The recent fight among parents at a youth baseball game in Colorado is just one more episode in what seems to be a growing trend. There are many possible explanations for why this kind of thing keeps happening, many of them by now familiar: parental egos, parents living vicariously through their kids, parents spending big money on club or travel teams feeling that more is at stake, the often misguided quest for a college scholarship, and so on.
But the fights, screaming at referees, complaining to coaches, and berating of one’s own child are all symptoms of a deeper problem. Many parents, in the context of youth sports at least, simply need to think a bit more about their own beliefs, motives, feelings, and actions. When necessary, they need to do what they can to change them.
I’d like to offer the following as a way to begin dealing with these issues.
First, parents should take the long view. As one writer puts it,
Here’s to taking the long view of parenting, teaching and being involved in the lives of the children and youth in our community. It takes many bricks to make a wall, and many positive influences, little by little, to help shape our youth into model citizens of the future and to unlock the infinite potential inside each one of them. No amount of encouragement or act of kindness toward a child is wasted. You may not see it now, but have faith that you’ll see it pay off in 20 years.1
Second, we should think about what our kids need to be successful and fulfilled in life. What do they need to be good human beings, friends, spouses, parents, and community members? They can learn a lot from competing, from working hard to be the best they can be and trying to win as a member of a team. But they are often starving for encouragement and support from parents, as the above video makes clear. They also need to learn how to have quality relationships with others, as these sustain us through the bad times and make the good times more enjoyable. Lastly, they need good character. Sports can be a place for kids to develop courage, honesty, patience, humility, and many other virtues. Parents can help to make this a reality.
With this in mind, parents should ask themselves a few questions, and make changes as needed.
In the context of sports:
- Why do I parent the way that I parent?
- What does it feel like to be parented by me?
- How do I define and measure success as a parent?
If our answers don’t reflect the points made here, and the points made by the athletes in the video, then we have some work to do. We could also learn a lot by asking our kids to answer these questions for us. Their perspectives might surprise and challenge us.
It’s not enough to avoid brawls at youth games, though that is a good start. We should seek to make youth sports a place of developing not just good athletes, but good human beings. The chance to do so is there. Let’s do all that we can to take that opportunity for the good of our kids and our communities, both now and in the future.