Kids, Parents, Pros, Sportsmanship
We can all probably agree as parents,
athletes and fans that the actions in big time college and professional
sports the past couple of weeks have been disturbing.
The recent series of events started
by the horrific brawl involving the Pistons, Pacers and the Detroit fans. The next day, the entire Clemson and South Carolina footballs teams got into
a ten minute sidelines clearing melee. Just this week, Jason Giambi
admitted to taking steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. This all
comes on the heels of Terrill Owens' pre-game Monday Night Football
incident. What do all these events have to do with youth sports?
What we teach our kids in youth sports,
how we act at the games as coaches and parents, and the emphasis we place
on winning, all send very clear messages.
The Attitude of
the Parents and Fans
The 6th man, the 12th
man, super fans and the home field advantage; they all have a place in
sports – professional sports and youth sports. But do we have a duty as a
fan, especially when we are cheering for our kids, to set an example of how
Every professional or college game that
you go to will almost always have a cheer at some point that the visiting
team or its star player "sucks". Every time Barry Bonds comes to the plate,
he’s going to hear "Bonds sucks!" Every New York Yankees game will have the
cheer "Yankees suck!" At the start of every UCLA football or basketball
game, the crowd points and screams in unison: “Yes, that’s the looooosing
team!” Not only with the “Cameron Crazies” at Duke University, but at every
arena in the country, the music leads the chants of “AIR BALL, AIR BALL” to
deride an opposing player who missed a shot.
Cheering in sports, both
professional and youth, comes with a set of responsibilities. It’s true
that buying a ticket enables a fan to act anyway that they want to,
including being an idiot, but should we? Clearly there has to be a
line that we shouldn’t cross.
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There is no way to condone the actions of Ron
Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal, but it is also unacceptable to
have fans throwing things at the players. For that matter, negative
cheering, booing, insults, name calling and slurs thrown at athletes, both
professional and amateur players, may be too much.
Considering that kids
learn from everything we do, it’s important that we set an example for how
we want them to behave. Charles Barkley told everybody that athletes aren’t
role models and that parents need to be. When we’re most rabid as sports
fans, it’s important to remember that our kids are watching. Instead of
booing and cheering AGAINST the other team, we should think about cheering
FOR our team. In youth sports, we can cheer for both teams, especially on
great plays; it’s likely the kids on both teams are friends in the
community and go to school together.
One main area that all
of us, coaches, parents and fans, need to improve on is our treatment of
officials. Sure, they make mistakes all the time, miss calls, and
unfortunately, affect the outcome of the game, but they are doing the best
they can. We really need to manage our expectations about what officials,
even at the professional level, can do. Coaches should be able to discuss
calls with the officials, but not yell at them. Furthermore, under no
circumstances should parents be yelling at the officials; they are not
going to change their call and it really sends a bad message to the kids
playing the game. Yelling at the officials by players and coaches has an
impact on the kids that comes out in many negative ways. Youth leagues
should take a much stronger stance against this behavior.
Vince Lombardi Wrong?
Of course all of us
know Vince Lombardi’s famous saying: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the
only thing”. Professional athletes are paid to win and it is all about
winning, but it doesn’t mean professional athletes shouldn’t be expected to
exhibit sportsmanship. In youth sports, Lombardi is just wrong; it has to
be about much more than just winning.
I like to win and the
kids that I coach like to win too. For that matter, competition is natural
for everyone. It’s innate in all people to compete and try to win. Are there any
of us that haven’t told our young kids we’d time them putting on their
shoes or cleaning their room to get it done? It’s amazing how fast a three
year old can run up the stairs and bring me down their jacket – always setting
a new record!
While we do like to
win, when a kid cries about losing or wants to quit because sports aren’t
fun anymore, we’ve taken it too far. On the other hand, wanting to win is
perfectly normal and good; if a kid doesn’t care about winning, we’ve
certainly made an equally bad mistake and gone too far the other way. The
issue is that at the youth level we put too much emphasis on winning
instead of performance and sportsmanship.
If somebody sees a kid
sitting in his uniform, what is often the first question asked: Did you win?
If we put the kids onto a playground, they’ll pick teams and just play for
the fun of it. Even if they keep score, it’s over when the game is over.
Kids play for fun and we need to keep youth sports fun – with competition –
This is especially true
with younger kids who are playing instructional youth leagues. The type of
league should make a difference. An instructional league should allow every
kid to play QB and carry the ball, not just the best kid – even if that
means losing a game. We should coach and teach the kids to play each game
to win and do their best, but in an instructional league, our effort to win
can’t be at the cost of leaving some kids out.
The recent admission by
American League MVP Jason Giambi to using performance enhancing drugs,
Coach’s Corner, Continued
steroids, is a symptom of the same “win-at-all-costs” syndrome that starts
within our youth sports leagues. By emphasizing teamwork, sportsmanship and
effort instead of just winning, maybe we can avoid kids using drugs.
Cheating to win or improve performance, especially when statistically none
of the kids playing youth sports will be pros is a dangerous trend.
Hopefully, the story of Lyle Alzedo, who died from steroid use at 42 years
old, can help us keep kids away from performance enhancing drugs.
athletes, it is all about winning, but that is not what we should be
teaching our kids. We can certainly emphasize winning, but not without
sportsmanship. It can’t be all about winning; we have to change the focus
to playing hard, doing our best, and being good sports.
We should be able to win and lose as good
sports. That should be a key that we teach our kids as both coaches and as
parents. There are far too many examples of bad sportsmanship.
After every youth game, kids on both teams
shake hands. I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard kids saying “bad
game”. Unbelievably, I hear this more often from kids who lost the game.
There is no excuse for a coach allowing his players to say anything
derogatory to the other team after a game as the losing team or the winning
team. Is this the kid who ten years from now will throw a full beer at an
NBA player? Maybe not, but it’s certainly not good sportsmanship and that
needs to be one of our major objectives in youth sports: to teach kids how
to be good sports in both victory and defeat.
After getting pretty soundly beaten during the
2004 NLDS, the Los Angeles Dodgers went onto the field and shook hands with
the St. Louis Cardinals congratulating them on their victory. Surely, the
Dodgers were not happy to lose, but they displayed the kind of
sportsmanship that all of us should strive for. Eric Gagne, the Dodgers Cy
Young award winning closer, was born in Canada and is a huge hockey fan. He
was inspired to make this happen by the NHL tradition of having Stanley Cup
participants shake hand after each series. There was even the Little League
world series game where a pitcher ran to home plate so that he would be
waiting to shake hands with the hitter who just hit a tater off of him.
In contrast, NCAA rivals the Clemson
Tigers and the South Carolina Gamecocks got into a 10 minute free-for-all.
The game was lopsided in the 4th quarter when the fight started,
exhibiting poor sportsmanship on both sides. Rather than apologizing,
Clemson running back Yusef Kelly was proud of the fact that they kept the
fight on the field and didn’t involve the fans. While that’s certainly
better than the Pistons/Pacers Brawl, because it’s all about the kids, we
have to make more of an effort to teach coaches, parents, officials and
fans more about sportsmanship.
Sports is ultimately about winning and losing,
but changing our views on these subjects and how to deal with the life
lessons that can be learned through sports is crucial. Kids can learn
through sports and the family bonds created by watching and playing sports
together is unparalleled. That is what makes the "T.O." Monday Night Football
pre-game show so difficult to accept. As parents, we can make a decision to
restrict our kids from watching Desperate Housewives if we want to, but why
should we even think about not watching football with our family? Every
sporting event on TV now has commercials for ED, alcohol and sexual content
that we would generally not allow our kids to watch. With sports playing
such an important role in society, networks need to be more careful what
they broadcast to our kids just like parents and coaches need to do a
better job with what we teach.
The majority of fans, parents and coaches are
good people who play and cheer with a positive attitude. Yet, we all get
emotional with sports, especially when we watch our kids. It’s just
important to remember that we are being watched. The way we coach, play and
root for our kids in youth sports has a dramatic impact. The results of
these our actions in youth sports can be seen throughout society, but were
clearly evident during the disturbing recent events. We can all do better.