Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Marilou Johanek


In youth sports, parents should set positive tone, not add to mayhem

They call us soccer moms. We’re also basketball, baseball, volleyball, and what-have-you moms. Dads too.

Ever since my kids could walk, run, and kick, they’ve played soccer. For years, they’ve been coached by their dad. I sit on the sidelines with our amiable mutt and watch teams compete.

Other women on folding chairs with time on their hands can be a distraction. Sometimes, we’re so deep in conversation we miss who did what on the field.

Soccer dads never take their eyes off the action even when unrelated — and probably unwanted — dialogue intrudes. Soccer moms wrack up miles in the minivan.

We brace for Ohio weather with blankets and umbrellas. But neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of really long tournaments keeps us from enjoying our kids in color-coordinated uniforms.

They move from division to division, often playing with friends they’ve known since preschool. We expect they’re learning valuable lessons about teamwork, respect, and discipline.

We expect they’re having fun. For the most part, parents who volunteer their time and energy to coach are good, caring souls. It’s not unusual for their kids to play on their teams.

From the sidelines or bleachers, sports families see youthful competition at its best — and its worst. The drive home is for dissecting what went wrong or right.

But win or lose, it’s not the end of the world. Or shouldn’t be. We aren’t training Olympic hopefuls here. We’re supporting kids who are trying to earn a victory or deal with a loss.

The point of youth sports gets twisted when it gets personal, when it turns into a childish tussle among adults, when self-control is a no-show.

I’ve seen my share of family-friendly sporting events devolve into tumult when players, coaches, and parents behave badly. The athlete-on-athlete shoving, tripping, elbowing, and other physical abuse — frequently overlooked by referees — is disturbing enough.

I cringe every time a young player is slammed to the ground, kicked, or deliberately fouled by another player. At a soccer tournament last weekend, my goalie daughter was deflecting an incoming ball when she was knocked backward in the goal box by a charging opponent who didn’t stop.

Fortunately, she wasn’t seriously hurt. The offending player was given a yellow card as a warning. What happened next was almost more unsettling.

Parents on the opposing team cheered the yellow card as if it was a badge of honor instead of a reproach for dangerous play. That was a first.

My kid could have been hurt, and they were cheering. At the same tournament, organized by the Bay Area Soccer League in Sandusky and sponsored by Cedar Point, tournament director Steve Schuster also had a confrontation with a bunch of unruly parents.

It was during a game between two upper-level boys’ teams. As the competition intensified, parents who were rooting for their rival teams began barking at each other.

As tension on the field escalated, so did hostility off the field. One mom urged her son to hurt an opposing player. Mr. Schuster stopped the game. He gave the provocative parent 30 seconds to leave the field or her son’s team would forfeit.

Another parent, who let loose with expletives, also was thrown out of the tournament.

“I pulled the coaches from both teams, the referees, and told them that everybody is on final warning and if it [the misconduct] continued, the game would be over immediately,” Mr. Schuster said.

“We had 44 teams from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada,” he said. “Forty-two were great.”

But, he said, there’s always one — parent, coach, player — who goes out of bounds with unsportsmanlike behavior.

“I think all three have a synergy,” he said, “so if the coach is amped up, then the kids get amped up, and the parents get amped up.”

I’m a loud soccer mom, but I know my limits. I’m there to lend spirited morale to my kids and talk with other moms.

Sure, everyone wants to make a goal, get a basket, hit a home run. But in the end, regardless of triumph or defeat, the kids always line up, high-five each other, and move on.

Excitable adults need to dial it back and do the same. Games geared to impressionable youths should be memorable for skill, not scolding for misbehavior.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

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