Recently, video surfaced of a physical fight that broke out between parents at a baseball game for 7-year-old children in Colorado. The cause of the fighting? Parents of the players disagreed with the 13-year-old umpire’s decisions. As video of the incident circulated over social media and even national news outlets, many people appear to be shocked that adults would display such terrible (and illegal) behavior over kids playing a youth sport.
I’m not shocked. Not even a little. As the parent of a 13-year-old baseball player, I have spent years watching the antics of parents at youth sporting events. Although I’ve never seen a full on brawl between the adults, I have seen parents, coaches, and even grandparents be ejected from games for heckling and arguing with child and volunteer umpires and referees. I’ve seen adults have to step between coaches and parents before fists started to fly. I’ve seen people’s cars get keyed by other parents over disputes that happened between their kids on the field. I’ve seen parents encourage their 8-year-old child to “get back” at another player by trying to deliberately hurt them. I’ve seen friendships and entire youth sports volunteer boards be torn apart because of disagreements about a game.
So, when I see video of parents resorting to violence, I’m not even a little surprised. Bad behavior from adults is one of the primary reasons why my son will never ump a baseball game without one of his parents there — just in case the adults lose sight of the fact that they should be acting like adults.
What is the cause of such behavior from adults? Perhaps it is all the stuff lurking beneath the surface. Maybe it’s the murmurs on the sidelines, the passive aggressive posts on social media, or the tendency of adults to try to pull the kids into their adult drama that creates this pressure cooker environment. Eventually all of this build-up leads to total chaos from the adults involved with youth sports.
In short, adults simply are forgetting to be adults. Just last week while I cheered on my 13-year-old son’s flag football team, the mom standing beside me called the coach (my husband) the “R” word. Yes, the “R” word. Her friends standing with her quickly leaned in towards her, whispering and motioning towards me, clearly encouraging her to be quiet as the coach’s wife was standing within ear shot. “Oh I know. I don’t care,” she said in response. Nice. Her son is good friends with my son and she and I are Facebook “friends.” Had I not been able to have the wherewithal to take some deep breaths, find a way to have compassion for her lack of understanding, and excuse her poor choice of words, people would have seen a very ugly version of myself.
A few days later, I sat in a restaurant for a birthday dinner with friends and suddenly the party went to shambles as another adult approached our table and began arguing with one of the party-goers. Restaurant patrons turned to stare, members of our party left abruptly, and I wouldn't have been surprised if fists had started to fly. What were they arguing about? What else? Youth sports. In a restaurant. At a dinner party.
The truth of the matter is, I’ve been in the shoes of these adults that lose their cool. I’ve stood on the sidelines and wondered why my kids weren’t playing as much as others. I’ve seen coaches favor their own kids and restrict kids from playing as a way to get back at them for something unrelated to the game. I’ve been frustrated. I’ve asked questions. I’ve had strong feelings towards coaches and other parents. I’ve wanted to approach other parents and coaches in public and tell them what I really think of them. But, I don’t. I’ve never stood on the sidelines and loudly called someone the R word. I’ve never been kicked out of the stands. I’ve never resorted to physical violence.
It’s hard in times like these to not just pull my kids out of every sport and move on with our life. But, the kids love it. At the end of the day, they don’t care much about bad calls or playing time or winning and losing. They don’t care about taking sides in a town-wide battle between parents who disagree about a selection of a coach. They just want to have fun. They just want to be kids.
If we look hard, beyond the headlines of brawls at youth sporting events, beyond the passive aggressive social media posts, beyond the sideline comments, we can still see the heart of youth sports. Despite all the drama perpetuated by parents, at the core, youth sports are still a magical thing.
During this same week as the baseball game brawl, sideline “R” word, and the restaurant argument, I also bore witness to some pretty amazing moments. An 11-year-old fell into the end zone to catch a game-winning touchdown pass and ran over to the stands, huge smile on his face, shouting “Mom!!!! Did you see that??? I caught it!! We won!!” It was pure joy for that little boy, his mother, and his entire team. Even the adults cheering for the other team were smiling back at the boy.
I also witnessed a 13-year-old baseball player who had been having strike out after strike out the past few weeks finally hit a bomb to left field that drew every parent and kid to their feet and resulted in another huge smile from a child, his parents, his teammates, and the adults around him.
I read a story about a baseball team, umpire, and coaches who decided to let a pitcher with a broken leg enter an inning for one batter to be able to say he played in a very important game.
My own son, who has been restricted from throwing for the past 8 months due to an injury, finally got the clearance to start a return to throwing program and was able to warm up the right fielder before this weekend’s games. A small step, but huge for him. Even the adults around him made note and congratulated him. They knew how big of a deal it was for him and for his team that he was able to begin returning to the game he loves.
I witnessed friendships being formed and strengthened on the sidelines between parents. I witnessed volunteers giving up their nights to run scoreboards for championship little league games and announce players names over the speaker.
I witnessed childhood happening all around me and it was truly spectacular.
These moments, the ones filled with pure joy and heart, not the moments filled with drama, are the ones that define youth sports. These are the moments that deserve to be circulated on social media and the evening news. These are the stories that matter. These are the stories that prove that we have not lost at youth sports, after all. The magic is still there. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder for it.
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