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February 24, 2017

Can we get rid of the grown-ups in youth sports?

Image: Friday Night Tykes' Facebook page
Image: Friday Night Tykes’ Facebook page

I hate youth sports.

Let me rephrase that, I hate the adults involved in youth sports.

To be fair, most of the adults are pretty level-headed and see sports as a learning opportunity for their kids. It’s a fun way to keep them physically active, and moms and dads coach because they want to share their love of the game.

I like those people.

Unfortunately, too many others use youth sports to create a culture in which parents live vicariously through their children, failure is not an option, and children suffer physical and emotional abuse in the name of “play like a champion.” It hurts their kids, and it hurts mine.

I’ve seen way too much of that.

My two children started playing in church leagues as 4-year-olds. These programs taught them the basics of sports like soccer, t-ball and basketball in environments where effort and fun were celebrated. God bless the men and women who dealt with my preschool daughter picking flowers in the outfield and my kindergarten son who decided that the best way to control the basketball was to hold it close to his chest and run from everyone who tried to get it.

Things took an ugly turn when they began to participate in community programs. It wasn’t the competition on the field or court that got ugly, it was the parents on the sidelines.

Real life examples of parents behaving badly

During one of my daughter’s basketball games, I witnessed rabid grown-ups verbally assaulting 12-year-old girls with shouts such as “Knock her down,” and “Don’t let that little b_tch push you around.” Moms shrieked during free throws, and dads yelled expletives at the game officials while their daughters pulled hair and clawed the arms, hands and faces of girls on the opposing team – my daughter and her friends. Sadly, our team parents and coach created a competitive disadvantage for our girls because we all seemed psychologically well-balanced.

I’ve seen dads jerk their sons by the soccer jersey after the little guy had a bad game. I’ve seen morbidly obese parents scream, “Move your ass” when their 7-year-old baseball player wasn’t running the bases fast enough.

No one ever batted an eye during these situations. Unbeknownst to me, this is just part of the game, and it’s expected and accepted. If a parent dares to speak out about it, they will face the full wrath and fury of the youth sports gods.

I finally spoke out after I witnessed a football coach yell, scream and angrily smack his sixth grade son because the child centered the ball too soon and caused a fumble. A few seconds later, he barked at the boy to stop crying. Inexcusable offense? Not really, the dad-coach received a three game suspension for doing something that would be grounds for immediate termination of any middle school, high school or college coach.

Why regular moms and dads need to speak out

I really ticked off the Guardians of Youth Football. The offense was no big deal, because as an assistant coach said, “The kid had his helmet on and was not knocked to the ground or anything.” A league official took to social media to say, “Adults hit their children in anger all the time for discipline.” Another dad went as far as to justify the action by saying, “I personally was ripped by coaches, grabbed and cussed at in my years of sports. And I thank every one of those coaches. They molded me to be the man I am today.”

Seriously? That’s not coaching or parenting; that’s abuse – from every adult involved.

As the mom of a young athletes and the wife of a youth coach, I understand sports can be aggressive and players must be physically and mentally tough. However, I also understand these young athletes are still children, and children don’t learn when adults are yelling, hitting or behaving like frustrated toddlers.

My kids have been very fortunate to have had level-headed coaches who viewed sports as just games, not lifestyles. Nonetheless, I will be silently celebrating as my son plays his last football game this weekend. Should he choose to play next year, his next coach will not be a dad; it will be a middle school teacher who doesn’t think the athleticism of seventh-grade boys is a reflection of his self-worth.

Thank goodness. I’m way too old to put up with another year of youth sports.

Let me rephrase that. I’m way to old to put up with the juvenile adults involved in youth sports.

 


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