For the Love of the Game: Parental Sportsmanship 101
Posted on June 8, 2012
My son was a competitive hockey player from the time he was three until 18 years of age. These years were dedicated to many long hours in ice arenas, camps, private lessons and tournaments. Many thousands of days were spent in the pursuit of his hockey enjoyment. This does not take into account the dollars spent and politics we suffered through. A missing element of instruction was noticed about the time he reached eight years of age. At that age, the youngsters were able to skate independently rather than in packs. They had fully grasped the rules of the game and started to realize the thrill of winning and the glory of individual achievement. As we all know, hockey is a team sport. As with any other team sport, there is an element of individualism. There are the stars: the fastest, strongest, highest scorer. There are also the mediocre players and the bench-warmers. With each kid came a parent. This is where the great divide in instruction and sportsmanship became most apparent.
We as parents all secretly hope that our kid will become the next “Great One”. Not one of us would have admitted it publicly but we all hoped for it in secret. There was at least one mental slide show of our child obtaining sports history accompanied by a Nike endorsement which allowed you to quit your job and buy a candy-apple red Ferrari.
Most of the parental figures knew how to behave publicly but some did not. No one was handed an etiquette instruction book at the beginning of the season. There were a few feeble attempts by coaches to tame the shrews but I suspect this was to keep the shrews off their backs. Parents can be brutal on coaches. With vivid memories still haunting me years later, I write this for all parents of kids involved in competitive activities. I suggest you print a copy of this and hand it out at the next game. Better yet, give copies to the coach to hand out. He or she will be grateful for the reinforcement. The following pointers apply to all sports and recreational activities:
- IT IS JUST A GAME. The game is supposed to be fun. Enjoy yourself. When the fun stops, so will your child.
- Cheering: Keep it in check, root for the whole team and never use profanity. All cheering should be positive and encouraging. No screaming or exaggerated celebrations – you will look like an idiot and embarrass your child.
- Do not coach from the sidelines. Let the coach, coach. Your side line leadership can be confusing for the child especially if your instruction contradicts what the coach is trying to teach. If you can’t seem to control yourself, apply for the job and do it yourself. Otherwise, zip your lip.
- Do not argue with the coach or referee...EVER. Bad call? Tough. Was your kid pulled from the game? Tough. Life does not always seem fair. Too bad. Please review point #1.
- Stay off the field. Unless your child is competing for the chess club, there’s a good chance they will get injured at some point in their athletic quest. If the injury is serious, you will be summoned.
- At all games and practices you will refrain from:
Showing off your Smith & Wesson
This point may be obvious however; in my children’s pursuit of athletic recreation, I’ve witnessed a father who attended all games with a Big Guzz of Jack Daniels, a mother who smoked her Lucky Strikes behind the player’s bench and one Uncle Dick who flagrantly waived about his conceal and carry gun license in an effort to intimidate the referee. Not kidding.
7. Leave your pet at home. We all don’t love your dog.
8. Never comment negatively about any kid. Nothing can kill parental harmony quicker than a critic. If you open the flood gate of negativity, it will spread like poison.
9. Congratulate your child after every game – win or lose. I’ve witnessed more heart wrenching scenes than I can recount of parents who berated their child after a game. You might think you are instilling values and lessons that are helpful. They are not helpful or valuable. They are instant ego busters. Please review point #1.
10. Do not be disappointed if your child wants to try something else. Not every game is for every child.
Above all, you are a role model. While bad sportsmanship can spread like poison, good sportsmanship behaviors can have the same impact. Stay calm and sparty-on my friends!