FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Parents need to get a grip

Carole Townsend

Carole Townsend

EDITOR'S NOTE: Carole Townsend, a correspondent for the Daily Post, is beginning a new blog called Food For Thought. It is available online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com/townsend.

Parents and youth sports: Get a grip

I heard a news story a couple of days ago that, at first pass, seemed too outlandish to be true. A 44-year-old New York mom was arrested for threatening to harm or even kill a youth baseball official and his family. Why? Because her son didn't make the "elite" little league traveling baseball team. I said the story seemed unlikely, but then I thought back to when our kids played youth sports.

There's something about seeing their kid out on a playing field that makes some parents lose their minds. I have my own theories about why this is, which we'll get to in a minute, but do you know what I mean? If you've ever had a child compete in anything -- football, baseball, gymnastics, dance, even a spelling bee -- you've encountered parents who lose all their sense and even their grasp of reality when it comes to their kids.

All four of our children stayed involved in sports from the age of about 5 all the way through high school. We believe that involvement in team sports builds important life skills in children. They learn the value of exercise, teamwork, hard work, dedication and yes, even disappointment. But even experiencing disappointment builds life skills in a young person. If a child is never allowed to experience a tough emotion, how will they ever learn to deal with it? OK enough of my amateur psychology musings. Let's get back to crazy parents.

During all those years of daily practices, weekend games, traveling to other cities for tournaments and competitions and all the other sacrifices we parents make for our children to play ball or cheer or whatever, I have witnessed some unbelievable things. I have seen parents from opposing teams shouting obscenities at children on the field, and the children were in elementary school. I have seen a mother on the sidelines screaming and cursing at other children because her precious baby's water bottle was missing. She was an elementary school math teacher, by the way, a "pillar of the community."

I have seen coaches -- grown men, mind you -- get into a bloody fistfight after a football game, and they were surrounded by little boys and girls watching their every move, listening to their profanities and childish insults. I have seen parents support their children in stalking off the field if they didn't get to play the position they wanted to.

In short, we have all seen parents behaving very badly while their little prodigies are "having fun" playing ball, or whatever the sport may be. We in Gwinnett County take our sports very seriously, and I love that the bar is raised here. But I think there ought to be a "one strike" rule in any youth sporting event: The first time a parent mouths off, shows their hindquarters or in any way attacks a child, they're out for the season.

On the other hand, I can't blog about this topic without tipping a hat to coaches, team parents and all the volunteers who make youth sports possible. The vast majority of these people are in it for the right reasons, and they are owed a debt of gratitude that can never be fully paid. And think about it, they have to deal with the crazy parents.

Why do you suppose some parents can't handle well seeing their child compete? I think that either a) their ego is impossibly intertwined with their poor child's, and therefore they can't just support the child. The child has to somehow make up for the parent's own "unfinished business" from childhood, or b) the parent never emotionally graduated from high school. In either case, their children end up being embarrassed, feeling humiliated and often burning out on a sport well before they graduate high school. In some cases, the child actually believes the parents' PR, and they grow up to be overbearing brats. No winners, no matter how you slice it.

Have you had an unforgettable youth sportsmanship experience? Share it with other Gwinnett parents. I'll bet they can relate.

Carole Townsend is a freelance writer and a 25-year resident of Gwinnett County. As a mom, a wife, a former corporate executive, stay-at-home mom and correspondent for the Daily Post, she brings a unique perspective to life and living it in Gwinnett. "Food for Thought" gives Gwinnettians a forum where they can share perspectives, opinions, advice and solutions, as well as enjoy a few chuckles.