Parents need to chill out, let their kids have fun in sports [Commentary]

Some adults just need to grow up.

When I was growing up, I was very active in sports through the Fallston Recreation Council. I spent a good part of a lot of Saturdays playing soccer, basketball or softball. I made the travel team in softball, which took up a lot of Sundays.

With a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, I fully expect my husband and I will be reliving those days soon.

After I stopped playing, I became an umpire at Fallston, calling games on the same fields where I used to play. I also refereed some young kids' soccer games for a few seasons.

Many years later, I was a volunteer umpire for Havre de Grace Little League, where two of my colleagues are still active.

I heard my fair share of abuse on the field, but abuse is kind of a harsh word. I think I was called brain dead once, and I can remember a woman (she may be the same one who called me brain dead) running beside me up and down the sideline yelling at me that I was no good.

But never, in all the years I umpired or refereed, did I see any parents come to fisticuffs over their child's softball or soccer game.

I'm not sure what I would have done had I seen that. I'd like to think I'd tell both (or all) parties involved to get away from the field, go to their cars, get away from the kids.

There is absolutely no place for parents - parents - to fight at a youth athletic game.

Yet it happens, and it happens too often.

A few weeks ago, some parents got into it at an indoor soccer game being played by 7- and 8-year-old boys. Seven and 8 years old, that's reprehensible!

"After the game, a discussion between the Hickory coach and the father of an opposing player began and quickly became heated," according to a letter read out loud by a county councilman during a recent council meeting.

"I witnessed the Hickory coach fling his equipment bag to the floor and literally pick up the father and throw him three to four feet against a wall. When the father fell to the floor, the coach viciously began stomping him, while parents and crying children watched in horror and disbelief," the letter said.

The argument that led to the fight had something to do with how the coach handled the end of the kids' game. The coach held the ball on the sideline, which didn't give the other team a chance to score or something like that.

So what? These are 7- and 8-year-old kids. How important can an indoor soccer game be, especially at that age? These kids are playing for fun – at least they're supposed to be. They've only been playing for a few years.

Parents seem to be taking youth athletics a whole lot more seriously than they ever did when I was participating. Teams are much more exclusive and require tryouts. They practice a couple times a week in addition to at least one game, if not more. Kids are pushed to become better and better, work harder and harder, spend more and more time at their sport.

In addition, too many kids seem to be urged to specialize in a sport, play it year-round. They can't dabble in a bunch of different sports, playing one in the fall, another in the winter and still another come spring. It's soccer, soccer, soccer, or lacrosse, lacrosse, lacrosse 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

How is that enjoyable for kids, especially when they're young?

Do these parents push the same kids academically, which in the long run is going to be more beneficial than pursuing athletics? How many will get athletic financial aid over academic financial aid to go to college?

When you have parents who take their children's sports so seriously, and put so much stock in their athletic "careers," of course they're going to get heated easily.

OK, so get angry, but don't take it out on the coaches, or the players or anyone else for that matter. It's just a game, after all. Let the kids have fun.

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