The stupidest things youth sports parents and coaches love to say
GQ, as part of an Internet-wide movement to create lists and slideshows for cheap page-count padding, recently posted an item called “Eight Stupidest Things Sports Fans Love to Say.” You know, stuff like “he plays the game the right way,” which is also on the list of Eight Stupidest Things Larry Brown Loves to Say.
So that got me thinking, fresh off a break from my 11-year-old daughter’s travel softball before we get to my 7-year-old son’s and 4-year-old daughter’s soccer leagues, about the eight stupidest things youth sports parents and coaches love to say. Given I’m coming off softball, this might be a bit heavy in that direction. I’ve got six items here. Feel free to suggest your own nuggets of numbnutsness for Nos. 7 and 8.
1. “Be a hitter!”
I can’t think of a time someone — a parent or coach — HASN’T yelled this after some poor kid had the temerity to take strike one. I can only imagine how hoarse Wade Boggs’ managers would have gotten had they yelled this every time he took strike one, which was every time he went up to bat.
“Be a hitter!” is dumb on many levels. First, even kids who are scared to take the bat off their shoulder are intellectually familiar with the concept that their mere presence in the batter’s box means that they are, in fact, a hitter. “Be a hitter? I thought I was supposed to be a fielder here!” Second, a kid who is not predisposed to hitting is not suddenly transformed into Ted Williams with the sage advice of “Be a hitter!” In fact, you usually can feel a player’s body tighten after that moment. Third, a kid who takes a pitch at a youth league level is no dummy. Often, a pitcher isn’t going to get the ball over the plate three out of six times, even with an extended strike zone. “Be a hitter” then becomes a command to get kids to swing at terrible pitches, thus teaching bad habits on pitch selection.
If you want your kid to “Be a hitter!” every time the ball is pitched, take him or her to a batting cage.
2. “Two strikes. Only one more!”
This phrase — or its batter corollary, “Two strikes, protect the plate!” — are yelled clearly because of the failure of the American education system. After all, why would even teenagers have this phrase screamed in their direction unless they did not know the number after two was three?
“You will get five strikes…” “Three strikes.”
3. “He’s going to get a scholarship!”
I could have called this blog “Your Kid’s Not Playing in College.” The holy grail (notwithstanding the above Monty Python clip) for many parents, particularly those whose children play sports with no mass audience, is for those tens of thousands of dollars and/or hours to pay off in a scholarship, which they realize only when their child gets to college sports (if their child is lucky, given a scholarship rate of 1% or less for any high school athlete) is year-to-year, and doesn’t come close to paying full freight. Hey, the volleyball team doesn’t make any money, you know?
Still, parents have programmed themselves early into thinking that the scholarship is the easily reachable pot of gold at the end of the athletic rainbow. My wife was out to dinner a while back with a few acquaintances, and she brought up bringing my then 6-year-old youngest son to his bowling league. Almost in unison, those acquaintances shot back, “Ooh, I bet he could get a scholarship for that!” Well, maybe he can. But the kid was still bowling with bumpers, for Pete Weber’s sake.
4. “Have fun!” or “Everybody have fun out there!” or “Hope you all had fun!”
When my wife tells me, “It’ll be fun,” that’s my signal that whatever she’s talking about is sure to be the opposite of fun. “We’re going out with our Bible-thumping neighbors to a creationist theme park. It’ll be fun!” Why does she make a point of telling me it’ll be fun? If it’s fun, won’t it be fun without me having to be cajoled into believing it’s fun? Of course, she knows this, which is why she’s trying to convince me (and her, perhaps) that “it’ll be fun!”
I know we’re supposed to encourage children to have fun in sports, but we do keep score, parents lose their shit on the sidelines, coaches are critiquing kids’ every move, and the umpire doesn’t care that the batter swung through your catcher’s mitt and your fingers are throbbing with pain — damnit, that’s catcher’s interference (the last one actually happened to my 11-year-old daughter this summer). No wonder coaches have to make a point of saying, “It’ll be fun!”
5. “Sports is good for them. It keeps them moving, so they don’t play video games.”
That is a paraphrase of a common reason parents sign up their children for sports when they would clearly rather be, well, playing video games. It’s not fun (“It’ll be fun!”) for anyone — not for the parents dragging the kid out to practice, not the coach who has to deal with a player who does not want to be there, not for any teammate trying to take a sport halfway seriously. And, of course, not for the kid. If you want your child to move and not spend so much time on video games (the only reason I can figure why they’re singled out is because the parents don’t get gaming, or they’ve heard other parents say it), there are other options, ones that are more practical. For instance, have your kid sweep the driveway.
6. “[Fill in unhinged argument with official/umpire/referee]”
Here is my personal code of conduct for parents and coaches when dealing with officials:
Rule 1: The quality of officiating is commensurate with the skill level of the athletes involved. Ergo, your child’s bitty basketball game will not have the same professional refereeing of an NBA game. (Plus, in youth leagues calls often are made differently so the game can be sped up, or to give players more leeway to learn.)
Rule 2: It is OK to react negatively and quickly — such as an eye roll, grunt or “ah, fuck” — to an official’s call. Not every call, but one that seems fairly crucial.
Rule 3: It is OK for the coach to ask for a clarification from the referee as to why a certain call was made — as long as that clarification is requested respectfully. (Not, “Can you please tell me what the fuck you could have possibly seen, you stupid shit?”)
Rule 4: Once the matter is settled, shut up. And if you don’t shut up, the ump, even if it’s a 15-year-old girl, can tell you to shut up.
Rule 5: If you spend the ride home with your child blaming the officials for the loss or anything bad that happened, your child will grow up to be Rasheed Wallace. Except, more than likely, without the money and the NBA career. In other words, all of the whining, and none of the benefits.
Does anyone want to nominate the final two?