You kids get off my lawn!
That’s a phrase we’ve all heard as a shorthand description for cantankerous, aging baby boomers who can’t tolerate young people having fun.
At the risk of being tagged with this stereotype, I’d like to offer some observations on youth sports.
I don’t think I’m cantankerous or aging, so I’ll push ahead with my comments.
Minnesota’s spring sports season is, even with the best of weather, extremely short. School teams must squeeze in a season of games in a few short weeks between early April and Memorial Day.
This year’s mid-April snowstorm and chilly weather shortened the season even more.
When the teams finally started playing, conversations about “How’s the team doing?” popped up.
I soon noticed a trend laced through many of these casual game reports. The common thread unfortunately, made me angry and also sad. Instead of hearing about young athletes and their adult coaches enjoying the game, I heard tales of players using profanity to bully and intimidate opponents as well as coaches setting bad examples of poor sportsmanship.
I’ll share two examples. The details have been changed to protect the guilty.
Example one: A friend who coaches at the junior high level described a star player from an opposing team who taunted players with a vulgarity generally not seen in print without a bunch of asterisks representing the actual letters. Did this player’s coach allow this star player to stay on the field because of her ability while ignoring her speech? Let’s hope not. But if the players could hear the words, I find it heard to believe the coach didn’t.
Example two: Another friend’s son plays high school baseball. At an away game, the coach went after the umpire for a supposedly bad call. The coach bolstered his argument with a few profane words directed at the ump.
The tirade was loud enough for the players and the fans to hear. I hope that coach was reported to his athletic director and that he was fired.
I spent lots of time watching youth sports. Both my daughters played on school and travel teams throughout high school. I don’t remember seeing or hearing that sort of behavior. Sure, there was a parent or two who thought he or she knew more than the coach, but those comments usually were spoken softly on the sidelines.
It’s been nearly 10 years since my daughters last played so maybe the sports environment has changed for the worse.
Athletic directors and league organizers will tell you it’s harder and harder to find people who will officiate youth sports because of abuse from players and parents. How sad.
I’ve also covered sports, from pee-wees to pros, in more than 40 years as a journalist. I’d much rather cover the Prep Bowl than the Super Bowl. I’ve photographed thousands of games and captured the stories of young athletes who played for fun and the satisfaction of giving their best. High-school athletes compete with so much joy and team pride.
While some parents and maybe even a few coaches may think otherwise, almost all young athletes will not receive a Division I scholarship or play professionally. All they will earn from their efforts are life-long lessons of teamwork, building confidence and tackling personal challenges.
Profane bullying and foul-mouthed adults are not part of the formula for fun on the field.
At the risk of being tagged as grumpy and cantankerous, adults should insist on respect, good sportsmanship and civility. Adults who fail those standards themselves have no place in the game.