Talk with D-Rok
Posted outside a pee-wee hockey rink in Hoffman Estates, Ill. there is a sign posted by the administrators of the particular youth hockey league which is meant to be read by spectators. The sign contains several reminders for the audience, which I think are timely in light of the recent drama involving Oklahoma State men’s basketball player Marcus Smart during the Cowboys’ game at Texas Tech this past Sunday and experiences I have had at area high school athletic events that I have attended.
The first of the six reminders on the sign, which I will be covering two at a time in three columns, is “these are kids.” The simple, yet sadly all too often forgotten, reminder is powerful. These student-athletes are not yet able to legally vote, sign contracts, etc. (with the exception of those few seniors who have turned 18 already). There is so much of the world that they haven’t experienced and many frustrations, as well as joys, of life that they have yet to face.
Yet for whatever reason, I have seen adults in attendance at basketball games and wrestling meets turning their voices into heavy stones, putting unnecessary weight on these student-athletes. Not all of it is directed at the students, of course. A good portion of the verbal barrage is aimed at the coaches or referees. While that is to some degree preferable to aiming it at young people, it’s still in my estimation immature.
If you think about it, it’s silly. I doubt anyone actually believes the action of yelling at a coach, an official or even a teenager, that by doing so he/she is actually enhancing her/his school’s chances of winning or the performance of her/his student.
The first potential consequence of this behavior is the lesson young people are learning from it. The message is that this is the kind of behavior that is acceptable, perhaps even expected in this setting.
Another consequence is that the students are cheated out of the benefits of participating in athletics. Sports teach young people to set goals, to face adversity and handle it on their own. The reality of life that we adults have discovered is that the world isn’t fair and sometimes we will be treated unequally. If a parent races to the defense of her/his child at every obstacle, that parent is short-circuiting the maturation of the child.
No child wants to see her/his mother or father behaving in an obnoxious way in public, even if it’s in her/his “defense.” What could result from consistent obnoxious behavior is a loss of respect and even resentment of the parent in the child.
The greatest tragedy of this behavior is still yet to be discussed in this column, however.
The third notice on the sign reads, “parents should cheer for everyone.” Adult spectators at games have tremendous potential to be a positive force. I have sat and listened to a man shout the word, “boring” to teenage girls playing basketball simply because they were wearing a different color jersey. That is unacceptable behavior in my opinion. With that same voice and time, he could have offered one or two words that could have a serious impact on someone’s life.
To give you an example of the power of encouragement I offer up a story from my own high school athletic career. During a football game one of the opposition’s players took a hard hit and I went over to help him to his feet. I asked if he was OK. He nodded and went back to his huddle. One of the referees in passing by me said, “good sportsmanship, 70 [my jersey number].”
I don’t remember who we were playing, the score, or even the referee’s face. All I know is that in that second, I learned that treating my opponents like people earned me some positive recognition. I suggest instead of belittling, we use our voices to positively impact the lives of the young people we come into contact with.