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Kids and Sports: How Adults Can Ruin It
A question on HubPages today got me thinking about youth sports. My mind drifted back to the days when I was a kid and my experiences in Little League baseball. I remember the fun was less than it could have been because of some of the adults that were involved. While it was an overall good experience, some of their actions are still a stain on my memory.
Now I realize that if you ask most any kid, they will tell you that adults can lessen the fun of a lot of things. Usually it is because a parent is stopping their kid from doing something that is dangerous or stupid, or probably both. That's ok, the kids will understand later on when they become parents themselves. Especially when their kids become rebellious teenagers!
That's not what I'm talking about here though. This article is about how adults, through the things they say and do, ruin participation in sports for kids. I am talking about younger kids here, say elementary to early middle school age. I understand that as kids get older, more responsible direction needs to be given to them as they reach higher levels of competition. Responsible direction, being the key.
But for the younger kids it needs to be fun. They are just learning a particular sport and they are learning about teamwork. They are also finding out if playing sports is for them or not. Participation in youth sports can be a great experience but I know it isn't for everyone.
Before I move on, let me say that I know the “adult” behavior I'm about to describe occurs in many youth sports, not just baseball. But since that is what I remember most, I'll use Little League baseball as my example. You can insert whatever sport you want in place of baseball.
“Throw the bum out”!
We'll start with the “fans”. Usually these are parents, siblings, or family friends. Most are great and encourage the kids in a positive manner. But there's always at least one. If you've got kids that have, or do, participate in sports then you know who I'm talking about. Maybe it was someone's drunken father. Maybe it was a player's “overenthusiastic” mother. Maybe (I hope not) it was you.
The problem “fans” can do a lot of damage to a young kid's sporting experience. Imagine a kid who is just learning to hit the ball or to catch it and make the play. They're trying to do the best they can so they don't let their teammates down. That's a kind of pressure they probably haven't experienced before. They feel bad enough on their own if they make an error. They don't need some “fan” pointing it out to them. Talk about making a kid feel bad.
When that happens it gets replayed later by the kids when they are together in the neighborhood (or even at school). For example, they'll say “Man, so-and-so's dad is a real a**hole. Did you hear him yelling at the game yesterday”. Whichever kids were the victim of the yelling get to re-live it again with their friends. It's worse yet if it was one of their parents. Yeah, kids talk like that, don't fool yourself into thinking they don't. Think back to when you were a kid and you'll know what I mean.
My mom once showed me an article about this very subject that was in our local paper. The writer had been at one of his kid's ball games. A young kid was at bat. With each swing and miss some “fan” had yelled and booed. Finally, on the third strike, the fan had yelled “throw the bum out” as the kid went back to the bench crying. The game was no longer fun for him.
Throw the bum out is right. The bum who is supposed to be a grown-up.
The coaches I had ranged from great to, well, absent. I had some great coaches who really helped us along. They understood that we were kids and this was about having fun. If we won, that was great too, but having fun was most important. See, they knew the secret of sports participation for young kids. If they have fun, they'll come back again next year. If they don't have fun, they won't be back, but they will find some other type of fun. It may not be good fun.
At the other end of the spectrum was a coach who didn't even show up for our games. We suspected the evils of drink as the reason, but that was just a guess. When he didn't show up, someone's father or brother became our “guest coach for the evening”. They usually did the best they could but they only had a couple of hours with us and then it would be someone else the next game. Our motivation took a serious nose dive under these circumstances. Many of us didn't come back the following year. The teams were all re-picked each year, so we knew we probably wouldn't be in the same situation, but by then most of us had said the heck with it.
I've also seen some coaches take a "win at all costs" approach with their team of young kids. These were the worst. They pushed kids that were probably 10 years old, give or take a couple of years, like they were in the running for the World Series. I think their highly inflated egos must have been at stake. I wasn't ever on one of those teams, but I didn't see many smiles on the players who were. They weren't having any fun.
Coaches can have a big impact, both good and bad, on young players, but they will come and go. It is what you say and what you do as a parent that your kid will remember the most. The behavior of some parents falls into the descriptions listed for fans and coaches. Don't be one of the jerk fans when you're watching your kid play. Give positive encouragement to all the kids. You don't want to be the parent the kids are talking about the next day.
If you're helping your kid learn the sport, don't be overbearing. Your 10 year old will not be a star by age 12. They are just learning. Let them have fun doing it. Then, if they enjoy the sport and stick with it, they may be a star at some higher level of competition some day. But also understand that sports aren't for everyone and that is fine too.
I remember the kids on my teams that came from homes where they were neglected, ignored or abused. That was in the days when you just didn't talk about those things. They were often the ones who didn't try very hard. I didn't understand then, but I do now. There was no self-esteem, and no reward or praise in their lives. Baseball was just another thing they did with low expectations. They just went through the motions. They weren't having any fun.
Don't Ruin It
Time for self reflection (don't you hate that). Are you described in this article? Good fan or bad fan? Good coach or bad coach? Good parent or (dare I say) bad parent? Be a positive influence. Don't be one of the bums.