The Sideline Effect

I’ve got two kids, both of whom are involved in various extracurricular activities, all of which revolve around sports. My eldest is in marching band so she plays at every varsity football game, and my youngest will sign up for anything and everything that’s made available to her – soccer, softball, cheerleading… you name it, she’s all over it like it’s made of chocolate.

Can I tell you a secret? One that I’ve never admitted to any of the parents with whom I’m forced to make uncomfortable smalltalk during practices and games? I don’t give two shits about the game. There. I said it. Felt so good, I’ll say it again: I DON’T GIVE TWO SHITS ABOUT THE GAME.

Wow. That admission was seriously liberating. I’ve never felt so fresh and free. I feel as though I could be a spokesmodel for a Summer’s Eve commercial at this very moment, slow-motion-leaping through twilit fields of lavender with my short blue hair fluttering in the breeze.

In our small town, we have but one K-12 school in the entire district, and sports are a serious business there. Especially football. People put signs in their yards, they come to the games dressed head-to-toe in school colors with their annoying cowbells in hand, they scream at the top of their lungs and stomp their feet on the metal stands they’re seated in. It’s a lot like Thunderdome but without the “two teams enter, one team leaves” rule to make it really interesting. Also, Tina Turner isn’t there, which really bums me out because I loves me some Tina.

She’s simply the best. Better than all the rest.

She’s simply the best. Better than all the rest.

I know that I am in the minority. The less-than-1%. I try to feign interest in all of the games because my kids need me to be there so they can see me watching them strut their stuff. Truth is, if I had no children involved in these activities, you’d never catch me at a Friday night football game. It’s too cold. It’s too loud. I could be curled up at home, wrapped in a cozy blanket while reading a book and enjoying a glass of wine.

The more games I have to sit through, the more grateful I am that both of my babies were born without Y chromosomes. I’m the mom of a wee cheerleader; sitting on the sidelines watching other people’s sons having to endure the wrath of screaming coaches is bad enough – I can’t imagine what it’s like being the parent of a boy on the football team. Some of these coaches care a hell of a lot more about winning than they do teaching kids to play the game.

At the high school level, I completely get it – by the time those kids reach high school age, they know how to play the game, they know which positions they excel in – they’ve been practicing and playing for years to finesse their skill sets. And yeah, their coaches scream and berate them on the field because they expect nothing but the very best from their well-seasoned players, as they should. Some are likely even preparing for college football careers.

What I don’t understand is how that same mentality is justified at the 3rd and 4th grade level. These kids are just starting out, the focus should be on learning the sport and having fun working as a part of a team effort. The kids are still figuring out what their individual talents are – no one pops out of the womb knowing what skills they possess – those need to be developed. Now is not the time to be concerned with winning, no matter how nice it might feel. Now is not the time to forcefully grab an 8 year old boy by the face mask in order to scream in his face about how he messed up a play and he’s sitting out the rest of the game. Now is not the time to consistently bench half of the team because the coach can only be concerned with those players who stand the best chance of bringing his team to victory.

Sit your ass back down, you miserable failure!

Sit your ass back down, you miserable failure!

Some of those boys are rarely given the opportunity to play at all. And when they do, it’s one or two plays. 30 seconds to a minute or so. These are 8 and 9 year olds. For many, it’s their first year participating in organized sports altogether. How many of those boys do you think are going to come back next year? What lessons do those coaches think they’re teaching them? From what I can tell, the only lessons to be learned here is that their coach is an asshole who doesn’t care about helping them to succeed and that they’d have way more fun at home playing video games.

It’s not just football; these types of coaches can be found in any sport that requires one. I’ve been the parent of the kid getting benched more often than all of her teammates; it was based upon her lesser ability in softball, and it was all because that coach was determined to win the game. She was 7. I’ll admit – my kid doesn’t run the fastest and she’s no Baby Ruth but she loves the sport (unless it’s cold and/or rainy, or she’s hungry or needs to pee, or her shoes are laced too tightly or the wind is blowing from the north instead of the west). What she really enjoys is being a part of a team and playing a fun game together. Over the years, she’s definitely improved although this was an especially tough season since it was their first time playing kid-pitch. Before now, the ball was always coach-pitched so throws were consistent and much more hittable. But you know what? Our team has really flourished in spite of that new obstacle, and all of them still enjoy playing the game – in large part because of their head coach.

We’re lucky (so, so lucky) that our current coach will schedule each kid to be benched for the same number of innings as necessary to keep things even, no matter how we’re playing that day. He takes the time to teach the girls, to encourage them even when they mess up because he realizes that they’re still learning. They’re young, the only way they will ever excel in the sport is if they’re taught how to play and given the opportunity to do so, and if they’re encouraged to keep trying their best even when they mistakes. He never gets disgusted or upset when they’re tagged out, or when they strike out, or when they throw the ball to the wrong base.

Because it’s just a game. And they’re just little girls.

I wish that all of the coaches could be like that – I think our peewee football coaches could learn a thing or two from our softball coach. Not that I think it would make me suddenly love the game or anything, but it would definitely make my time spent on the sidelines a hell of a lot less aggravating.

Also, concession stand therapy helps a lot.

Also, concession stand therapy seems to help a lot.

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