Social media recently showered a lot of likes and love on a high school pitcher in Minnesota whose team was playing in a regional final that would send the winning team to the state championship game.
After the last batter of the game struck out, the pitcher did something unheard of. Rather than spontaneously join his teammates in an on-field celebration, as is customary, the pitcher unexpectedly made a beeline to the batter’s box, where he hugged the dejected batter. Turns out they are best friends who’ve been playing ball since they were little kids.
Social media comments understandably lauded the young pitcher for an extraordinary display of grace and empathy. My focus was on what a great job his parents did in raising a young athlete for whom the heady thrill of victory had to wait so he could unabashedly express empathy at a most improbable moment.
A Facebook post I scrolled by the other day shined a light on a decidedly different breed of sports parent, one who may not be able to relate easily to the above incident. Maybe this kind of sports parent would dismiss that pitcher as some kind of snowflake for letting compassion get in the way of gloating giddily over a win.
The Facebook post took to task several sports parents at a game who thought it was OK to openly talk trash about the coaches, who volunteer their time to make sure kids can play and learn recreational athletics.
“You may not agree with what the coaches are doing,” the Facebook post read, but “unless you’re gonna get off your [butt] and put in the time to coach kids, keep your mouth shut!!! The coaches may not hear you bad-mouth them, but their wives, mothers and fathers, and most of all their kids can hear you!!!”
One person commented, in agreement, “This happened back in the ’70s when I coached. All parents think they have a superstar.” Well, not all think that way, but the ones who do can be a handful to deal with.
Distasteful behavior like that happens all the time at youth sports events all over the country. Human nature being what it is, we’ll never be rid completely of self-absorbed sports parents who struggle with the concept of good sportsmanship that all the other parents try to teach kids.
I’ve seen it firsthand while serving for the past quarter-century on the board of a youth sports club. Rarely does a player cause a problem. Invariably, it’s a mischievous sports parent whose behavior becomes disruptive to everyone else.
The president of a youth sports league recently told me that, at a game, a couple of coaches tongue-lashed one of the teenagers who umpire games. When it was reported to league officials, they suspended the coaches for a game. “Good,” I replied. I said that the suspensions should be publicized (without naming the coaches) among the league’s membership as a deterrent to other adult coaches who may have the same bad idea to get on a young kid’s case.
How’s this for an eblast that league, or any youth sports group, can distribute: “Dear Sports Parents, we greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time and has the appropriate knowledge to umpire our games. It’s not easy. Any ump is going to miss some calls. Or make some calls you don’t agree with. Live with it. Ditch the hissy fits. Or risk suspension. Or volunteer to learn how to umpire so you can help us out, too. Thank you in advance for seriously considering how you can contribute more and complain less.”
Thankfully, it’s even-tempered sports parents with a more rounded perspective who far outnumber malcontents.
I think of role models like Sergio Esposito, a resident of Yorktown. He has 12- and 14-year-old sons who are on travel teams and a 16-year-old daughter who is a first degree black belt in karate.
Sergio says that being a participatory, rather than a passive, sports parent gives him the opportunity to not only watch his kids play, but to be on the field with them, to directly partake in their successes—and in their failures. Learning to lose gracefully is as important as learning to win humbly. It’s a life lesson lost on sports parents who indiscriminately throw shade at the field from the sidelines.
Sergio talks to sports parents about the difference between cheering in support of the kids on your team and cheering against kids on the other side. He makes it a point to compliment players on the opposing team by shouting out “nice play” or “great catch.”
One reason Sergio got involved in youth sports is because he’s community-minded, also serving as vice president of the town’s Chamber of Commerce. In his business life, he runs two different companies. Yet, somehow, busy as this sports parent is, he seems to always find time—to make time—to give back to his community any way he can.
This is the third year that, in cooperation with the Yorktown Chamber of Commerce, Sergio has organized a charity baseball game that pits a team of players 11 years old and younger (11U) against the local police department. Scheduled for Saturday, June 23, on lighted fields at Route 202 in Yorktown Heights, it’s billed as “The Kids vs. The Cops!”
The game is the centerpiece of a family fun night out with barbecue and other food sold and voluntary donations encouraged. Proceeds are used to send children with life-threatening diseases and their families to a week of “hope, recreation and support” at Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine.
More information is at the “Yorktown for Camp Sunshine” Facebook page or gofundme.com/Yorktown2018.