Growing up, I was never on a sports team. While my parents encouraged other pursuits and hobbies, athletics was never a focus for my sister and me. Through the years, I would hear stories of games and championships, see trophies and witness bonds between teammates, and I knew that I had missed out on something important.
Recently, when our seven-year-old daughter expressed an interest in basketball, we quickly found a local league and signed her up. The experience has been an eye-opening one for all of us. In her mind, she imagined multiple dunk shots from mid-court and endless dribbling. I don’t think she realized just how much running and guarding was involved and how hard it was to actually take possession of the ball, much less to dribble and shoot.
Regardless, every Saturday morning, she puts on a brave face and musters her enthusiasm, gets out there and gives it her best shot. Sometimes I catch her yawning mid-game and other times, she looks more excited about the break than the actual game. But most times, she’s right in there.
Throughout the game, my daughter often looks up at me in the bleachers, where the parents are asked to sit. If she passes well, she immediately seeks me out and I enthusiastically give her a big thumbs-up or clap loudly. When she loses the ball or dribbles in the wrong direction, she also looks up. I still give her a smile and what I hope, is a reassuring look. I notice most of the girls do the same thing, they constantly look up to the bleachers to their parents.
Maybe, I’m a newbie to all this, but I’m mystified (and horrified) by the behavior of most of the parents in the stands. Last week, there was a mother who yelled for most of the game. She called her daughter out by name, giving her constant orders. “STEAL THE BALL SOPHIE.” “SOPHIE, COVER YOUR PERSON!!!” “COME ON SOPHIE, HUSTLE!!!!” And on and on… I wish I had a muzzle. My dirty looks went unnoticed as her sole focus seemed to be pointing out what her daughter was doing wrong. Not once did she praise or cheer her on. It was no surprise that Sophie never made a basket. The poor kid kept looking up with a pleading look in her eyes that read, “PLEASE. STOP. MOM!” But it didn’t work- it just made her mom yell louder.
When I looked around, I saw the dad that sat there each week, glued to the screen on his phone. In the past six weeks I don’t think he’s watched his daughter once. I can bet that she has looked up more than once during each game and knows just how uninterested he is. Let’s not forget the group of moms who are clearly friends and spend the hour chatting, laughing and having a great old time. Once in a while, they cheer when a basket is made, but their focus is on catching up – definitely not anything game-related.
Am I missing something? Isn’t the the whole point of us being asked to stay so that we can motivate, encourage and cheer our kids on, while they learn the game and become team players? So far, I’ve seen kids who are mortified by their parents, kids who are expected to unrealistically perform in a tense atmosphere where every action is critiqued in a loud and annoying way, or kids who are ignored by their so-called ‘cheering squad’ in the stands. I can honestly say that I do not enjoy being there and I’m not even playing! If I’m cringing at it all, what is the behavior of the parents doing to the self-esteem of these seven-year-old children?
With each game, these kids seem more concerned about impressing their parents than they are about being part of a team and – god forbid – having fun. Maybe I’m new to all this, and with time I’ll be yelling at my daughter? I sincerely hope that will never be the case.
This past weekend, we took the girls to see the Harlem Globetrotters at Madison Square Garden. While their antics and ‘game play’ were pure entertainment, there was something to be said about the spirit of the fans. Everyone had a smile on their face, and cheered every slam dunk AND attempt on the court. There was no tension, just loads of skill and lots of fun. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if parents could take a page from this and act more like true fans for their own children – as opposed to coaches or referees?
The season is coming to an end in a few weeks and my daughter has informed us that she has no desire to sign up for the spring season. I’m bummed out because I’m not sure how much of her decision is based on the game itself and how much is due to the environment she has encountered each week. She does want to try her hand at baseball. I’m hopeful that the fresh air will knock some sense into the parents and they model more sportsman-like behavior in Central Park.
I would hate to think that my parents did me a favor by not signing me up for sports. I’m optimistic that despite the parents in the stands, my daughter will find a sport she’s passionate about and will experience all the great things that go along with being a team player, working toward a shared goal, while having fun – let’s hope the parents cooperate.
Prior to becoming a stay at home mom, Mina was an HR Recruiter for years. Now her time is spent happily juggling the demands of two young daughters while trying to expose them to the endless adventures the city has to offer.
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