Lessons in good sportsmanship for parents and kids


T Baseball Player (2)

Taryn winding up for her sporting debut

By Kathy P. Behan

After the relaxing days of summer, we’re now catapulted into the frenetic phase of fall. This is particularly traumatic for me because I love the summer. The weather’s good (for the most part), it’s nice having the kids around (usually), and I don’t have any work commitments (I always take these months off). So it is with great reluctance that I abandon my summer schedule (or lack thereof), and adopt a back-to-school routine. Along with getting used to the new bus and school schedules though, we also have to acclimate ourselves to our sons’ sports’ practices and games. Luckily our daughter is too young to enter this particular scheduling fray.

Even though these activities add a healthy and fun element to our kids’ lives, keeping track of them sure does muck up the kitchen calendar. It would probably take a hieroglyphics expert to be able to decipher all the notations in September alone!

As we all know, working out the logistics of who needs to go where and when, and equipped with what, is practically a full-time job. The process is complicated by the fact that car pool duty is only one of the many jobs that fall to parents, and they often have other kids in tow. Imagine how fascinating it is for siblings to watch hour-and-a-half long soccer and hockey practices. But I’m not complaining. Sports add an important dimension to kids’ lives. They learn many valuable lessons about sportsmanship, competition and team play.

Most of the time, I like what they’re learning — but not always. Unfortunately along with the good, kids are also exposed to the seedier side of sports. They’ve seen how petty and mean people can be. They’ve been taunted by their opponents, and occasionally, been teased by members of their own team for making a mistake. The worst part is that poor sportsmanship is not just relegated to children. At times, parental behavior runs the gamut from mere pettiness to outright cruelty.

At the petty end, there are hockey parents who actually time how long their kids are on the ice! Even though the coaches are trying their best to have all the players participate equally, some kids are inadvertently shortchanged.

If a child is “warming the bench” for an inordinate period of time on a regular basis, a parent certainly has every right to complain. But if, more likely, this is a one-shot deal, parents should realize that despite all the best intentions, this kind of thing happens.

Parents’ cruelty

Pettiness pales though, in comparison to the outright cruelty and stupidity of some parents. I’ve heard spectators yell, “Kill him!” at a player — an 8-year-old boy — on the opposing team. And watched in shock, as fathers insulted and jeered at a child who had just begun to play hockey. It’s bad enough for a youngster to be insulted by strangers, but it’s even more devastating when these comments come from their own parents.

“You must be so proud of John,” one father remarked to another in front of his own son. “He really knows how to play this game. Not like my klutzy kid.”

Obviously, parents aren’t perfect, and I know first-hand how the adrenalin can flow when you’re watching a game. But sheesh, have some control. Granted, I do a lot of yelling, but my comments are usually directed at my youngsters on the sidelines (“Stop doing that!” “Keep your hands to yourself!” “Get off the field!”), not at my child playing in the game.

I try my best not to talk to my “player” until after the game is over. I do this because: (a) I frankly don’t know a heck of a lot about the rules of most sports and (b) I figure that’s what the coaches are for.

Unfortunately, a lot of other people don’t agree. They consider themselves self-appointed experts, giving their sons and daughters, teammates, and coaches an earful at any and every opportunity. Luckily, their comments, though poorly timed, are often innocuous, but this isn’t always the case. Occasionally a parent gets carried away. One father, incensed that his son’s team had lost yet another game, got into a shouting, cursing argument with a coach in front of his son, and most of the team.

And then there was the father who stood up in the stands and yelled for his son to disregard what the coach had told him and to play “center” instead of the defensive position he had been assigned. The result? Besides setting a shockingly poor example, these dopes may also end up discouraging some kids from continuing to play a sport, and may keep some really good people from becoming — or continuing to be — coaches. After all, who wants to deal with these lunatics?

Speaking of coaches, all too often, we take good coaches for granted. We don’t give them enough thanks and support. They usually have full-time jobs, and family commitments, yet they generously give up their free time. They try their best to do right by our children, trying to teach and motivate them. With a few well-chosen words, they have the ability to make every child feel great about themselves. The time, effort, energy and expertise that they willingly expend on our children’s behalf should be gratefully, and not critically received.

So coaches, thank you, and I’ll try not to yell so loudly on the sidelines.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer, specializing in health and family issues.

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