Today was a beautiful August morning, which I had truly been enjoying. That is until now!
As I write this, I am one of the lucky ones. You see I Live on a small lake in Southern California. In this little Hamlet, my computer is right by a large picture window that looks over the lake where today and every day, I look at Swans, a family of Ducks, a flock of Canadian Geese and once in a while, an Egret, or two… oh! Oh! There are two Kayaks passing under my window right now!
I imagine I probably feel like Henry David Thoreau as he wrote about his beloved Walden Pond…only one problem, a little rain has fallen today in the form of the front page of the local newspaper. Our village is so small, that paper is appropriately named the Acorn. Someday, when it gets bigger, it might actually grow to be the Oak Tree.
In the meantime, it brings us up to date on what’s happening in our Village. Today’s headline was quite disturbing. It read, “Post-game puncher K.O.’d in court.” The sub-headline went on to say “Judge orders him to pay victim $800,000”.
The reason for this heavy punishment was because a parent aggravated by the fact that his son had not, (at least in his eyes), enjoyed enough playing time in the game that just ended. As a result, the irate father attacked the coach as he was getting into his car in the parking lot.
He set upon the unsuspecting coach and sucker-punched him. The coach fell to the pavement, hit his head and to this day he suffers from cognitive issues, lost his job, has difficulty putting complete sentences together, cannot read for any length of time and still is in his early thirty’s, his eyesight remains impaired.
Where this happened is at a small local Ball Field about a half- mile from my house. Which brings me to the reason for this story. I think it fits easily into the series of Fan articles that I have been writing.
Many years ago, I was having lunch with two of my closest friends who have since passed on, Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe and John Chafetz. At the time, John had recently been appointed AYSO Commissioner. We were there to celebrate his good fortune. In the job only three months, John stunned us when he said, “ I plan to quit!”.
Realizing that I was looking for something to do, he asked if I would be interested in replacing him.
It was intriguing! Both Ernie and I asked why he was quitting.
John explained that there are thousands of volunteers. However, the parents were impossible to deal with. Argumentative, overly proud of little Johnny as he was the best at everything etc.
The mothers were the worst. They always refused to listen to any reasoning.
Unfortunately, this parental interference trickles down directly to the playing field.
Imagine a beautiful sunny afternoon at a local youth soccer match. The game starts simply enough in an atmosphere that is both enjoyable and exciting. The children are playing their hearts out running up and down the field. Suddenly little Paul, or Suzie accidentally trips and quickly gets up unhurt. But the player’s parent erupts in a torrent of invectives claiming their child was fouled.
In fact, the parent gets louder and when the coach goes over to calm he, or she, down, the parent hauls off and whacks the coach, he is met with a punch… a fight ensues, the game is halted and everyone goes home disappointed.
We have all seen it with our own eyes where a parent’s obnoxious behavior escalates to irrational violence. Like so many parents when my children were young, I coached many of their teams. My motto was simple! Teach the youngsters the best you can, let everyone play and enjoy the learning experience.
To me, that’s what youth sports should be about. However, there are too many adults who are there for other reasons. The wrong reasons. All too often they become overinvolved. As a rule, there are warning signs that make them easy to spot at a youth game.
There’s the danger of the overzealous parent. He/she is the one who becomes involved in the child’s efforts and may not be able to distinguish between his/her own needs and those of the child. Sports is often more important to the parent than to the child.
The clearest and scariest sign that the parent is merging with the child is when the parent enters the “We” zone… “We won today”, or “We have a tough opponent next week”.
Many “We” parents, especially those who have never achieved in sports, live vicariously through their children. It’s healthy to encourage the kids. It’s normal and healthy to be excited for their successes and be disappointed for their failures.
Yet, sharing the child’s participation should not be… living through them.
It’s tough being a kid these days. They have a lot on their shoulders: school, family, social participation. When the parent becomes over invested in the child’s sports, an extra responsibility is put on their young shoulders… one they do not need!
The worst thing that happens is when a parent loses perspective. The seductiveness of sports means to many that their child might bring fame and fortune. Who knows Johnny may be the player to break Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game streak, Ted William’s .406 average, or score that all important tie-breaking goal in the Olympics.
This kind of dream and the pressure it puts on the child cause many parents to lose perspective. Such loss of perception has caused many heinous moments connected to youth sports.
There are many cases of undoing the good that organized youth sports are trying to achieve.
In Stockton, California, youth football coach Cory Petero rammed and hurt a player who had just cleanly tackled his son. He was charged with felony child abuse.
A father in Philadelphia pulled a .357 Magnum on his son’s football coach. He was enraged that his son was not getting enough playing time in an Under-7 Pee Wee football game…WOW!
How about the T-ball coach in a Pittsburg suburb who received a six year sentence for offering one of his players, an 8-year-old boy, $25 to throw the ball at a teammate during warm-ups. The teammate was a mildly autistic 9-year-old. The coach felt if the 9-year-old was injured so he would be too sore to play in a playoff game… WOW!
The 8-year-old testified that he first hit him in the groin. The irate coach told him to throw another, only harder. This time, following instructions, he threw the ball at his head, hitting his ear. Yet, the sad thing is that this is T-ball where teams don’t even have pitchers, the young children hit off a tee. Still winning was so important to this coach who had two of his own children on the team, he had one of his own players beaned.
The coach was convicted of conspiracy to commit simple assault and corruption of minors. At the sentencing the judge was so incensed, he sent the errant coach directly to prison.
The epitome of the seriousness and the rise of this type of activity is the Massachusetts Hockey Father, angered at another parent during a practice feeling that the man had pushed his son he attacked the other father after practice with a Hockey Stick. The victim never regained consciousness.
Such bad parental behavior is a severe problem. It brings about pressure-filled, unhappy situations for everybody involved. Instead of being supportive, many parents become verbally and physically abusive. I have an idea, but I don’t know if it will work… let’s try it!
The by-laws of every league should contain a stipulation that before a child is allowed to sign up to participate, all parents should be mandated to attend a seminar on good sportsmanship and good behavior taught by a coach who has already been screened and accepted…. Plus a child psychologist paid for by the league.
Once evaluated, the parent, if qualified, can be part of the coaching staff, or allowed to attend. I like the idea, but I know it can never pass.
In addition, I go back to the days I held an Executive position with the Los Angeles Lakers. At the time Pat Riley, the great coach was the team’s 6th man.
Whenever a request came in from any organization for the Lakers to provide a speaker, Pat was the first to have his hand up. He was a one-man goodwill ambassador. This gives me an idea.
Every contract in every professional Major league should have a clause that each team member… players, coaches etc.; must do so many hours visiting youth teams in meetings before and during each season. The message should be one of cooperation, team play and togetherness.
This alone won’t solve the myriad of problems that manifest themselves every season, but it could go a long way toward helping. After all, these are professionals both the parents and children look up to and aspire to emulate. In fact, the various commissioners’ offices could make this a negotiating mandate.
What do you think?
SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!