After spending the weekend watching youth soccer at Grand Park in Westfield, I can report that youth sports parents are just as crazy, fun, inappropriate, and combative as ever.
There is nothing parents care about more than their kids and there are few things they take pride in more than the achievements of those kids – whether in sports, band, theater, or intellectual pursuits.
Because of that pride and the longing for additional achievements, parents are prone to more than a little agitation which results in behavior of which few would be proud.
Normal adults who spend hours a day sitting in meetings where decorum is required and speaking without careful consideration results in career death, lose their minds on behalf of their children in relatively meaningless events.
As the uncle of a player for one of the teams competing, my behavior was no better than the parents, but that is nothing new. Complaining about calls and making smart aleck remarks to the families of those rooting for our opponents is something the Sterlings come by honestly.
It’s ridiculous to take a soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball, or football game so seriously that others are made uncomfortable or physically threatened, but feelings for our progeny far outweigh our ability to control our mouths.
Here are the top 10 causes for youth parent insanity:
10 – College scholarships are on the line. This could be higher, but the scholarship isn’t the goal for some kids – it’s the dream to play in college. The parents would love to have a scholarship defray or cover all college costs, but the distant dream of free college isn’t a primary driver of immediate insanity.
9 – Amusement. Many of us have a talent for mockery that was deactivated after we graduated middle school – or in my case when I turned 35. Somehow, the high stakes world of youth sports re-engages the juvenile side of our senses of humor. Every once in a while, ripping an official can be clever, rather than simply mean or ill-tempered. Nothing wrong with a few laughs at an officials expense if the line of bad taste remains uncrossed.
8 – Dissatisfaction with justice in our own lives. One of the sad truths revealed over the course of an adult life is that justice is rarely served in the way we are taught it should be, and frustration builds. We want our kids to continue as long as possible believing that good triumphs over evil, and hard work yields a positive result. When justice is violated, we lash out to protect our kids’ innocence.
7 – Fear of adversity. There is a gene in most parents that demands an abandonment of reason to all situations that might present emotional or physical pain for our kids. Despite an awareness that adversity is where we are best tested and taught, heaven, earth, and reason are moved to allow our kids to avoid it at all costs.
6 – Investment. Parents fork over a bunch of jack for the privilege of their son or daughter belonging to a team. Training and travel syphon cash. Instead of going to Florida or Mexico, family vacations are spent in Indianapolis or Omaha. I spent a full week in Lubbock, Texas, during the first week of July once. Do you know how hot and boring Lubbock is on July 1? That might have had something to do with another dad and I counting down the halftime clock five seconds early to entice an Arkansas player to throw up a halftime shot rather than drive for a layup. Lubbock in July is no place to ask parents to behave.
5 – Familial loyalty. Ours are better than yours has been a philosophy powerful enough to start wars, so why shouldn’t it cause parents to deride officials and mock parents of opponents? Hopefully, most stay away from ragging the kids, but it’s open season on adults as long as the line between good and bad taste is not crossed. For instance, when my wife was told, “Shut up, B***h!” by the uncle of an opponent in Lubbock, I took exception. The fellow left the gym and returned with a large bulge in his front pocket, which I believed was a handgun rather than evidence of his fondness for me – or my wife.
4 – Desire for justice. We see our kids work insanely hard, invest emotionally, and dare to hope. Our response is to double-down on their behalf. A lifetime of getting up at 5:00 a.m. deserves good results, right? Not necessarily, and especially not when the opponent gets up at 4:30 a.m. It’s true our kids deserve greatness, but so does everyone else, and sadly everyone can’t be great.
3 – Strength in numbers. There is a pack mentality among sports parents. Most sit in a group, and they derive courage from their common belief that every call against their kids is wrong and all those in their favor are right. The criticism becomes louder and louder, and occasionally all reason is lost. It’s like a Donald Trump in a gym or on a filed.
2 – Party-driven fatigue. If a team plays at 2p, and has the rest of the day off, what do you think the parents are going to do with their free time in a strange city. Very few will be productive. Many will choose to head to the bar, and some will choose to stay for an unwise expanse of time. They will wake up with the kind of fatigue that results in poor impulse control., and all those comments that wouldn’t make it past the gate to the mouth are unleashed without consideration.
1 – Awareness of sacrifice. Sprains, breaks, tears, bumps, and bruises are a reality for kids playing youth sports. Trips to trainers to recover from injuries are rewarded by a return to action, and losing as a result just seems wrong. Again, we forget that the opposing kids have gone through the same drill.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sports talk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-6p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.