“Some parents are so rude.”
That’s my daughter’s friend, telling me how a grownup moved her bag, coat and towel from the bleachers at the swim meet. “She pushed off my stuff, and stole my spot," the nine-year-old says, looking at me, probably wondering how I’ll respond on the topic of another adult’s behavior.
“That’s terrible! Yeah, a lot of adults are rude. They could learn a thing or two from you,” I tell her, honestly and pointedly.
My daughter pipes up. “That’s happened to me, too. One time I came back from a race and this lady was standing on my towel in her dirty winter boots. It was gross.”
These kids have a point. I’ve gone to a lot of youth sporting events in the past dozen years, and for a lot of different kinds of sports. Swimming, soccer, softball, baseball, basketball, football, cross country, tennis and track: I’ve watched them all.
And in watching those games, matches and meets, I have to agree with the kid that adults can be pretty rude indeed.
As youth sports have taken over the culture – and with it, so many parents’ weekends – it's also spurred a decided boorishness. I don’t know if it’s tied to our innate desire to see our kids do well or what, but -- whatever -- it’s obnoxious and pretty much ubiquitous.
So, here’s my list of rude sports parents:
• The Shouters: We all love our kids and want them to do well. That’s why we’re here. Screaming at them at the top of your lungs – and I mean TOP of your lungs, not just cheering them on and calling out their names – won’t necessarily make them any better. It often just distracts them.
• The Cursers: Hey, you, Daddio, at the 8:00 a.m. soccer tournament for eight-year-old girls: maybe you should cool it with the “Goddamn it, Natalie, get in there. Take her out, damnit!” (I saw that exact scene unfold on a field last year, and I told the dude that maybe he should tone it down a bit in front of second graders. I thought he was going to take me out right there and subsequently hid behind my bag chair, but I was glad I called him on it.) I’ve heard my share of parent spectator f-bombs in my time, too.
• The Insulters: “What are you thinking?” “What was that?” “Use your head!” Yeah, motivating your kids by publicly insulting them. That’ll work. (Confession: I am not proud of the fact that I have criticized my kid’s performances at times and can say that I felt guilty about that later, but I avoid doing it in front of their teammates or other parents. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe, probably. But I honestly think it’s worse to rip on them so vocally and front of others, especially their teammates.)
• The Ref Riffraff: I complain to people around me about bad calls because, let's face it, there are bad calls made by referees. But castigating refs to the point where other parents are giving each other The Look or are embarrassed for you, is not only rude, it sets a terrible example for kids. And guess what? It probably won’t motivate the ref to pick your team’s side in a call that could go either way. You’re the reason some ballparks are posting rules about spectator etiquette toward referees and coaches.
• The Oblivious (or Not) Game Blockers: We all got up early or drove a long way to watch our kids play. So down in front, because we want to see them doing what hopefully they want and like to do – actually compete. You and your kid are not any more important than ours, so don’t stand in front of other spectators and block their sight line.
To that last point, I was at a swim meet about ten years ago when a man in front of me stood up to watch his kid swim a race, blocking my view and that of the rows behind me. I couldn’t stand it anymore. “Excuse me, do you mind sitting down? We’re all trying to see our kids,” I told him, in what I thought was a polite but firm tone.
He turned around and I recognized him immediately and with a small degree of regret and, well, fear. It was Rahm Emanuel, who I knew was Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, the shrewd architect of Congressional elections and an overall guy you don’t want to mess with.
He looked right at me (through me?), and then sat down. He took his time doing it, sure, but he sat down.
Not that I’m keeping score, but in the Big Game that pits the reward of watching your kids and dealing with other spectators, that was a point well taken.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I’m off to watch a basketball game. The guy who always hogs the end of the bleachers and won’t make room for other parents better watch out. I’m not in the mood for crap that kids themselves wouldn’t do.