their solo cups drinking alcohol. Again guilty of it myself. I finally had my epiphany, my awakening, and it was video.
I started recording my son’s games. Let me tell you something; those little microphones pick up everything. And I mean everything! I heard other parents talking about other kids on the team, how much they didn’t like the coach and the relentless badgering of the referees.
I was mortified, I knew that could’ve been me at any event up to that point. From that day forward, when I watch a game, anyone’s game, I’m usually standing by myself and being quiet. Sure, there are times I want to yell at my kid or a ref, but then I remember watching the video.
I’ve asked my son if he hears the parents while playing. He said he barely hears it. But, he has said some of his teammates comment about so-and-so’s mom or dad entirely losing it and how embarrassing it is.
Think about that. The kids are playing a game they love, and they get embarrassed by their parents watching them. That is shameful.
The Beauty Of Youth Sports Is Innocence
We also know, in this day and age of travel teams and college dreams, that innocence is disappearing. I’m not hating on that. It’s just what it is. The beauty is that they are playing a game, learning about competition, working hard, fostering teamwork, and overcoming adversity. These are the things that will make our children well-rounded adults, and for me, that’s the whole point.
The only thing that genuinely puts that in jeopardy is terrible parental behavior. Screaming at a referee doesn’t help, ever. If anything, it probably hurts the team. These referees are people who have a passion for sports, so big that they take abuse to be around it.
I’ve asked the following questions to many a yelling parent: “Do you think that will work?” and “When was the last time that a ref replied to you and said, Thanks, you’re right! That wasn’t offsides or a crease violation.” It’s never happened!
Violence against referees is on the rise. That last sentence is surreal. Violence against the people who make it possible for our sons and daughters to play?
These people are moms, dads, students, lawyers, cops, teachers. Think about that. What if you were the ref? Do you think these referees go to games thinking, “I’m going to screw this team over” or “I’m going to miss a call on purpose because I don’t like that team.” They don’t.
These are ordinary people, and mistakes are made, some are better than others. How would you like it if someone came to your work and screamed at you for a perceived slight or a mistake? You wouldn’t. If a waiter or waitress screwed up your order, would you go ballistic screaming at them and threaten their well-being? I would hope not. So why do it to a referee?
I know it’s very personal. I’m there with you. Our sons and daughters are out there. We want the best for them. If this lousy behavior continues, it won’t matter. There will be no more games because no one will officiate.
Set The Example
So here it is, my plea to all of us lacrosse parents.
Let’s be better, let’s be an example to other sports’ parents. Let’s tone down the overheated sideline behavior. Let’s save the cocktails until after the tourney. Let’s not embarrass our children with our antics. We should strive to thank the referees after the game, not because of the job they did in the game, but because without them there would be no game at all. We can start a movement through the lacrosse community, maybe a phrase like:
“Relax, enjoy the game.”
We love this sport. Let’s make sure it’s always played.