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Sunday, July 11, 2004

Sports Parents and Referees of (Supposedly) Kids' Games

SportsProf read a disturbing piece of original journalism in his local Sunday paper today (which frequently is content to run wire service stories and stories on local summer sports leagues) regarding the difficulty organized baseball for kids has had in finding umpires. The reason: abusive and violent coaches and parents, especially towards the umps.

I recall a line from the (bad) movie "The Junction Boys", which was about Bear Bryant's first year at Texas A&M in the early 1950's (the book was quite good). Bear Bryant was speaking to a father of a kid he felt badly about cutting from the squad (the kid had suffered a bad case of heat stroke from Bryant's brutal summer regimen) and he said, "I'd like to have you, but it's war out there." The kid's father turned around, and he only had one arm. The father looked at Coach Bryant and said, "Coach, I know all about war. Football's a sport."

Exactly. As is baseball. A sport is a game that kids play to learn the value of teamwork, hard work and sportsmanship. Not brinksmanship, not Friday night biker bar fighting techniques, not intimidation. It's bad enough that some parents have to compel their kids to have the athletic careers that they couldn't have, but it's worse to subject the kids and the entire community to the embarrassing spectacles that some of these confrontations with umpires create. It's awful that people can't teach there kids that sometimes in life bad calls happen, in a variety of circumstances, and that those who lump them the best and figure out ways to transcend them without physically threatening or beating up an umpire (or his real-life equivalent) will turn out to be the real winners.

Every time.

SportsProf's solution is to have zero tolerance for these coaches and parents. They can question away, within reason, but once profanity starts, tempers are lost or physical violence is threatened, they should get put out of the game. And suspended. And, if it happens again, they should be suspended more. I'd stop short of having games forfeited because I don't want to punish the kids, who, presumably, are being punished enough by having no choice but to watch this bad behavior. And if gets worse, the cops will need to show up. And, if necessary, arrests made.

Coaches and parents, in this arena, first and foremost should be teachers and mentors. They should teach the kids the finer points of the game, teamwork and sportsmanship. Yes, they can challenge an umpire's call, but there is a right way to do so and a wrong way to do so. But they should always remember that, in the end, these are just games. For kids.

And fun means playing with great zeal. Fun means going for pizza and ice cream afterwards, and fun means seeing the kids improve year after year.

Everything else should be, well, icing on the cake.

And the rest of it -- the overbearing parents, the parents who hound the coaches that the wrong kids are getting too much playing time, the parents and coaches who get on the umpires and act out of line -- should go in the garbage can where it belongs.

Because baseball, in its most pure form, played by kids, is a fun game. Let's all remember to honor it and cherish it each time we pitch wiffleballs in our backyards or have catches with our kids or coach first base at a little league game.

There are many things in life to get uptight or even hot about.

Kids' games shouldn't be one of them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great column. It's going to be hard to teach good sportsmanship to the next generation when the current generation doesn't know the meaning of the term. There's no excuse for boorish behavior, especially in the leagues for younger kids (one could almost understand the tension that exists for parents of teenage kids, where needed scholarship money might be at stake).

That said, I caught myself saying "ooohh, noooo" at an apparent bad strike call by an umpire while my 10 year old godson was up at the plate, and then I remembered how lopsided the score was, and that it was perhaps 45 minutes until sunset, and that the umpire's wish to expedite the game was consistent with everyone else's desire to get to the other fun part of youth sports -- the ice cream and pizza after the game.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exellent column. I'm the dad/coach of one college bound baseball boy. We've played plenty of travel ball in SoCal and competed in games against the best of many western states. Last year on a business trip while my wife worked a week in manhattan my son got picked up by a Long Island Team to play in a tournament in Long Island's "baseball Heaven" facility for that week. There were teams from several states participating. Other than the accents there was something very different I experienced that week. A tremendous respect for the umpires and equally surprising restraint on behalf of the coaches and parents towards the players. This is something I'm just not used to observing during highly competitive play in the west. I don't know how they've managed to spread this across to just about everyone but, it was positively sane. Like you said, if their was an issue there is a proper way to handle it- I observed this to be the norm-thank you Baseball Heaven.

1:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me who coined the phrase, "it's just part of the game." Drugs, alcohol and tobacco are all introduced to our teenage and pre-teenage kids and we just hope that we have done a good job of instilling the proper values and moral structure so that they make the right choices. But if no, do we just chalk it up to "it just part of life." NO

Millions of kids particiate in sports every year. Thousands of sports officials go out and officiate these "games." But as numerous statistial organizations will tell you, 75% of these kids will drop out of sports by they early teenage years and 33% of sports officials (especially the new ones) will quit after the first year - to me, this is a MAJOR problem. And who is the main group targeted as the problem - ADULTS/PARENTS.

But this problems can helped with a few simiple steps.

Practice what you preach. Have a value statement and live my it.

Promote it.

Sell it.


Enforce it.

More information:

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