I once made an 8-year-old cry at a soccer match when I pointed at her and shouted, "Handball! You've gotta be kidding me!" Not my finest moment in years of youth sports that have taken our family to basketball courts, soccer fields, baseball diamonds and golf courses.
With two athletic kids and a house in the suburbs, competition is a way of life. We rationalize about the benefits of developing skills, confidence and good sportsmanship, but how much of that is wiped out by over-involved parents who behave badly? Just like kindergartners, when it comes to sports, adults act out in many ways. Here are the 10 worst.
- Suck-up. You can count on the suck-up -- usually a mom -- to flatter and cozy up to male coaches in order to make sure her kid gets primo playing time. If she's not the flirting type, the suck-up takes on as many volunteer jobs as possible in hopes of keeping her kid in the starting lineup. Sounds exhausting.
Big Shot. This guy is so important that he spends most of the game in the corner talking on his surgically implanted blue tooth earpiece. When he does join the other families, he makes sure they know all about the various scouts and coaches who are interested in his kid, not to mention the fact that he drives a fancy sports car and has a condo in a warm climate. Hothead. Here's a parent you can count on to get ejected from the bleachers week after week for screaming at the officials. It's usually a dad, but not always. A mom I know once got a red card after going toe-to-toe with a ref at an indoor soccer game. It wasn't me, I promise. Stoic. He's the opposite of the hothead because he doesn't react to anything. Win or lose, no emotion. Son strikes out three in a row? Not so much as a smile. Daughter misses every free throw? Not even a grimace. It's like he's coached in the Final Four and this is beneath him. The worst thing about the stoic is he's just no fun to be around. And sports are supposed to be fun, right?! Cheerleader. Opposite of the stoic, she is so overly enthusiastic--squealing, clapping, whistling, foot stomping -- you want to wring her neck. A 40-something mom I know actually got up and did a cheer at a basketball game -- complete with a cartwheel and the splits -- embarrassing not only her daughter but everyone else in the stands. Rah rah! Drill Sergeant Dad. Runs practice drills at home to ensure a leg up on the competition and takes his kid aside to berate her at halftime. His daughter asks you for a ride home after the game so she doesn't have to face his wrath. Although he's convinced his kid will get a D-1 scholarship, he's wound so tight he'll never enjoy it. Child Neglectors. Some moms and dads are so wrapped up in watching their older children play that they completely lose track of their toddlers. On the verge of an Amber Alert, all other parents are expected to help look for the errant and sticky tot who's fallen asleep under the bleachers. Next time, get a sitter. The Mob. Sometimes the worst person is actually a group of thugs who intimidate the opposition. Like the team whose obnoxious fans shook jars of change to rattle our players. Or the Staten Island team we dubbed The Sopranos, whose coach was ejected for yelling at the officials, "I'm tired of your s--- calls," and whose parents were so menacing the refs had to call security. Bada Bing! Green-eyed Monsters. Ungracious parents who're so jealous they can't stand anyone else's success. They delight in the failure of others and care only about getting attention for their kid. Like the mom who sniped, "Can't rest on your laurels," when my son missed a putt in a golf tournament. Or the dad on my daughter's basketball team who said to another parent: "Can't you get your baby to pass my baby the ball?" Who's the baby now, dude?Callous Coach. It's bad enough to be unclear about expectations and unfair in rewarding accomplishment, but when a coach is insensitive to the emotional or physical well being of young players, it's abusive. A coach once sent me to find my daughter's teammate in the restroom: "Tell her to get her ass back out here." The teenager had a nosebleed. "What does she expect me to do?" the girl asked. I replied, "Well, I guess she wants you to stick a tampon up your nose and get back in the game."