Ballistic dads are ruining kids' games

September 16, 2004|By KEVIN COWHERD

THERE'S something about youth sports that brings out the inner psycho in some parents, which is never a pretty sight.

Unfortunately, I got to watch a full-blown dad meltdown the other day during my kid's travel soccer game in northern Baltimore County.

Oh, it wasn't one of the dads from our team who went Chernobyl.

No, our dads are always calm, supportive of both teams, respectful of the referees, fully invested in the notion that it's not whether you win or lose, blah, blah, blah.

Nope, you won't see any of our dads screaming and bursting a neck artery when the ref blows a call or one of the little thugs from the other team cheap-shots one of our fine, upstanding student-athletes.

Are you kidding? Our dads are practically saints.

In fact, the dad having the meltdown wasn't even a dad from the team we were playing.

Instead, what happened was this: Standing there watching my kid's game, I became aware of a loud voice coming from an adjacent field, where a girls game was taking place.

At first I thought it was just some amped-up coach doing his best Vince Lombardi routine to fire up his team.

But when I looked again, I saw it was a dad on the sidelines yelling at the referees. And the referees had stopped the game and were just staring at the dad.

I couldn't hear what the dad was yelling. But whatever it was, it's a safe bet it wasn't: "You guys are doing a hell of a job! Keep it up!"

Finally, one of the players - obviously the guy's daughter - walked up to him.

And in a loud voice - the kind of shrill, plaintive voice that only a mortified teenager could summon - she said: "OK, Dad, we hear you!"

Unfortunately, the poor girl's embarrassment was to last a minute or two longer. Because apparently the referees had kicked the dad off the field.

Which meant he had to leave before play would resume.

So now, with everyone staring at him and an awkward silence descending over the field, he had to make the long, lonely walk to the parking lot, where he probably sat in his car and stewed for the rest of the game.

Anyway, the incident disturbed me on a couple of levels.

Even though anecdotal evidence suggests incidents like this are happening more and more, it was only the second time I'd ever seen a parent tossed from a game. And as a father of three kids, I've watched - and coached - youth sports for 17 years now.

But at the National Alliance for Youth Sports, a nonprofit in West Palm Beach, Fla., with 3,000 chapters nationwide that educates coaches, officials and parents about their roles and responsibilities in the games their kids play, they hear about out-of-control parents all the time.

In fact, when I called Fred Engh, the Alliance's founder and president and a father of seven as well as a former coach and athletic director, he told me he wrote a book a few years ago called Why Johnny Hates Sports, in which lunatic parents figured prominently.

Engh said the problem of parents embarrassing their kids by becoming verbally - and sometimes physically - abusive to referees, coaches and opposing players has definitely worsened in the last 20 years.

It starts, he said, with parents buying into the win-at-all-costs mentality of pro teams like the Ravens and big-time college athletic programs like the University of Maryland Terrapins - and failing to realize that mentality shouldn't translate into kids' games.

"The core of it is that winning is the ultimate thing in all this," he said. "We fail to remember that these are just children ... and that the rules of sports are the rules of life.

"When we teach children that it's OK to cheat in order to win, that violence is part of the game, that it's OK to criticize and taunt other players, then we're teaching them that these things are acceptable in everyday life."

Engh also says the atmosphere that surrounds youth sports has become much more pressurized, particularly with the proliferation of travel teams.

"They're the elite players playing out of the element of playing for playing's sake," he says of these teams. "Travel teams allow [parents to think]: "This is an opportunity for my kid to get a college scholarship, an opportunity for him to get to the pros."

Great, I thought. My kid plays travel.

Engh probably thinks I'm one of those parents who comes home every night and yells to his kid: "Stop wasting time with homework and start working on your corner kicks if you want to make the Olympic team for Beijing in 2008."

But Engh said that throughout his 35-year association with youth sports, most of the parents he's met have had their priorities in order when it comes to the role sports play in their kids' lives.

"The majority of parents are wonderful, caring people," he said. "They want what's right."

That's been my experience too, thank God.

Although sometimes, when the game is tight and this great wall of noise rises from the sidelines, it's easy to forget.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.