Why does watching your kid play sports awake the beast inside you? Is it the brutal refs, the other annoying parents or even your own kids, who could give a crap about peewee soccer? Whatever it is, follow these 10 rules for becoming a ‘saner’ sports dad.
Children, in general, suck at sports. And as a parent, watching them suck evokes all kinds of emotions—fierce protectiveness, embarrassment, self-loathing (Oh God, I gave them those genes)—which many of us have difficulty handling. My kid played second-grade basketball this winter, and when she failed to make a shot the entire season, it took everything in my power not to storm the court, clear out an area around the basket with police tape, and let her shoot until she got the fucking thing in.
Being a sports parent is a remarkable test of self-restraint. We’re so used to being sports fans and watching pro and college sports played at a high level that it’s jarring to witness children flail as they learn the idea of sports: competing, knowing the rules, positioning yourself to make a play, etc. This is assuming your child even wants to learn. Half the time, my kid stood at midcourt chatting with friends, only to have the ref come up and say, “Hey, guys, you have to actually play now.” And this is before you factor in all the other parents and coaches acting like dicks and raising your blood pressure even more.
That’s when the yelling begins. That’s when you go from silently clapping to breaking the ice with a “Get back on D, son!” to going Full Pitino. That crazy dad next to you, drenching everyone in frothed spittle? He was you once. And if you aren’t careful, you could become him. Here’s how to keep that from happening.
1. Only the coach gets to coach. He (or she) is the one who volunteered his time for the gig. He’s the one who planned the practices and coordinated the schedule and reserved court time at the nearby Sportsthunderplex. He’s the one who drags that big-ass mesh bag filled with balls from his car every weekend. If you’re not willing to make that sacrifice, you don’t get to show up on game day and act like you’re Nick Saban.
2. Don’t get too jealous of that one good kid on the field. Every kiddie game features at least one child who is a genetically superior mutant sent from the future. She can make shots. She plays tight defense. She runs fast. She never gets distracted by shiny whistles. This mini Bron-Bron will NEVER be your kid. Your kid will look like an invalid by comparison, and that is (deep breath) okay. At this level, every sports league is an experiment. Some kids get the hang of it right away. Some kids are late bloomers. And some kids want practice to end so they can go watchFrozen for the sixtieth time. So don’t get discouraged when a ringer comes along. Chances are that kid will burn out and become an alkie by 17, and you’ll have the last laugh!
3. Cheer for all players on the field. Even the opponents. Even that one player from Squaw Valley who’s got a neck tattoo and is more physical than a prison guard. If you root for other kids, other parents will root for your kid, and your kid will be thrilled to hear cheers from anyone who is not you. Your cheers mean nothing. Sorry. You probably shouldn’t even have come.
4. If the ref fucks up, ignore it. He probably wasn’t even paid to work your brat’s Little League matchup. That guy is there strictly for the love of the game. He’s a GRINDER. So if he has a generous strike zone or falls for a phantom tag, leave it alone. Your kid may as well learn now that life isn’t fair and that his fate will often be left up to dim, incompetent people. Fucking ref. THE REF BEATS HIS WIFE!
5. Walk away from nut-job parents and/or bad coaches (unless you can’t). You wanted to be civilized. But then the opposing coach started ordering his players to take nut shots, and now you can barely contain your rage. What do you do? If you’re me, you stand there biting your tongue, staring daggers at the coach (who will not notice this), and then bitch about it on the car ride home. But if you’re not a coward, consider the following alternatives to starting a knife fight. First, ask your team’s coach if he’ll speak politely to the opposing coach about being a prick. Suggest suspended game play if the dickishness continues. If that fails, pull your kid early, then file a formal complaint, which is the Soccer Mom way of doing gangsta business. That rogue coach will be getting a stern letter from the Allegheny County Intramural Board in eight to ten months! BOOM. ROASTED.
6. Try not to be the loudest and most annoying parent in the stands. If you see another parent screaming encouragement, chances are you will follow him like the sheep you are and jack up your own decibel level, so that everyone knows you love your kid just as much. But you don’t get a trophy for Cheeringest Parent.
7. If you feel like you’ve become too emotionally invested, check your phone. Most parents swing between checking their phones and then screaming too loud to make up for the fact that they were checking their phones. So if you feel like you’re one step away from clubbing that ref with a Gatorade bottle, spend thirty seconds reading e-mail and praying your kid doesn’t catch you being indifferent to her life.
8. Remember where you put your kid’s coat. Somehow you will always leave it 500 yards from where you end up watching the game, and then the other team will have their halftime meeting right on top of it. You paid forty bucks for that jacket!
9. Bring a water bottle. Coach can’t bring everything. And the water-fountain water at the Sportsthunderplex tastes like it has ricin in it.
10. And yes, take the kid for pizza afterward. Win or lose. Let’s face it: Pizza was the whole point of signing up for this league, anyway. Order up a large half-cheese/half-pepperoni, then sit across from your kid and do that thing where you smile at him while he eats and then he looks up and says “What?” and then you say “Nothing!” and then you keep smiling at him like the proud-idiot parent you are. Awwwwwww.
And then tell him he needs to work on his shit-ass jumper.