My children have participated in sports for roughly 14 years, starting as 3-year-olds chasing after a soccer ball and the occasional butterfly to today, when the games have a lot more at stake, and a lot more emotion.
We’ve done everything from hockey to gymnastics. I have seen a lot of different dynamics, but last weekend at a soccer game I think I saw some of the worst sportsmanship by parents, coaches and players that I can recall. I list them in that order because the behavior comes from the top down.
This isn’t a new topic. We read about it, talk about it and post about it on social media. As adults, we all know the value of good sportsmanship — letting coaches coach and the officials officiate.
Our soccer team traveled a few hours to get to the game. While walking to the field, I was welcomed by a parent from the other team who thanked me for driving up to this game that had been rescheduled due to weather. She said they should “roll out the red carpet for us” as the last time our team made the trip up, we were sent right back home — two hours up and back and no game.
We shared a nice conversation and then went to our respective sides of the field; I was pleasantly surprised by the reception. Then the game started. Let’s just say their “red carpet” needed a good cleaning.
From the start, the game was physical. A newcomer to the sport may have been a little shocked, but, as the years have gone by, I have learned that’s how it is played. I chuckle to myself when people ask if I’m concerned about my son playing football. Clearly they haven’t witnessed a teen boys’ soccer game. Nothing says concussion like watching two boys try to “head” the same ball at the same time.
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The physical aspect of the game was overshadowed by the commentary. From the opposing parents any time a call went against them, to the players whose language was fouler than the smell of their cleats. The coach joined in the fun as well. The official who was a young lady took a pretty good beating, as our parents and team remained quiet as hard as it was.
Officiating a game is not easy. The calls aren’t always perfect. But having adults yelling at you from the sidelines and a player argue and shout obscenities at you make the job that much more difficult. This official kept her cool, and kept making the calls.
Sitting there hearing the nonsense and not replying was very difficult. My first instinct was to yell back or comment. Fortunately, I was surrounded by great parents who help everyone keep their cool. At halftime I ran into the welcoming parent, and she wasn’t so much anymore. She made a few comments, I smiled, nodded and bit off my tongue and walked away.
Sportsmanship is a learned behavior, we all want our children to succeed, but there is a line. The players’ behavior on the field mirrored their parents and coaches. Our team was fortunate to have coaches who kept their cool and taught our children to as well. So much so that when my son fouled another player my first response was to yell his name in disappointment for that behavior, while the other parents reassured me it was the right play. He told me after the game the boy he fouled also said it was a good play.
We lost. I don’t know what that win meant for the other team, but clearly it was a lot. My son shared that one particular player was embarrassed at how much his dad was yelling. Our boys didn’t feel bad about the loss; we knew we played hard, we didn’t make a scene, and no one was hurt. As one parent kept saying in the midst of it all: “It’s just a soccer game.”