HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
April 23, 2007, Herald Journal

The wide weird world of sports

By IVAN RACONTEUR

There was a time when youth sports involved learning about healthy competition, sportsmanship, and team-building, while engaging in some wholesome physical activity.

Today, two opposing forces are at work eroding the integrity of sports.

One school of thought suggests youth sports, especially for younger children, should be nothing more than a feel-good exercise in building self-esteem.

Presumably this concept was developed by beslippered and cardigan-clad refugees from Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.

Under this model, there are no winners or losers. Everyone is treated equally, and everyone who puts on a uniform receives a trophy.

The focus is on group hugs and telling everyone how wonderful they are, no matter what.

The absurd thinking here is that if one team loses, then the feelings of the losing team might be hurt, a tragedy that must be avoided at all cost.

The problem with this is that it does nothing to prepare kids for the real world.

Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. That is just the way it is.

If we apply this cream puff “everyone’s a winner” logic to academics, does this mean that we should give every kid who shows up for class a passing grade, just so no one feels badly about himself? What would this do for academic standards?

If we are judged solely by participation and not by results, it cheapens the victory.

One wonders how much pride in victory or incentive to compete the participants really experience when the results are the same for everyone.

One also wonders how these kids will cope when they venture forth into the big, bad world.

Looking at it from an employer’s perspective, we don’t want employees who think they should be rewarded just for showing up, we want employees who get results. We want employees who are motivated to think for themselves and come up with creative new ideas, not employees who expect to have their hands held constantly and depend on others for validation.

Winning and losing are different. Let’s face it, winning feels better than losing, and knowing the difference is a healthy motivation to try to improve and get better results the next time.

Mollycoddling kids and teaching them that life is all daisies and smiley faces is doing them and us a disservice.

Successful people are willing to take risks, and often fail. The key to success is using these failures as a way to improve for the future.

On the opposite side of youth sports is a darker force made up of rabid soccer moms and horrific hockey dads.

These people don’t care about healthy competition either. They are bent on winning at any price.

Stories of their antics seem to be making headlines more often each year.

There was the case of the man who strangled his nine-year-old son’s coach at a hockey game. He was mad because the coach had benched his son for missing too many practices.

Another case involved a Pennsylvania man who body-slammed a high school referee who had ejected the man’s wife from the gym for shouting obscenities during a basketball game.

In New York, a 40-year-old father was charged with assault for hitting a coach in the face with a hockey stick and breaking his nose. The man was upset because the coach did not put his son in during the final minutes of a game.

Another story involved a 41-year-old woman who was sentenced to probation, community service, and anger management classes for assaulting an 11-year-old who was cheering for the opposite team during her son’s little league game.

There are numerous reports from around the country, including assault against officials, coaches, players, and other fans.

In some cases, these attacks have led to serious injury and even death.

These sound more like scenes from All Star Wrestling than from innocent youth sports. The only difference is the wrestling was actually funny.

One wonders what is behind this insanity.

Are the parents trying to compensate for something?

We might also ask why these children are participating. Do they play because they want to, or because their parents force them to play?

Is this just a way for the parents to live out their sports fantasies through the children?

Whatever the reason, these incidents of rink rage and fieldhouse frenzy are destroying youth sports.

Perhaps the situation would be improved by banning some parents from youth sports altogether.

If they want to engage in antisocial and violent behavior, perhaps leagues could be set up to accommodate this.

Those who are unable to cope with normal social situations could beat the stuffing out of each other to their hearts’ content without dragging the kids along for the ride.

Perhaps these gutless wonders who feel justified in attacking officials, coaches and other innocent parties with whom they disagree might think twice before tangling with someone who is able to fight back.

It is one thing to attack a 67-year-old coach or a 15-year-old referee, but it is quite another thing to attack someone who might turn around and clean one’s clock.

Apparently, these people never learned about following rules or civilized behavior, and if things continue as they are, their kids don’t have much chance of learning these things either.

One need only look at the escapades of some professional athletes to see how this type of education is working out.

There has to be some happy medium between the those who think everyone is a winner, and those who think youth sports should be a life-or-death battle.

No doubt most parents who enroll their kids in sports are responsible, well-balanced individuals who are committed to the best interest of their kids. It is the extremists on both sides that we need to keep an eye on.