EDITOR'S NOTE: Men of a variety of ages take on a question about sports and parenting in this extra edition of the regular 20-40-60 Etiquette column that runs in The Oklahoman and on NewsOK.com.
QUESTION: My child plays team sports and it has been a great place for him to learn to play by the rules and to learn respect for his teammates and opponents. It has not been a great way for him to watch other parents yelling at the referee and the coaches and questioning every referee call. What makes a parent put so much emphasis on winning or seeing his child play that he becomes totally oblivious to everyone else? Should such a parent be asked to leave the game?
NICK TANKERSLEY, 30s, Web editor, NewsOK:
I played many, many little league sports. I began at the age of 3 and continued through multiple soccer, baseball, basketball and, eventually, football seasons a year. I also refereed soccer for a 10-and-under team for a couple of years, so I have seen exactly what you're talking about and I have been at the receiving end of many parental tantrums. While I can't pretend to know why an individual parent would act like this, I can say that when they do, there is nothing more satisfying than sending them packing.
I remember when I was 8, my cousin played for a really skilled team that was in an age group a couple of years ahead. The team was known for having a very vocal coach. During one game the coach lost it and laid into the referee, who said that if he stepped over the sideline one more time he would be expelled. The ref's bluff was called and then immediately was revealed not to be a bluff. The coach was ejected from the game; he retreated to the parking lot, grabbed a pair of binoculars and attempted to coach the game through one of those giant '80s cellphones talking with his wife, who was still down at the sidelines.
Many spectators go to college and professional games and act like animals, screaming at every call, booing whomever they please and basically just being part of the mob. What I think is that when those same people get to a little league game, their brains are unable to process the difference between the two sporting events. It's as though the very act of being around a competitive sporting competition triggers some deep down mutation that turns them into freaks, and to a certain degree, we cultivate that in people as a culture.
We pride ourselves in Oklahoma on being the loudest fans, the most intense fans, and also are very vocal about how lousy the officiating is in basically every game. Once those traits are wired in, it is hard not to flip that switch the minute a whistle is blown, starting regulation play.
FORD SANGER, 30s, local businessman:
I can understand the emphasis on winning and seeing that a parent's child plays in the match. I do not agree that a parent has the right to yell at the referee and the coaches. Parents with that much passion and emotion need to direct it positively into the child, rather then letting everyone else hear their thoughts.
If the parent truthfully feels that their child is good enough to possibly achieve a calling in sports, professional or collegiately, then they need to be working with the appropriate instructors and developing a plan. If they are there to just yell and scream on a Saturday or Sunday, maybe they are better off being asked to leave so they are not yelling at the instructors that are trying to teach their children how to exist with others.
JOEY STIPEK, 30s, NewsOK's Online Communities intern:
Parents get worked up about sports for the same reasons they get worked up over their child's academic performance in school: in hopes their child will compensate for their own shortcomings as an adult. There's nothing wrong with wanting the best for your child, but parents tend to lose focus of the situation when it becomes more about being competitive with other parents on your child's team, or whether you're worried about your status in the community. If this is the case, maybe the parents should re-evaluate why they have an intense interest in a child's succeeding in a team sport.
If the parent gets out of hand with swearing and screaming constantly, then they should be asked to leave the premises.
BRAD MCNEILL, 40s, owner, A&B Paving:
I think most parents need to take a deep breath and understand this is little league, involving children, and not highly paid athletes. However, some people become unhinged when watching their little Johnnys play ball, and we have all seen them behave as if winning is the only thing in life. There is nothing wrong with winning and, personally, I believe the scoreboard teaches winning and losing just like everything else in life.
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