Many years ago, when I first founded the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, I was asked by the U.S. Army Youth Services headquarters in Europe to speak at their annual championships dinner.
For those of you who are not aware, the U.S. Army in Europe, like all U.S. military divisions around the world, has communities that are basically a gathering of military families. And like typical non-military communities, they have sports program for kids.
Speaking to the audience made up of parents, it gave me the opportunity to emphasize the importance of keeping things in perspective and remembering that sports for kids should be all about fun and especially without the pressures that parents too often put on kids -- particularly their own.
When the dinner was over, the director invited me to go out with a few of the staff from his department. Not long into the night one of the staff people said to me, "You really opened some old wounds for me tonight when you were talking about parents and how they can lose it."
I asked him what he meant and from that moment on I listened to perhaps the scariest youth sports parent story I've ever heard.
I sat back as he told me that when he was 12 years old his dad was in the Army and stationed in Hamburg, Germany. He said he had made the all-star baseball team and that they were in Berlin playing for the championship of all Army youth baseball teams in Europe. He went on to say that it was the last inning of the game and the score was tied 2-2 when it was his turn to come to bat. There were two runners on base and two outs. He said that it probably was the most nervous that he'd ever been because he knew that all he had to do was get a hit and their team would win.
So, I'm sure you can guess what happened next. Yes, he struck out! Then came the horror story.
He said that the people in the stands booed him and he was crushed by it all. He then said, "But then I looked up and saw my father coming out of the stands and running out on the field toward me. As he reached me, he balled up his fist and hit me right across the face, knocking me to the ground. As he walked away I could hear him say 'you loser!' As I laid there on the ground I could hear the people in the stands gasping."
After he got up, he said a man who said he was from the U.S. Army newspaper walked up to him and said that he was there to cover the game. He asked him how it felt to have his own father do something like that.
"Being only 12 years old I just said what I thought and told him what it would be like for any kid," the man told me.
Then came the worst part, as if what had already happened wasn't bad enough.
He said that night before he got home his father had left for maneuvers for a month. When he was away the Army newspaper ran the story about the father/son incident and quoted all the things that he had said. Things like being so hurt that his father would do something so mean.
His final comment to me was "That was 20 years ago, and my father has never spoken to me since."
While I'd like to say that these kinds of stories are rare, after many years of being in the field of youth sports I can tell you they are not.