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The Maryland Gazette


September 9, 2006 Saturday



HEADLINE: Sports comment: Keeping things in perspective a must

BYLINE: Joe Gross

A new sports season is beginning. Football, soccer, field hockey. It's an exciting time.

It's an emotional season when civility is often foolishly disregarded. Fans, perhaps more than players, tend to become agitated as they watch their offspring, other relatives and neighbors' youngsters competing in
youth sports programs. And far too often they allow that agitation to get the best of them.

Far too frequently the people on the sidelines take the games too seriously, treating them as if there were great consequences riding on them; as if they would have a bearing on the futures of the players, as if they were life-or-death contests.

That is wrong! That is not even close to what they are meant to be.

Too many people forget that recreational sports are meant to be learning experiences for young children and adolescents. That is when they actually learn to play the game, learn the fundamentals, the details and the intangibles of the sports. These games are supposed to be a form of healthy fun for those who play them.

Yes, they should still be playing to win, that is the object of the games, but they have to know that not everybody can win and that losing is not the worst thing that can happen to them.

Youngsters do have to learn to win as well as learn to lose. They have to understand the importance of respect for their teammates and for their opponents. They have to grasp the meaning of character. They have to realize the appreciation for hard work and dedication and where it can get them.

This is when they can take the first steps at mastering that plethora of often difficult lessons.

This is also when the coaches of those teams have to maintain their composure. They must remember they are dealing with easily influenced youngsters. Perhaps the most difficult feeling to comprehend is that those games are not paramount in the lives of every youngster on their teams.

Coaches have to accept that they are coaching recreational sports and that they have an array of roles: teachers to some, father figures to others and even baby sitters to some of the others. They have to admit to themselves that they do not have a national ranking or a Super Bowl berth at stake in any of their games.

The coaches, who are mostly parents of the players on the respective teams, should realize that with accepting the responsibility of coaching, they also must become the role models who show the youngsters how to win with humility and how to lose with grace.

They must be able to hold their tempers. They have to be compassionate. Yet, they need to be disciplinarians. They have to be fair. They have to be altruistic even when that is difficult.

In all honesty, being a youth coach is far more difficult a task than most see it. Even the adults who want to give of their time and energy, rarely realize the vast spectrum of expectations they will encounter.

Few who volunteer as coaches go into that venture asking for the responsibilities that will be yoked on them.

They don't realize the volume of their undertaking, especially with parents who are more comfortable on the sideline criticizing, complaining and creating stressful and sometimes troublesome situations.

It's next to impossible to convince some parents that winning isn't everything in
youth sports.

Many parents don't believe that youth coaches should be teaching their child that simply playing the game, learning to get along with teammates and earning the respect of their opponents is more important that winning at that level.

It doesn't mean the young athletes should be happy with losing. It's OK for them to be angry or upset.

But they have to learn to channel their feelings, to use their anger to make them play harder, to make them more passionate.

The vast majority of the young people participating in the sports programs are able to do those things.

Unfortunately, fewer parents of those youngsters demonstrate the same attributes.

They too readily vent the emotions that come with their winning-is-everything mentality to the young impressionable athletes, to the coaches and to the game officials.

During this sports season, it is critical for all adults, coaches, parents and other spectators involved in any way with recreation or scholastic sports programs to maintain and display their civility.

Civility, respect and character are musts for the ultimate good of the youngsters as well as the programs that are teaching those youngsters important lessons that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Teaching those lessons is the most important facet of recreation sports, not winning games.