I have been spending eye-watering amounts of time at football fields the last month or so. As the mother of three boys I tend to spend most of my waking hours at sports venues in general. After many different teams competing in many different towns, I have come to one steadfast conclusion: Adults are messing up youth sports.
What? You think I might be over-stating things? Look no further than a crew of referees in Mandeville, LA. The exact details haven’t been released, but what we do know is that two of the game’s referees were escorted off the field mid-game. No, they were not in danger from overzealous fans. No, the coaches had not threatened to show them what a hold looks like in the parking lot after the game. Nope. The referees were arrested because they were threatening the police. Yup, that’s right. They were arrested. In the middle of the game. How can you expect people to respect your calls if you can’t manage to muster enough respect for a police officer to simply manage to not get arrested?
Being the referee or umpire in youth sports is a lousy, thankless job. You have to know every rule, no matter how crazy and/or archaic (if you fake a punt and then throw a pass, the refs cannot call pass interference…did you know that one?) You have to do this while watching the field without getting yourself tackled or being in the way of the plays. In baseball it means seeing a little ball traveling at over 90 miles an hour and figuring out in a split second if it went over the plate between the letters and knees. When you think about how close most of these calls are, its amazing that the officials are ever right.
So you sign up to do this thankless thing, knowing full well you will get an earful of “I could see that from up here!” and “Get in the game, REF!” Since you are a volunteer or get paid some kind of laughable amount, you either do it because you love sports (and God bless you), or you do it because you are a gigantic tool with a continent-sized ego who likes to be IN CHARGE.
For the most part my experiences have been pretty good with the “sports law” for my children’s teams. I haven’t agreed with all their calls, but have noticed that the louder a coach/group of parents complain, usually the worse the calls become. Give them a reason not to like you, and they will take it all the way. Of course, it is hard to hold your tongue when they are doling out home-team calls like Halloween Candy, especially when they are not calling things like horse-collars and face masks – y’know…things that could cause profound injuries to my child or one of his team mates. What really sucks is that certain ref crews out in these parts are widely known to not make these calls against the home team. Considering the PR push by the NFL and football in general to assure people that football is a safe (enough) sport, you would think this kind of thing wouldn’t be tolerated. But in a world where Friday night really is all about the local football team, I would imagine it would be easy for weak minds to get sucked into the good-old-boy thing and try to be popular with the coaches, instead of doing their jobs. So children risk getting their heads snapped off so that some middle aged guys can feel like big-swinging-dicks in their hometown. Lovely.
The parents aren’t off the hook either. Every team has the parent that can’t help but scream loudly from the sidelines. Most of the time we are screaming encouragement, but sometimes parents are just plain mean. Just try to remember that the kid that missed that tackle or dropped the ball, his parents are probably sitting near you. Shouting that “we need to find some kids that want to PLAY FOOTBALL” isn’t going to win you any friends. And blowing up your Coach’s email with tirades about how your little darling isn’t getting enough playing time at the position you want them to play at only teaches your kids not to respect their Coach.
All this adult over-involvement manages to do is ruin it for the kids. Whether it’s people wagering thousands of dollars on a single play of pee-wee football in Florida, parents yelling at officials, or coaches quitting because parents are too much work, we are all sucking the fun out of something that gave us so many good memories as kids. I’m beginning to think those good memories were only possible because our parents hardly ever came to our games. They didn’t buy t shirts in school colors to sit at a rec field and question whether or not I should be playing something grander than right field (I did not). And if I got in trouble with a coach and had to sit out, my parents would have been disappointed with me. They would not go running off to confront my coach about how I can’t miss playing time or I won’t get onto the team at Stanford.
We all wish there were more coaches like Matt Labrum, who suspended his entire football team because of their lack of character off the field. But what I think we don’t realize is that we really wish there were more communities like his…where the parents said, “Yeah, they are acting like jerks and need to bring it down a notch or two” instead of storming the Coach’s office with pitchforks and torches.
Maybe someday people will remember that youth sports used to be about letting the kids wear uniforms, learn about the rules of the game and maybe surprise themselves with what they accomplish. It was not about free rides, pro careers, or other such nonsense. Let them learn how to lose with pride and win with grace. Let them come to terms with the fact that they are not the next Peyton Manning or Derek Jeter, and that’s okay. Most people have neither the talent or the drive to play organized sports past high school anyway.
Try this for some perspective: there are more wild pandas than MLB players, so everyone just relax and have some fun.