Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Unsolicited Advice for Sports Moms (Dads, too)

Dear sweet, loving soccer mom that I saw scream at her kid from the bleachers, "Come on, get in there! Geeze!" this one's for you. Over competitive volleyball dad who literally hung his head in shame when his fifth grade daughter missed a serve, it's for you, too. Baseball mom who finds it impossible not to argue with the ump when your son is "unfairly" called out at third, I'm looking at you, sweetheart. Tee ball mom who won't stop screaming at her five-year old because he's playing in the dirt, can we talk for just a minute?

Because I know you. I love you, momma. Girl, you are my friend, maybe even among my dearest. I know your heart is kind and your love for your kid couldn't be greater. Dad, I have watched you with your baby girl and seen the joy she brings your heart. It's obvious to me because I know you outside of sports. I know you day-to-day and I see more of you than just "sports parent."

I get it. I do. I have been you. Sometimes I still am. I have argued with umpires, talked about coaches behind their backs, and yelled at my kids from the stands. My grimace was obvious when an error was made. I've overstepped my bounds and made myself look like a fool. More than once. After all, dears, sports parenting ain't for the faint of heart. 

When our oldest started playing team sports, I found out that I'm a competitive sports mom. That wasn't a surprise, as I had found myself coaching our little guys at the kids' money hunt at the fair. Because, you know, that extra $1.27 was really going to be life changing for my two year old. Talk about embarrassing. When I realized that I was actually doing this, I made a sincere effort to just keep my mouth shut from then on.

If you know me at all, you might know just how hard it is for me to do so. I'm pretty sure that no one has ever accused me of being quiet. I'm opinionated and loud. So loud, in fact, that I became a distraction for my son on the wrestling mat. You see, he knows my voice. So he would hear me above all others, even the coach. And because he was young and used to my instruction, he would instinctively look for me when he heard my voice. This wasn't a good thing, because even after three years as a wrestling manager for my high school team and several years as a wrestler's mom, I'm not a wrestling coach. I'm a wrestling mom. There's a big difference. 

My husband called me on it. You see, he's both a dad and a coach. He's exceptionally good at both. But he was frustrated that E would search me out in the crowd and lose his focus while wrestling. It cost the boy more than one match. Vance let me know what a distraction I was and a lightbulb went off in my head. "I'm not helping. In fact, I'm HURTING my kid with this mouth of mine. Woah." 

So I backed off. Generally now, I'm quieter, sometimes even completely silent, while my kids are competing. Because I'm learning to play the role of "Sports Mom" a little better now. It's a work in progress.

A Kansas City area baseball complex (3&2) has the best signs on the fences as you enter the park. They say this:

Pick only one
1 - Coach
2 - Player
3 - Umpire
4 - Spectator

I'm trying so very hard to do this at all of our games. Easier said than done. 

But the sign is right. 

It's not my job to tell the kids where or how to play. That belongs to the coach. If I can't trust him to do that well, then maybe my kids shouldn't play for him. If I feel the need to advocate for my kid, the bottom of the ninth inning isn't the time or the place. Private, calm conversations can be had later, when adrenaline isn't pumping quite so hard and everyone can be rational. Or maybe not. Maybe my kid is old enough to advocate for himself and I should just stay out of it. 

I'm too old and too out of shape to play much anymore, so not choosing to be Number 2 is pretty easy for me. But we do encourage our kids to do their best. To try hard. To be good teammates. That no missed shot, strike out, or ace is worth their integrity. 

Number 3. Man, that's a tough one. Everybody wants to make the calls, but unless we're wearing the stripes or the blue shirt, that's not our job either. The ump gets paid to decide ball or strike, safe or out. If he sucks at it, and sometimes he does, then it's still not my place. It's up to the people who are paying him to decide if he keeps his job or not. More than once, I've had to remind not just myself of that, but my kid, too. Especially when the crowd gets all up in arms about a "bad call," my kid may deflect the blame from himself or the players involved and blame the ref. We've had to remind him that once the call is made, it's made. Officials are people, so they mess up. Sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. But no matter how wrong they are, yelling at someone over a little league game isn't worth my integrity. 

My job is spectator. That means I cheer for my kids and their teammates with all I have. I applaud the good stuff and when the bad plays come; when the ball hits the floor or their shoulders get pinned to the mat, I don't boo or audibly sigh or shake my head or mumble (or God-forbid, shout!) obscenities. My job is ONLY to encourage and to build up. It is NEVER to tear down. Not my own kid, her teammates or her coaches. Not the umpires, referees or line judges. And certainly not the kids on the other team. Because they're just kids, too, doing their best, messing up, and trying again. 

So fellow sports parents, can we just make a deal? Can we just agree to "pick only one" and to parent our children with love and integrity on and off the field? To act in ways that build up, not tear down? Can we remember that at the end of the day, it really is just a game and that the lessons we want to teach our kids through youth sports are so much more important that winning or losing? Because our kids deserve that, don't you think?