Since there have been children, there have been zealous parents who advocate for them.
In the past few years, however, that zealousness has curdled into outright obnoxiousness. And while schools and functions are rife with horror stories of helicopter parents, the damage from this neurotic behaviour is particularly jaw-dropping in sports.
A dad punches a coach for not playing his son. A mom decks another mom for yelling at her daughter. Two fathers are ejected from the stands for getting into a fistfight.
Unfortunately, I’m not making up any of these stories, they’re examples I sourced from memory. I have been witnessing these out-of-control actions since my now-grown son played t-ball back in the day. Adults who should have known better, who should have tried to model an appropriate response to a close call, instead acted like toddlers having a tantrum in the cereal aisle. I’ve see it with my own eyes, heard it with my own ears, and have been told about countless other incidents I didn’t witness, sometimes from children embarrassed by their parents’ behaviour.
And I can tell you with certainty – it’s grown worse over time.
Let me preface this with qualifying statements: my oldest son played minor baseball from the time he was six until he graduated, he was on the school softball and track teams, and received athletic awards each year of high school. He was never in hockey.
My younger son is much more involved in sports, if that’s possible; last year he played on two baseball teams, he plays school and recreational basketball, is on the track and cross country teams at TEC, and just finished his second year of Peewee “C” hockey.
I have spent the better part of my life taxiing to and from games and practices for everything from house league rec teams to provincial “A” level championship seasons, and the bag of hockey gear comes out of my trunk just in time to be replaced with the bag of baseball gear and folding lawn chairs. I have lived at ball parks and rinks and fields of all kinds, so I feel qualified to weigh in on this subject.
Unruly parents have gotten so bad, so loud, so violent and underhanded at times, that youth sports is kind of a scary thing. Jeering from the stands is the least of people’s worries nowadays. In the era of social media, dirty looks and even police escorts out of a facility are not effective deterrents to a vitriolic, viral Facebook post aimed at the monster who wronged their little superstar in some way, usually a well-meaning organization or volunteer. Hell hath no fury like the parent of a kid who didn’t make the team, and someone has to pay.
Is it any wonder why organizations must have a hard time recruiting and retaining volunteers and officials, considering the amount of verbal abuse I have witnessed some of them endure? A lot of them don’t get paid a cent; they are there because they love the sport and want to give kids the opportunity to play. Instead of enjoyment and gratitude, they get called jerks and have their every decision questioned.
And look, I get that emotions run high during a big game. It’s easy to sit in judgement and tell people to behave like adults – until you’ve driven seven hours and spent a million dollars on hotels and find yourself a spectator in a gold medal game. Things get said, and it’s no one’s finest hour, especially if your team loses. Youth sports, be it hockey or baseball or anything else, is a huge investment of time and money for the whole family, and I understand the feeling of getting worked up because so much hard work has been for naught because of a bad call. It’s frustrating and demoralizing.
It is those moments, though, that say more about us than we’d like. Misbehaving parents with wild expectations and no perspective have to shoulder every bit of the blame for the state of youth sports. Living vicariously through their children, hoping to score a spot on the elite team or (be-still-my heart) a professional contract, they act as if every game were the World Series or Stanley Cup final. They’re not. And except for a few, the kids don’t even care, they just want to have fun and play with their friends.
It’s the parents who need a time-out. It’s embarrassing.