January 10, 2002

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if parents could just let their kids play? The recent news coverage of the now infamous "hockey dad" manslaughter case has brought this issue to light once again. That's right a 270-pound truck driver allegedly beat to death the coach of his son's hockey team because he reportedly felt the coach's practice was too rough. Apparently the man's treatment of the coach after the practice was a bit rougher as he died at the rink from injuries sustained when the two men scuffled following the heated debate.

Is it shocking? Yes. Is it alarming? Yes. But is it surprising? Not really, at least not to someone who has been around plenty of youth sporting events and has seen more than his fair share of parents lose control. Granted I have never seen anyone get into an actual physical confrontation at any of these events, but I have felt that the situation was not far from that in more than one instance. Instead of hockey fighting dads, I see three predominant problem areas in youth sports.

The biggest problem is confrontations with officials. Granted we are never going to agree with all of the calls, and maybe one can justify a comment or two sent in their direction during the course of the game. Still there are way too many people that once the ball hits the court or the field or whatever, that is the only thing they do the entire game is rag on the officials. Stop and think a second, because your constant whining does your team absolutely no good. A well made point here or there can be accepted by an official but when you complain about every single call, he or she will simply tune you out. I just wish the official would do more than tune some of these folks out, because most fans get tired of listening to them too. Maybe an early exit from the game would get them to reconsider their cheering routine.

The second problem area, while maybe not quite as common, actually bothers me more. Way too many parents either try to relive their sports career through their kids or attempt to make their child the star they never were. Obviously there is nothing wrong with pushing your kid to achieve, but this type of behavior can border on obsessive and at least overbearing. I don't know how many times I've watched little fourth or fifth grade basketball players having fun, playing a game, only to quickly lose that smile and enjoyment because a parent is screaming at the top of their lungs at the kid. It's a learning experience, but what does that teach a kid? That their mom or dad is a good screamer. That if they miss a couple shots or make some bad passes they will be embarrassed in front of an entire crowd by the person that should be the last one to do such a hurtful thing.

And if we are not taking these sporting problems out on the kids then it's usually the other end of the spectrum where it is all the coach's fault. The stands are filled with Monday morning quarterbacks, who in hindsight, often feel they know better than the coach. Why anyone wants to be a coach is beyond me. Shoot I couldn't even escape this sort of abuse when I was volunteering to coach an elementary team, giving up my Saturdays for free to help a team that I had no ties to. If a team is not winning or certain players are not getting to play enough the coach might as well have a bull's eye tattooed on his or her back.

But as we get worked up over all the atrocities and earth shaking events, we need to stop for just a second and bear in mind that it is all just a game. Before we yell at the official, belittle our kid, or blame the coach, just take a second to remember this is supposed to be fun. I bet the "hockey dad" in Massachusetts wishes he had.

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