On Saturdays, I play soccer with a regular group of guys. We use any open field we can find. That got harder early in the Autumn, when the youth soccer leagues began their seasons. Once we saw those kids marching toward us wearing matching uniforms, flanked by coaches carrying thick playbooks, we made way. Those people are vicious. The parents are even worse.
The world was reminded of that a month ago, when a referee in Beverly Hills turned in his whistle with a blaze-of-glory email that left parents everywhere cheering in solidarity:
"Your behaviour on the sidelines has, for far too long, been disrespectful and you are damaging the children," Krut wrote. "You have said nasty things to and about too many referees and it must come to an end."
Krut wrote that while the "vast majority" of those on the sidelines are "wonderful people," he added that he has come to "despise" many of the offenders due to their "[despicable]" and "threatening" behaviour.
"I can no longer be involved with so many people who feel so entitled," he wrote.
If your kid plays sports, you've met a fair share of entitled and despicable adults stomping around the sidelines. The problem is so widespread that it's spawned companies trying to defuse it.
If you haven't encountered game-day maniacs, well, I've got some bad news for you: it's you. But don't despair! You can change the ways of the man in mirror. Here's how.
Remember, This Is Supposed to Be Fun
More than likely, you're not watching the early days of a hall-of-fame career. Very few athletes make it to professional ranks. Sure, you miss every shot you don't take. But let that one-in-a-million shot be a happy accident instead of the goal.
The Seattle Times ran a piece recently about high school coaches guiding each other through difficult conversations with parents who are banking on raising a superstar. These folks spend thousands of dollars sending their kids to private coaches and summer camps, and they expect to see a return on that investment with a college scholarship. Sounds like those kids are having a hell of a lot of fun!
Soccer, basketball, cricket, football - these are games, and if they aren't fun to play, there's no value in them. If you have the means to afford a private shooting coach for your little baller, you have the means to fund a university savings account. Let the ball game be a game, and nothing more.
If You Can't Scream Anything Nice, Don't Scream Anything at All
Feel free to yell, "Great defence, Timmy!" If you find yourself creeping toward, "How could you miss an open goal?!" or "Ref, you're a dumbass!" then you've gone too far. Time to practice a little Bruce Banner anger management.
You think you can do better than that ref using his free time to chase clumsy grade schoolers around a half-sized soccer field? Well, get out there and show us, Big Talker!
There are a thousand excuses not to do this, but if you're serious about supporting youth sports, there's no better way to prove it than with your time. Learn how to be a referee, either locally or online. Volunteer to assist the coach during practice - as long as you can do so without undercutting his instruction.
Once you experience the behaviour of parents from the perspective of the people who are working diligently to make the games happen, you'll behave yourself on game day. You'll also be more willing to practice active sideline diplomacy when other parents get out of hand.
Play Your Own Sports
Get out there and get sweaty! It's a healthy and appropriate way to express your competitive impulses. I think many irate parents showing their asses at youth games are gripped by voyeuristic competition. If that's ringing a bell in your head, do something about it.
Even better: arrange to have your kids watch you play so that you can parent through demonstration. When they see you drop a pass or get nutmegged, they will realise you're an imperfect athlete - just like them. And they will watch to see how you bounce back from adversity.
If you can't play the sports you love, the next best thing is to watch games with your kids. Believe it or not, I learned the importance of this from a Duke fan. She's used to seeing her team demolish opponents, but she does it with class. When her kids get too nasty in their comments, she reminds them, "We cheer, but we don't mock."
Stay In The Moment
Stop stewing about the traffic you battled. Let go of the argument you had with your spouse that seemed to be about burnt toast but was really about ennui. Don't compose a grocery list in your head.
Just watch your kid. Is she chasing a butterfly instead of getting back on defence? That's cute. Was he staring at an aeroplane instead of the football soaring toward his noggin? What a goofball. Win or lose, your child will look to you for a reaction. A daydreaming kid who lost 27 to 3 needs a high five and an orange slice. A crying child who lost a squeaker after running her arse off needs a hug. Neither needs a bellowing jackass chasing down a referee.
Sometimes your toast gets burnt. Sometimes the other guy is faster and stronger. Whatever moment life sends your way, let it be the moment you're in.