In the last week, I’ve been confronted by two real and painful examples of what happens when adults don’t stick to a rule they often reprimand children for not following: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
While the first example is too personal to go into, this second infraction on the cousin to the golden rule came at a kids’ soccer game this weekend. Let me pause for a moment to express that even after seven years of watching my children play youth sports, I haven’t immuned myself to the way some sidelines parents criticize kids, coaches and refs alike. It’s infuriating and distracting. Youth sports are supposed to be fun. These children play not to win the world cup in peewee soccer but to run around and “learn” a sport. In the process, they get fresh air and an understanding what it means to be on a team. The coaches are all volunteers, usually parents to one or more kids on the team. These parents are not professional coaches but real people with full time jobs on top of their household responsibilities. For many hours each week they spend their “free” time with our kids on a soccer field.
At Saturday’s game, I was caring for our coach’s toddler daughter while he guided a field of seven and eight year olds in the chaotic art of soccer. Our kids don’t have many fancy moves. They don’t even get called for offsides yet. Most of them still follow the ball like a herd and freeze with fear sometimes when confronted by a chance to kid the ball. In other words, they play like little kids.
The team we were facing was a little more sleek and sophisticated. And they quickly went up on us by five goals.
After the 3rd or 4th opposing goal was made, some team parents started criticizing our own coach. I took exception not only because he’s a good guy doing a tireless (and apparently thankless) job, but because these loud mouths were making these comments right in front of our coach’s two children.
At first I tried a few gentle exclamations of my own. To his daughter sitting in my lap I said, “hey, look at your daddy over there! See daddy coaching! Do you want to wave to your daddy the coach?” To her older brother sitting on the grass I said, “is your dad taking you to your soccer game after he’s done coaching this game?” But subtlety is lost on the socially degenerate. After temporarily redirecting their tirade to the kids playing on the field with a “get the ball! kick the ball! pass the ball!” chorus (can we please have a moratorium on statements of the obvious from the sidelines?) they returned to their original target. This time I took a bolder approach. I turned around and said, “perhaps you’d like to meet our coach’s kids; they are sitting right here.”
I didn’t wait to see the deer-in-headlights looks that I’m sure they flashed. They didn’t make an effort to introduce themselves to said children, nor did they apologize, but their tone certainly changed. “Oh, he stepped up when no one else volunteered to coach the team,” I heard one dad say.
Yeah, that’s right. He volunteered so that we could have a team. A team you just spent the last 45 minutes yelling at because they aren’t playing up to your expectations. Maybe the kids can’t hear their coach because ten adults are yelling directives at them from the sidelines. If you are such an expert, get off your chair and volunteer to help at a practice or game. But don’t criticize our patient, unpaid and under appreciated coach for his efforts.
And most of all, when you are in a public setting, be nice. Choose your words wisely. And don’t just do this because you might get caught saying negative things but because it’s the right thing to do.