OPINION: Parents Should Remember What High School, Youth Sports Are About

When did local sports become more about those perched in the stands than the kids wearing the jerseys?

They haven’t.

But at a recent summer baseball game, I watched parents berate an umpire over his strike zone before later taunting calls they didn’t like, eventually escalating to screaming and swearing at other fans. I laughed initially, but as I made the trek to my car I found myself feeling disappointed and admittedly frustrated.

We are talking about a summer league baseball game. Not a conference championship or a state title game, and not even a regular season Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) game. It was a recreational game filled with kids who just wanted to play baseball.

Officials are getting hard to find for youth and high school sports, and encounters such as the one I witnessed are near the top of the list for reasons officials are stepping away from sports.

I grew up playing hockey, a sport that sometimes sees the craziest of all parents. I continue to coach the sport now, and while I know every sport and team has its good and bad examples, I saw my fair share of parents snapping on officials and acting out in ways that only escalated dicey situations on the ice rink.

I believe these outbursts come from a good place. Maybe parents want to see their kids have success and see all of their hard work, time and money be worth it. Others love the sport, and maybe they can’t help but get a little amped up when their children are showing a love for the sport, too.

I support wanting to win and carry a strong competitive edge myself. 

But youth sports don’t have to be about the calls or the umpires, and at some point fans need to remember that 99 percent of kids on the field aren’t there to become professional athletes, especially in a summer baseball game.

Your kids aren’t going to sit in the dugout and be thankful that their mom or dad is the one cursing at an opposing fan for cheering after a call or chastising the umpire for what they think should have been a strike. Players might agree that it’s a bad call, but they probably understand what everyone is taught–once a call is made, very rarely does complaining change the call.

And I have to give the players credit for the way they seemed to be handling the strike zone last week, which honestly did seem to move and adapt as the game went on. If a player struck out, sometimes there was a look of disbelief or a disappointed shoulder slouch.

A few asked where the pitch fell in the strike zone, and some even chimed in from the dugouts. But these callouts were almost always to teammates, building each other up instead of breaking down the umpire for the call. They sometimes handled it with more maturity than the adults.

All of them appeared happy to be out on the field on a warm summer day playing a game they love. Let’s not forget that those are the good memories these kids will take away and talk about for the rest of their lives. 

Try to be part of those memories instead of being the punchline someday when the kids all laugh as they talk about the crazy parent who couldn’t let go.

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