One of the great joys of coaching young people is seeing the best of people. At 11 years old there is no real malice, no intent to do harm. They are just trying to figure out their place in this world and learning soccer. The kids observe everything going on around them, take it all in, mimic behavior and work on making it their own. Unfortunately, one of the great horrors of coaching is seeing the worst of people. I am not sure what about the sports environment makes people lose their minds, but last week, for the whole world to see, adults were really mean to children.
One adult, someone I will assume is the parent of a young daughter, threatened quite loudly and emphatically, to punch, yes punch, an 11 year old girl while she was playing soccer. Yet another older person — I hesitate to use the word adult — berated a different girl for her physical appearance and ability to perform on the field. Needless to say there was some confusion, tears and a little bit of anger on my bench that day. Adults were actually bullying children!
My first instinct was to run across the field and show these people what being punched by a person twice their size feels like — I am quite a bit bigger than most folks. But with 12 sets of young eyes looking to me for an example, I instead used this as a teachable moment to paint a bigger picture. Goal Number 5 for every game is “Be Good to Each Other.” I asked the girls if they saw why this goal is so important. There are mean people in this world. There just are. And we cannot control those people, we can only control how we react. I explained when people are mean we tighten our circle, be good to each other, and pick up out teammates.
I didn’t get to coach a whole lot of soccer that day. Hopefully, though, the girls learned what soccer and all other sports really exist to teach. I am curious if anyone else has ever experienced fan behavior quite that bad. If you have, please comment below and remember to sign up to receive updates and forward this to someone who might enjoy it.