Magazine teaches manners to parents with kids in sports


In an age when special interest magazines cater to everyone from soap opera fans to lumberjacks, a new publication has as its intended audience parents who act like idiots at their kids' sporting events. Or who feel like idiots when they try to coach.

The first edition of Parents' Playbook arrived with my son's SI for Kids, a magazine read by more than a million 9- to 13-year-olds too hip for Highlights and too lazy to read junior novelizations.

Parents' Playbook will appear twice a year and will, according to editor Craig Neff, try to address both the bad behaviors of adults and the gaps in their knowledge of the sports their kids play.

"It seems like a natural extension of SI for Kids," says Mr. Neff, who used to play with the big kids at Sports Illustrated where he covered baseball and the Olympics.

"We want to offer practical advice so kids and their parents can get more out of sports. So parents are not so awkward trying to coach or not so burdened by all the driving around they do for their kids."

To this end, the first issue profiles three sports-crazed families and shares their tips for saving time and money. Two suggestions that have particular appeal in my house: "Each child is responsible for taking his own equipment and sports bag to and from an event." And "teach your kids to make their own breakfast and lunch."

(No advice on how to respond when your child has lost eight pairs of swim goggles at $7 a pop. Or what to do when she makes her own lunch and it is a microwaved chocolate chip sandwich.)

The new mag also offers a soccer primer for those of us who still refer to it as "magnet ball." And a buying guide for the in-line skates you are sure your child will break his wrist using.

But the magazine does something else: It tells us what our kids would say if they could find the words or the nerve.

"In talking to kids about SI for Kids," Mr. Neff says, "we hear a lot from them about how important their parents' involvement is. But we also hear a lot of their concerns about embarrassing moments and the pressure they feel.

"A lot of what parents do is very well-intended. They want their child to have a fair opportunity to play. They know the child will be happier if he is successful. Parents don't always realize the best way to accomplish these goals."

The "What Kids Say" department of the magazine lists 10 things parents should never do at a child's game: No tears, no kissing, don't panic over an injury. No yelling at the referees or coaches. No bragging, no cursing, no cheering too loud. No telling him to tuck his shirttail in. And no gossiping with your friends -- pay attention.

My guess is that if parents turned the video cameras on each other during their children's games, they would not be proud of what they recorded. But the things we feel for our kids are absolutely primal, and those emotions are not always filtered through our good sense or our good manners.

When my son stepped into the batter's box with two out, two men on base and our team trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth, I thought I was going to be physically sick. My ears were ringing and I was clenching my fists so hard I left nail marks in my palms. I couldn't bear to watch him under that kind of pressure.

Joe popped out to end the game and a neighbor tried to lighten the moment by saying, "Breeding will show every time." Instinctively, I spat an expletive at him. And just as quickly, I felt humiliated.

When one of those crazed, drill-sergeant coaches that seem to show up in every league shouted at my daughter for an accidental hand-ball foul during a soccer game and reduced her to tears, I nearly flew at his neck. Two women friends had to restrain me. I was absolutely blind with rage and not thinking at all that perhaps I should write a letter to the league commissioner about the coach's inappropriate behavior.

I fear Parents' Playbook will not save me from my darker side in those moments. That's why I take a seat at my children's games near my more seasoned, more reasoned women friends.

"Now Susan," they tell me, and they pat my arm, "remember. It is only a game."

To hear Susan Reimer read one of her columns, call Sundial and punch in the four-digit code 6156. See the SunSource directory on Page 2A for your Sundial number.

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