One of the more memorable sport movies of the last few years is “42” – the true story of Jackie Robinson’s first season in Major League Baseball as the first African American allowed to play in “the Show”, as it is often called. There is one particular scene in the movie that haunts me, and I hope it haunts you as well. I’m referring to the game when Robinson and the Dodgers play Philadelphia and take the field in front of a very hostile crowd. As Robinson runs out to his position in the first inning, a young boy sitting next to his father watches intently as his father yells racist remarks at Robinson for his mere existence on the field of baseball. Within moments, this young boy who appears to have been caught off guard by his father’s ranting, decides that he too should join in the degrading of the “villain” on the field; it seems like the thing to do.

Liam WOGA P BarsA parent can be a powerful influence on a child. A parent’s values become a child’s values. A parent’s words become a child’s words. A parent’s behaviors become a child’s behaviors. And it stands to reason that a parent’s villains become a child’s villains. What a sobering thought!

Perhaps it’s time to ask, “Who have you cast as villain in your world, and do you want your child to see and treat these people as villains – bad guys, undeserving of respect, targets of personal attacks, ridicule and blame? There are few things as destructive as racism; the movie scene demonstrates a father’s influence on a young mind. But it doesn’t have to be about the color of one’s skin for it to be damaging.

For instance, is it possible that our children learn disrespect for referees, coaches and judges by overhearing our repeated disgust over an official’s cal or evaluation? Can we really expect our children to take responsibility for their performances when we constantly blame the judges or umpires for calling it as they see it? How can we possibly ask our children to listen to their coaches when they frequently hear us criticizing the coach’s decision making?

In truth, parents can be respect-killers for every authority figure in a child’s life by attacking, ridiculing, criticizing, condemning and complaining about referees, umpires, judges, officials, coaches, and sport administrators. When we “villainize” someone, whether it’s during a competition, during the car ride home after a practice, or in front of children while talking to other adults, we should not be surprised when our children demonstrate disrespectful behaviors towards those same people. They didn’t learn it from a stranger.

We have a huge responsibility to teach tolerance and respect for those who volunteer their time (or are paid very little) to officiate or coach our children. If we hope to maintain the services of our officials and coaches, as well as teach our children respectfulness, we must first learn to control our emotions and our reactions on the sidelines of competition. Many organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to retain officials and coaches due to the verbal abuse they suffer at the hands of parents! Yet those same parents expect their children to control themselves.

If youth sports is truly a laboratory for learning life lessons; if its purpose is to help our children develop physically, mentally, and emotionally – then it stands to reason that parents cannot temporarily suspend such virtues as respect and self-control during the minutes of a game or course of a competition. If you recognize the tendency to get emotionally hijacked by your emotions during competitions here are some suggestions:

  • Increase the physical distance between yourself and the field of play; sit farther away from the action
  • Closely monitor your self-talk during the competition to stay focused on only the things within your control; an official’s decisions or scores are NOT within your control so leave them alone
  • Guard your reactions, especially in the first 10 seconds after a play or routine, or a “call” or score by a referee/judge
  • Ask yourself, “How would I feel right now if I were an official at a youth sport competition having to make a close or controversial call, or determine which deductions I should take?”
  • Be ready to consider this question at any moment: “What life lesson is my child exposed to by having to deal with the adversity of a ‘bad’ call, or score during this competition?”

Give these strategies a try. They will go a long way in helping you set a good example for your children and make it safe for our referees, umpires, and officials to continue doing the task they enjoy.