We drove to Memphis this past weekend for my son's soccer tournament. This is the same tournament my oldest son played in years ago, so as we neared the city, those memories came flooding back to me. In fact, we stayed at the very same hotel. That was about 6 years ago, and much has changed since then. Jack's dad and I have been divorced for more than five years now. So we drove in separately, with our respective partners.
But while some things have changed dramatically, others have, sadly, remained much the same. Back when Connor played (mind you, he was about 9 years old), his team took first place in their age bracket. Back then, the boys had raced over to the brick enclosure to receive their trophies. The team they'd beaten was there too, they'd come in 2nd place and would receive trophies, as well. We all circled around the tournament director's table, kids sitting on the ground, parents behind, beaming. The two teams sat next to each other. All dirty, tired boys. Happy. Proud of their achievements. The 2nd place team's coach stood up to accept their trophies. He thanked our team for a game well-played. But that wasn't enough. In front of his own players, he went on to say how much better our boys played. He told our players that they deserved to win - they'd played a much better game of soccer. And then told his own players that he was disappointed. That they should be taking a lesson from our boys...and on and on. It was, in a word, sad.
Whether or not his players had played their hearts out or given up halfway through the game, did these fourth graders deserve to have their hearts trampled on in front of the competition? In front of their parents? Was it not enough that they'd lost? That they'd taken 2nd place? I was embarassed. For that coach. For the players. Really, for everyone within ear shot. Those boys were already smarting enough to take 2nd place. I don't think our players took any pleasure in that coach's verbal abuse of his own team.
This time around, Jack's team didn't fare as well. They did make it to the semi-finals, and got to play on the stadium field - a treat in and of itself. But they got beat. And as we sat and watched the game, I wondered about this other coach. He stood on the sidelines screaming at his players. Mind you, they were winning. In fact they were up 2-0 at the half, but that coach was literally jumping up and down, waving a shirt (or a towel - something) in the air and screaming. At the players, at the refs, hell, probably at God himself.
I watched our coach (who happens to be Jack's dad), hands behind his back, pacing the sidelines. Occasionally he'd yell a player's name, and as the player looked over, he'd use a silent motion to get his thought across. A point to his head might have meant "get your head in the game," Both hands waving towards himself, meant "move back," you get the idea. As the players were subbed out, he'd hive five each one. As one came off the field after a less than stellar performance, he'd stop him, hands on small shoulders, and talk for a moment, eye to eye.
Maybe you think this wasn't enough. Maybe, you think, this is why your team lost. I don't think so. Not for a minute. This team won one of their toughest games this weekend with this same coaching style.
Maybe it was a good thing that the other team went on to the finals (and won, by the way). I can't imagine how their coach would have acted had they lost.
But I digress. Parents are still coaching from the sidelines. Screaming at refs. Fighting amongst each other.
To what end?
Are they afraid of what will become of their child if they lose? Do they feel so much pressure to update their facebook status with a "win" that they would make a scene in front everyone? I'd like to know how many players on the field are listening to the parents over their coach. I wonder how many coaches wish the parents would just shut up already and let them do their jobs.
One year, when Connor was playing select ball, his team picked up a new player. Nice kid. Good ball skills. His father, on the other hand, was another story. This guy was a screamer. If his son missed a goal, he'd scream. If he lost a 50-50 ball, he'd scream. And when his son got hurt? He'd scream at him to quit being a wuss, pick up his purse and get up already (I shit you not). The man would frequently bring his older son to games, and wouldn't you know it? The poor kid's older brother would scream at him, too. The coach let him go at the end of the season. Not because of the boy's performance, but because his father was so incredibly disruptive on the sidelines. It made all the parents nervous. Hell, not only did he fight (loudly) with parents on the opposing team, but he'd yell at us, too. Not what you'd call good sportsmanship.
I'll take this just one step further into insanity. True Story: My 1st grade daughter is taking her first soccer camp through the same select club for which her older brother plays. I did not sign her up for select ball...I signed her up for a learning camp, and did so through this club because it allows her to practice on the same night as her older brother, on the field right next to him and her dad (who is his coach). It also allows her oldest brother to help coach the team, and assist other coaches and staff. A win-win for all. The night of their second game, sweet Ella served as goalie. She was adorable, alternately waving to me on the sidelines, and shouting encouragements to her teammates.
She made some great saves, and let in a few, too. At one point, after the second ball sailed past her into the goal, the mom sitting next to me said loudly to no one in particular, "can we change goalies!?" This out-of-shape hoosier then proceeded to tell the people around her that she had played select soccer in high school and college. Enough said.
Refs are going to make bad calls (football, anyone?). Players are going to make mistakes on the field. Every team will win some and lose some. So if you're sitting on the sidelines and have the urge to scream at a ref, a coach, a player, stop and think. What good will this do? Is the ref going to hear you screaming and reverse the call? Is he going to be afraid and call the game in favor of your son's team. Does he care? Or are you just modeling atrocious behavior that your child will certainly pick up later in life?
But I digress. On the way home from the tournament, we stopped at Lambert's...home of the throwed rolls (you know the place, right?). Fun atmosphere, great food, and yes, hot rolls thrown right to you. My daughter stood up in her seat and held her hands high over her head. The server saw her and launched a hot roll right to her. It was one hell of a throw. Of course, as soon as it started sailing towards her, Ella did what most seven year old girls would do...she ducked.
So I screamed and yelled at her for not keeping her eye on the roll.
KIDDING! We caught the roll and handed it over.
(author's note: Listen, I'm not saying that the losing team should get trophies, too. While that might be nice when they're little, at some point, and especially if kids choose to play at a select level, they are going to know what it feels like to lose. And guess what? That's okay! It makes the victories that much sweeter. And pushes them to work harder. I just don't think parents - and even coaches of young kids - need to be quite so... ignorant.)
Ever witnessed an out of control coach or parent?