Winning the Battle but Losing the War
My son is an amazing athlete; his favorite sports are soccer and basketball. I enjoy watching him play and bonding with his teammates’ parents. I enjoy watching the boys high five each other after a missed shot and celebrate together after a win. What I don’t enjoy is the shameful way that some of the parents behave at sporting events.
Once during a game, my son was running across the soccer field with the ball, and someone kicked him in the leg; he went down hard and was unable to get up. I’d been warned before not to rush onto the field or the court when my son is injured; it embarrasses him and interferes with play. I was desperate to run over and console him, but instead, I stood on the sidelines, chanting quietly, ‘It’s okay, buddy, just get up and keep going. Get up; you’ll be fine, just shake it off and get back in the game.’ As I’m standing there staring at my baby on his knees on the field and praying that both his body and his ego would survive this, I heard a parent from the opposing team yell, “Stay down!” and someone else yell “Kick him in the other leg!” Really?
Unfortunately, that is not the first time I’d witnessed that kind of behavior. I’ve heard parents boo players before, and encourage their children to assault members of the opposing team physically. I’ve listened to parents cussing loudly and screaming insults at children and coaches. No matter how often this happens, I find it appalling.
What happened to the days when sports were about teaching our children to be team players - to win and lose gracefully, pass the ball, share the trophy, and lift each other when they fall? What happened to parents enforcing these behaviors and values? When did it become socially acceptable to encourage violence toward and verbal abuse of children? To scream cusswords on a soccer field, in a gymnasium, or on a tennis court? To get in fistfights with coaches or other parents?
We need to change our definition of winning. I’m all for playing hard and going for the win, but I do not advocate winning by cheating, assaulting, or verbally abusing others. Winning that way is not a win at all; it’s a disgrace.
If we want our children to become adults who lead purpose-driven lives, who aren’t just out for themselves but for the greater good, we have to start when they are young. As soon as they are old enough to hold objects they should be taught that those objects are not weapons; as soon as they are strong enough to hurt someone they should be taught that strength is meant to help and not injure others; as soon as they learn to talk they should be taught that words are for building up instead of tearing down. Words, like hands, can wound or heal, comfort or destroy. Children need to know that their choice of words and behavior matter immensely.
Sports are games, but they are games that teach children about life. The same rules that apply to great sports teams also apply to great lives:
• play with integrity
• win or lose with grace
• treat everyone with respect
• share the spotlight
• lift others when they fall
• do your personal best
• keep improving your skills
• mourn, celebrate, learn and grow as a team
Soccer fields, football fields, and basketball courts are the training grounds where children are shaped into adults. Children learn lessons there that will influence the rest of their lives. Bullies on a soccer field grow up to be bullies in boardrooms, and angry, violent athletes end up isolated or incarcerated adults. People who spew hatred and take every opportunity to kick others when they are down do not go on to lead fulfilling lives. So, while teaching our children to trample everyone in their way may afford them temporary success, it will not lead to their ultimate happiness.
Humans were not meant to destroy each other in a quest for personal gain; we are at our best when we forgive, encourage, and assist each other.
If we want our children to lead fulfilling lives, we need to model behavior that leads to a fulfilling life. How we behave – and how we encourage our children to behave – on a sports field matters, because one day, it’s how they will behave in all other areas of their lives, for better or for worse.
Have you witnessed inappropriate behavior at your child’s sporting event? How can you turn that into a teaching moment for your child?