Parents Spoil the Play in Children's Sports

Even those of us who don't cuss out the coach should sometimes just stay home

| January-February 2000

My son’s baseball team had just lost their last game of the season—they were out of the tournament. We losing parents tried our best to look glum, while the winning parents attempted to hide their jealousy. By the time we arrived at our cars, the lucky losers were excitedly discussing vacations we could take, projects we could begin, and friends we could finally see. Baseball season was over! We were free!

“At least until soccer season,” one mom reminded us. “We’re playing football this year,” another added, rolling her eyes, and I couldn’t block an image of parents and children all suited up in matching football uniforms, complete with pads. As a veteran sports mom, I knew exactly why she had used the plural we.

When one child in the family plays a sport, it is indeed a family affair. I think maybe the team photos should include us parents, derrieres parked in lawn chairs, arms laden with water bottles, diaper bags, and Barbie carry-alls.

We want to be there for our kids, to take an interest in what’s important to them. This is what good parents do, right? Maybe. When I was young, kids rode their bikes or were dropped off for their games and practices. Only later would Mom or Dad ask how it went. My father was a coach, but I don’t remember being dragged along to my brother’s games. In fact, the kids on my dad’s teams would converge on our house to be driven to the games in our 12-seater station wagon. No parents required.

Sometimes I think that by being so involved in our kids’ sports, we dilute their experience. After all, it’s not their win, it’s our win. Do all the valuable lessons—losing, striking out, missing the winning shot—have the same impact when Mom and Dad are there to immediately say it’s OK?

Of course we need to make sure Michael is listening to the coach and the coach is listening to Michael, and to ensure that Lauren is getting off the bench but not being pushed too hard. And psycho sports parents are obviously a problem: the dad who screams at his son for every fumble, the mom who reacts to the 14-year-old umpire’s bad call as if it were a threat to world peace. We know they are wacko.

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