The Real ‘Sporting Goods’

Mad Sport
Photo by Niklas Hellerstedt

Our Role as Parents

From the cradle forward, our kids look to us as their example of how to approach competitiveness & etiquette in sport. I’ve seen my kids compete in arenas as small as the speed at which they eat. My son enjoys “winning” even if it means that he has to reverse the rules to his advantage after the challenge is over. This behavior is natural, but it is childish & meant to be put into check by parents who proactively ensure an end to the trend. This isn’t always the case.

I began to playing softball & basketball at the end of elementary school, joining teams that had already been playing together for a long time. I moved into a new school & rattled a few cages by being the new girl. Unfortunately, this meant I was introduced to brutal competition & a down-right mean athletic mentality to which I had never been exposed. Even my coach was obviously in the tank for only a few in the group — not rooting for the collective efforts of the team he was “coaching”.

Choosing Our Battles

It’s impossible to anticipate or control such factors as a parent, but I had a hard time as a fifth grader not getting upset when my team had very little sportsmanship even within itself. Now as a parent I like to be an active spectator, but there are seriously classes teaching PARENTS etiquette before their 5-yr-old kids are allowed begin a season of organized community sports. I should have guessed that this could be the natural course of sportsmanship’s demise when over fifteen years ago, the coach of my softball team regularly got ejected from games.  I was unfortunately mistaken by believing my experience was an isolated circumstance.

What can we do now to change the downward momentum of sportsmanship?

Mad at Mom

If we focus on this basic element of good character, maybe it won’t take too long before we reverse its sinking effect. It seems like a lot of homes may need to begin with the parents realizing the fun in sport before the movement can effectively reach their kids. I recently saw a segment on the news highlighting an embarrassing display of parental sportsmanship, or the blatant lack thereof, at an elementary school level football game.

How do we maintain a superior ethical base from which we teach our kids if the wrong-doing we try to express contempt for is exemplified to our kids by our parental peers?

What We Do In This Case…

From there we are bombarded with, “Well, So-&-So’s dad curses/throws insults/flails/makes a scene at our Little League games!” I, however foolish, braced myself for that mom” when I signed up my 4-yr-old girl for ballet. I knew I would be the odd man out for not being the finger-pointing, over-bearing mom trying to perfect my BEGINNER ballerina. I am incredibly grateful that this was not the case, but then I wonder: How and why the heck has this behavior become a stereotype? Why are we no longer shocked that this kind of parental niche is so omnipresent and, even worse, accepted? The only reasoning I can fathom is still unacceptable. If anything, the hovering, you’re-never-doing-it-good-enough mentality is rooted in the parent living vicariously through their kid and thus stripping any chance for pure joy being experienced by their child.

My Point, Finally

I don’t have any answers.  I obviously have a lot of questions, and it breaks my heart to have to pose these inquiries. My hope here is to simply bring it up and cause a social re-evaluation of what to do with: it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. This basic assessment is still true, but HOW we’re playing now has become muddled by vanity and disconnect from what it means to be part of a team. If you want your kid to see a hero in the likes of Barry Bonds or, dang it, Alex Rodriguez at this point, I present a moot point.

Think about where we could be as a global community if our kids knew how to play nice in their own neighborhood.