This weekend I took my three kids to a sporting event. The players were beasts, hungry for a win. The fans were going crazy, at times jumping out of their seats to cheer on their favorite players. And when the ref made a bad call — a really bad call — the coach on the opposing team went nuts. He yelled at the ref. He belittled him. He kept it up way after the play was over. We could hear his comments all the way in our seats across the field. And he didn’t stop. He went on and on. For the entire game. Seriously, the whole thing.

No, I wasn’t at the Bears-Packers game on Sunday. I was at my local park watching a bunch of eight and nine-year old girls playing soccer. The referee couldn’t have been older than 16 if a day.

I’d like to attribute this guy’s behavior to an overzealous parent. Like the one that yelled out: “That’s right, play tough, knock her down,” at my daughter’s soccer tournament over the summer. Or the mom who I heard screamed “kill ’em” at her son’s Pee Wee football game…the one who put herself in a time out because she was so shocked those words came out of her mouth.

But unfortunately this guy — this adult who was charged with “coaching” this team of impressionable young girls — is a paid professional. He is licensed. He does this for a living.  Instead of showing his players that sometimes refs make a bad call and you have to rise above it, all this guy taught them was that complaining, belittling, and basically bullying is appropriate when things don’t go your way. And don’t even get me started how I feel about the way he treated the young man who was just trying to do his job — a kid who probably now wants to quit refereeing because an adult who should be a role model instead treated him like crap.

I’m not here to discuss the current state of kids and club-level sports. We just started our journey and I’m certainly not qualified to talk about if club-level sports are ruining our kids’ love of the game or creating better athletes. As a family we’re trying to balance the love my kids have for soccer — and our love of watching them — with the hectic schedule and expense of it all.

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What do I know? There is no way I’m paying that much money to have someone yell sarcastic comments at my kid three to four times a week. That right is reserved for me and I do it for free.

As my eight year old came off the field that day, she turned and said to me: “Mom, I hope I never have a coach who talks to me like that. He was mean.” And I couldn’t disagree.  The guy talked to his team in such a condescending way that it sounds like “you idiot” should be at the end of every sentence. “Are you on the right side of the field Susie (you idiot).” “Maybe you should pass it next time Betty (you idiot.)”  By the end of the game, I was having vivid imaginary discussions in my head about what I would like to say to him, and believe me, the language was stronger than “you idiot.”

But coaches like this really concern me. Club level sports are a  major commitment, both in time and in money, and there are weeks I feel like my kids spend more time with their coach than with me. I worry about burn out and the pressures of too much competition. And more importantly, I want to make sure that in addition to becoming good athletes, they are also becoming good human beings.

Fortunately I do know that money talks. Parents need to remember that in addition to the time commitment and financial burden associated with the proliferation of club sports, we also have more options than ever before. There really is a club for every player at nearly every skill level. Clubs are only as strong as the players they keep, so don’t underestimate the influence you have. I’m not saying you should threaten to walk off every time you’re unhappy, but you shouldn’t stay at a program you don’t believe in, or one where your child gets treated poorly.

I believe it’s important for parents to not solely look at an organization’s win-loss record when selecting a program to join. Remember, this is a business, and before you hand over your money — and your child — you should check them out as you would any other service provider. Talk to other parents about their experiences, find out if any complaints have been filed against the club’s coaches, and ask to see if they have a code of ethics. And most importantly, trust your gut.

But what I really wish more parents would do is speak up. When you see a coach exhibiting poor behavior, talk to them about it even when you are concerned it may impact your child’s playing time. Contact the head of the organization to discuss it if you are apprehensive of approaching the coach. And if you really feel like your concerns are being brushed off, speak up by choosing a different organization. Because your child may not remember if he won that game at age 10, but he may remember that degrading coach for the rest of his life.

Is your child starting out in youth sports? I really like the site Moms Team, the premier online youth sports information gateway for the 90 million youth sports parents seeking advice, community and product information from a world-class team of expert psychologists, nutritionists, athletes, medical doctors, journalists coaches, referees and parents dedicated to one mission: to make sure that youth sports is safe, affordable, stress free and more fun.

 

 

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