Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Men--and Women--Behaving Badly

I have now experienced the phenomenon common in suburban sports known as “parents behaving badly.” To this point, because I am married to the most mellow man on the planet, and he has coached baseball with two other mellow guys in town, we have been immune to the things I read about, hear about, and don’t believe can actually happen in a town of 7,500 people. After all, I always thought, in a town this small, where you run into almost every inhabitant at least once a month—if not week—why would people behave badly? We don’t take our sports that seriously, do we?

Apparently, we do.

Without going into detail, suffice it to say that at child #2’s baseball game on Saturday, there was a dispute involving a call. The call went in our favor, and two runs on the opposing team were considered invalid. The coaches on the other team—to put it mildly—heartily disagreed. And disagreed. And disagreed. Until all three of them were practically blue in the face and taking issue in a vociferous manner with the umpire, who clearly knew his stuff and had a relatively cool head. It got so bad that words were exchanged during the clean-up of the field after the game. Fortunately, our head coach had the good sense to pick up home plate and walk away, thereby avoiding any additional conflict about a play that had happened oh, somewhere around the third inning. Me, husband, and kid #2 were so focused on eating lunch (the game had gone on for more than two hours in the hot sun) that we beat a hasty getaway lest anyone get in front of us at the deli; that was our only concern.

But I have to admit, I was pretty riled up myself as I plowed into my fried eggplant and mozzarella sandwich. My son, however, upon diving into his ham on a roll, asked me if I had seen him steal home. Fortunately, I had. This was the one time I wasn’t exchanging recipes with Melissa on the bleachers or talking about which hair dye lasted the longest. The joy on his face, and the lift that he got from doing something he considered to be the absolute most exciting thing one can do on a baseball field, made me forget that anything had happened in the game between the adults. The kids, in general, had clearly had a great time. The adults? Not so much. So, we spent the rest of the day talking about the home plate steal, and the artistry that accompanied it. Kid #2 was so overjoyed that he told his sister the minute we entered the house, his enthusiasm was contagious. She, too, was equally excited by his feat and asked him about every single detail of this amazing act of athleticism.

That’s what it should be about.

But it’s not and we all know it. The next day, I drove with a friend to our sons’ lacrosse game. We made the mistake—not knowing any better—of sitting with the opposing team’s parents who proceeded to critique, berate, and heckle our kids who range in age from eight to ten. When one of our kids inadvertently knocked someone down (hey, it’s lacrosse—little boys, sticks, and running. What do you think is going to happen?), they would scream for a technical penalty or even for the kid to be thrown out of the game. When one of their little wonders did the same? It was aggressive play. It was how you played the game. It was “go, get ‘em, Tiger.” My friend and I tried to tune the whole thing out and exchanged recipes and tips for hair dying, and tried desperately to find something to do on Thursday other than train with Trainer Shari, who was sitting in front of us and threatening us with severe training. (She’s taking us to the Gorge—where no one can hear us scream.) The game ended with one of our third graders taking the business end of someone’s lacrosse stick to the face. When he collapsed on the ground, in tears, waiting for his mom to come out and comfort him, the opposing team’s parents had the good sense to fall silent. Thankfully, the game ended shortly thereafter. My friend and I got back to my house and tried to forget we had ever been to the game with a lovely bottle of Chardonnay.

Kid #2 is young. He’ll be playing a lot more organized baseball and lacrosse. And despite my being the most competitive person on the planet (remind me to tell you how I turned square dancing into a competitive event), I just want him to have fun. Seeing him smile while running around the bases—bugs flying into this teeth—gives me more joy than anything. And seeing him shrug his shoulders when he’s tagged out makes me proud of him. He moves on very quickly, as he should. There’s been a lot written on this subject and probably no more to say but I will leave you with this: Parents, please take it down a notch.

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Good post!

    For kids, sports is a pastime. For the parents, it's an opportunity to live vicariously through their children. It's an ego thing.

    I wish more parents could learn a lesson from their children.

  2. I've seen exactly what you're talking about and it's truly hard to believe that grown-ups can act so stupid over kids playing a game. Not much of a way to learn good sportsmanship.