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Sports Parenting

The last six months have afforded me the opportunity to observe a vast array of sports parents in their natural habitat. Now, I’m not really getting the hard-core folks yet because Simon is playing in junior-junior, non-competitive leagues. So I can look forward to an up-close and personal* view of the insane screamer at a later date.

For the most part, it’s been entertaining to watch the parade of parents and kids and deduce their dynamics. I’ve seen the competitive parents and their equally competitive kids, the coach and the slightly overzealous/aggressive kid, the kids whose parents are trying out a sport just to see what happens, the parents who just want their kids to socialize and get some exercise, and the parents using team sports as some sort of physical or emotional therapy.

The results have been mixed, but I’ve mostly reserved judgment. Some of the more competitive parents could better restrain their kids, and some of the parents of kids with special needs maybe could have stepped in and helped more, but I understand that the former is fighting their innate nature and the latter is desperately seeking a respite. And honestly, the kid who’s bored or can’t focus for more than ten minutes is par for the course at this age and can be downright entertaining to watch.

But there is one parent I do not get at all: The parent who forces his or her child to play a sport the kid clearly is miserable playing and won’t walk back the decision. In Simon’s current T-ball league there is a child I’ll call Alex who hates everything about T-ball. He cries—wails more like it—at every game and every practice, sometimes multiple times. He doesn’t just cry if he misses a hit or drops a ball, he cries for no apparent reason other than his not wanting to be there. Between the sobs, you can sometimes make out sentences like “How many more minutes do I have to stay here?” or “I hate T-ball and want to go home.”

This kid has not had fun, not learned much of anything, and made no new friends. At every game, play stops for a bit while Alex has his melt-down and coaches tend to him. Sometimes he comes out of the game and returns after his parents talk him down. Sometimes he comes back while still wailing and has to calm down on his down. The behavior causes other kids and parents to stare, and many of us assumed early on that the child had some sort of emotional disorder.

Now let me describe the dad. He comes to every game and practice wearing a baseball jersey or tee. It’s always for a specific team, frequently has a specific player’s name on the back, and is often is the official jersey that costs around a hundred bucks. So dad is a baseball nut, and Dad has decided that Alex will learn to love the game no matter how much he hates it now or how much he interrupts play with crying fits.

This dad makes me very judgy. Hey buddy, you love baseball? Awesome. Go watch it. Go play it. Go buy stuff about it. But don’t force your kid to play it and let him ruin some of the fun for everyone else. Even if you don’t care about the rest of us, I’m betting your odds of turning Alex around are greater if you cut your losses now rather than make him wail and sob through two more weeks.

And if Alex never changes his mind? Deal with it. You got to be a kid once, and now it’s your own child’s turn. Really. I mean, you don’t see me forcing my son to draw or knit.**

*Readers of a certain persuasion and vintage may recall interview segments with athletes during televised Olympics coverage in the 80s. They called these segments “Up Close and Personal”, to which my mom responded with a cringe and audible correction, “You mean ‘Up Close and In Person’ Doesn’t anyone know grammar any more?”

**And I don’t. But when Simon sat next to me at the kitchen island last night to check on Harmon, the eaglet I view via a web-cam, while sipping his cup of (decaf) chai, I did get a charge out of it. So I sympathize with Alex’s dad’s desire, just not his m.o.

One Response to “Sports Parenting”

  1. bethnbobinnc says:

    It sounds like this guy needs to get a grip but there may be something else going on here as well. Evan recently begged us to sign him up for t-ball. He has been totally gung-ho about it until his first game the other evening. His team was having a hard time fielding and he wanted to quit. I’m sure I looked like a horrible mother, but I made him continue to play even though he clearly did not want to. After a major melt down at second base involving the throwing of his mit, etc., I removed him from the field and I explained to him that he had made a committment to play with his team and that he had to finish the game. At the very least, he had to sit on the bench with his team and cheer them on. I agree that if your kid didn’t want to be there in the first place, it’s cruel to make them play. But, if they said they wanted to do it, it’s a teachable moment about follow through and how to be a part of a team. Sounds like this kid wasn’t interested from the start…..

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