I was going to write about writing, but this week’s experiences at the ball-field watching my children’s games changed that. This is going to be something of a vent and one that I’m sure any parent of a child in sports can identify with.
One of my sons plays T-ball, the other plays in the kid-pitch division. Both of them love playing and while not the “star players” for their teams or in the league, they are pretty solid players and steadily working hard to improve. From September to the first of November and from March to the end of June, my mini-van is full of baseball gear: bats, gloves, balls, catcher’s gear, batting helmets, batting gloves, extra jackets, blankets, water bottles, and camp chairs. I may not a soccer mom, but I am a proud baseball mom.
I lose all traces of introversion when my kids’ teams make a good play or the kids are at bat, cheering, clapping, and jumping up and down hugging or high fiving other parents. For the record, I am equally as enthusiastic for my children’s teammates and have even been known to applaud a brilliant play for the other team or, at the T-ball division, if a very young player on the other team actually hits the ball and gets on base. What I don’t do and will not do is scream at or abuse the umpires, coaches, other players, or other team’s parents. This past week I have witnessed some horrible behavior on the part of so-called adults – and sadly, it was all in the T-ball division.
A few years back, the league decided not to display the score for the T-ball division in an effort to curb the poor sportsmanship on the part of parents. My oldest started T-ball when they still displayed the scores and went up to the next division after they changed the policy. I can attest that it did help curb the outbursts and shifted the focus of the games on creating a love of the sport in the T-ball players. This is not to say that it’s a “there are no losers and everyone wins” scenario; after the game the kids are told who won or lost and we do have playoffs with one team winning the playoffs for the division and the size of the trophy awarded is determined by where that team finished. I think it is important for kids to understand that they can’t always win and that there is honor in losing especially if you have given it your best and played the game according to the rules.
On Thursday night, we had an umpire who was making bad calls for the first couple of innings. Now, the other team’s parents were perfectly content when the bad calls were directed at our team. Our coaches were screamed at for talking with the ump about the calls and they taunted our parents if we seemed upset or confused by one of the bad calls. The players on this team ignored rules, used excessive force in tagging players out – hitting a runner with the ball in the chest hard enough to knock him down, tripping or shoving runners, and my personal favorite – three of their kids standing on the bag so that our runner couldn’t get on the bag and pushing him away if he tried while they waited for their team mates to get the ball and tag our player out. If anyone, especially our coaches tried to dispute this behavior we had profanity screamed at us. If the ump did as he was supposed to and made the proper call – then they screamed at him. This team’s parents even cheered when our “pitcher” was taken out of the game because their batter hit the ball straight at the kids face. They were also upset because the ump called time and sent their player back to first – he had been heading for third even though time had been called. Luckily, it was T-ball so the kid just suffered a split lip. Yes, he and our first baseman are a good team and effective at getting outs, but cheering because a child was injured? Really?
After the game, as we were walking to the car, we passed a parent from the other team berating their child for bad plays and strongly implying that the kid was why the team lost. The look on that child’s face just tugged at my heart. The kid was around 6 at the oldest and yes, he had missed a few catches that would have made the difference between a run and an out, but it is only one ball game out of hundreds this kid may play in the course of his life.
I know from my kids that they are all too aware if they make a bad play or even if they think they made a bad play. No one has to say a word to them about it. I’ve listened to play by plays all the way home of how “if only…” and I’ve comforted both of them after a game as they have relived dropping a ball or missing a catch or striking out when the bases were loaded and they were the last out. I won’t lie to them and say they are wrong to feel that way or that they are mistaken that the play or the out may have been what turned the game, but I don’t give them a hard time about it or let them wallow in it. I’m very matter of fact about it and we talk about what they can do to change the outcome the next time. It may sound trite, but my kids are being taught that win or lose, it’s how you play the game that is the most important part, and while you go into something intending to win, the reality is that you are going to win some and lose some, so they must learn to lose and win with graciousness and honor.
In talking with other parents in some of the other leagues around town, I find that this is not uncommon and crosses socio-economic lines. Just because our league pulls from a mix of low income to upper middle class families, doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the parental behavior. I have friends whose children play in a league that is predominantly upper middle class to wealthy and they report similar occurrences, although the politics seem to be a bit more extreme.
What are we saying to our children when they witness their parents behaving without any honor or respect towards one another? When children see parents cheering because another child is hurt on the field, what does it tell them in a society that is trying to fight an epidemic of bullying in our schools? When parents condone poor sportsmanship and winning at any cost – what message do the children take away in terms of self-esteem or recognizing the rules and authority that a civilized society must operate under in order to succeed?
Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.