This weekend I had a chance to take a break from coaching and be a fan. My 9 year-old niece’s team played in their very first soccer tournament. As a fan, I got to let everyone else do the work. I sat in my chair, relaxed, and generally enjoyed watching the girls diligently run around the soccer pitch. I could see them working through problems to find solutions, pushing themselves to work hard even though they were tired and, for the most part, having fun regardless of the score. Everything sports is supposed to be about. But one little girl in particular caught my attention. And she was everything sports is not supposed to be about.
Youth sports, so named because it is played by youth, is supposed to be the vehicle by which we teach children how to be self-motivated, work hard toward a team goal greater than themselves, and gain self-confidence. That sport may be soccer, baseball, football or any number of other sports, but the overall goal is still the same. But somehow that mission has been lost on so many people. During the match I listened to both of this little girl’s parents yell at her non-stop the entire time she was on the pitch. “Work harder!” Or, “Get to the ball!” They would yell for all to hear. It never stopped. This girl trotted on to the pitch excited and ready to play for start of the game. But as the yelling went on you could see her head sink lower and lower. She WAS working hard and she WAS going to the ball, but that day it was not meant to be. The message: no matter how hard she tried, she could not make her parents happy. They continued to prod her on as it became evident her team was not going to walk away with a win. And the look on her face said it all. “It’s all my fault.”
As a coach, there are many days I am convinced I talked to myself for 90 Minutes. I could have recited the Encyclopedia Britannica ‘POL – REE’ for all the girls cared. But then, when they think I am not listening, I hear all of the things I said. All of them. Not only were they listening, they were absorbing and repeating. I am reminded I must choose my words carefully and my moments wisely. Parents, fans, reluctant siblings, I urge you to do the same. I am not exactly sure how it because socially acceptable to verbally abuse adults playing and officiating sports. People berate athletes in a way they would never talk to a stranger they passed on the street.
“HEY!! JERK!! WHY DID YOU TRIP OVER THAT CRACK AND ALMOST SPILL COFFEE ON THAT TREE!?! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? HAVE YOU NEVER WALKED BEFORE? YOU SHOULD GO BACK TO CRAWLING!’
That actually seems like a really good way to get coffee “accidentally” spilled on you. And yet, people have no problem treating athletes that way. I REALLY don’t get how it became an okay thing to do to little kids. My advise? Well actually my advice would be to seek help. You need it. But in lieu of actual help, save your abuse for the pros. At least they are getting paid millions of dollars to deal with your clear insight. Your daughter just wants to know where the ice-cream truck is after the game.