The words disgusted me when I read them:
“I waited for you after the game, but no show. Probably a good thing for you! I will see you someday.”
They were the conclusion to a rant posted by a parent of a 6th grader at my children’s school, following a 5th and 6th grade girls basketball game this week. In the Facebook post, the parent complained that the referees of the contest were “two clowns” who “made it so hard on these girls to win” that his child didn’t want to play anymore. He went on to address the refs: “…shame on you! You did not do your job and you decided a game you had no right to. You should both quit and sit in your chairs at home and pretend you were good.”
Followed by the bit about waiting to confront the two refs, who probably made $20 apiece working the game that afternoon.
Boy oh boy, do I have feelings on this one, sports fans, so buckle up.
Our kids need us to do better.
I’m going to say it louder for the latecomers in the back:
OUR KIDS NEED US TO DO BETTER.
I get it, we played high school basketball or volleyball or lacrosse back in the day. Maybe we took home state championships or earned all-region honors in the 90s or early 2000s. Our names are in bold letters on school records banners covering the walls of gymnasiums.
Sports played a big part in our formative years, and we loved being part of those teams, the thrill of the competition, the fulfillment of personal and collective achievement.
And our kids are watching and listening and learning about sportsmanship—not from us recounting the glory days of 20 or 30 years ago—but from our example.
Do we really want that lesson to be one of victimhood and blame? Where we blatantly threaten youth sports officials because we don’t like how they called a game? Where we constantly criticize and challenge our kids’ coaches over everything from starting lineups to play calling? Where we sit in the bleachers hurling expletives and insults when the chips don’t fall the way we’d like, then take to social media to blast our grievances to the world, empowered by the false anonymity of a keyboard?
Do we want our selfish legacy as youth sports parents to overshadow the joy and character building our kids experience by participating in youth sports?
Do we want to teach our kids to worship athletics—at the expense of respect and humility and good, old-fashioned hard work?
It’s time to face the reality that it’s a road we’re flirting with taking as parents. The news is filled with stories of good coaches quitting over meddling parents, of a perpetual shortage of qualified officials.
And our kids aren’t the ones who shoulder the blame for either.
Parents, it’s up to us to change course—and our kids deserve, so badly, for us to try.
We have the unique opportunity as parents of a digital native generation to not only show up physically to our kids’ sporting events with respect—but to reinforce it by showing up with respect online. One day (if not already) I promise, our kids will creep us on Facebook. They’ll read the Instagram posts we made about them. They’ll not only remember us yelling in the stands of that elementary basketball game, they’ll read, in our own words, how we tried to confront the officials in the parking lot afterward.
What will they think?
We may not be able to will our children on to championship games or most valuable player recognitions, but we do have the ability to do something infinitely more powerful: teach them that youth sports truly isn’t about who wins or loses—but how we ALL play and watch and respect every single person involved in the game.