Kennedy: Time out, step back, now think

Kennedy: Time out, step back, now think

August 3rd, 2014 by Mark Kennedy in Opinion Columns

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

August is a slow month in youth sports. Summer leagues are winding down and fall leagues haven't started.

So, during this mid-summer pause in play, I'd like to offer a free mini-course in parental sideline etiquette. Call it my "10 Commandments for Youth-League Parents."

As a dad who has paced the sidelines, watching two boys play sports for nearly 10 years now -- and who has too often fallen prey to the temptation of over-exuberance -- I hope I've learned a thing or two.

So, here goes:

No. 1: Thou art a parent, not a fan.

Don't be the same person at your 6-year-old's soccer game that you were as a fraternity brother at homecoming. Boos, taunts and other examples of boorish behavior should not be tolerated at a kids' sporting event. To indulge these urges marks you as a borderline crazy person. If you persist you will, at best, be invited to leave the ballpark; and at worst, prosecuted.

No. 2: Thou shalt be wary of the parents of first-born team members.

There's nothing more excitable than the parents of a 7-year-old playing in a recreational-league, end-of-season tournament -- especially (this is key) if the player is the oldest and/or only child in the family. These parents have no context to draw from, and therefore they are prone to derangement.

Remember, the games will be forgotten in days -- or in your child's case, hours. You can, however, cast the moment in bronze by acting like an idiot. Then, rest assured, your child will make sure you remember the game for the rest of your life.

No. 3: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's clean-up hitter.

Despite all efforts to hold fair, preseason drafts, every rec league has a dominant, stacked team and a doormat. If your kid plays sports long enough, he or she will play on both kinds of squads. Roll with it.

Judge your effectiveness as a parent in the year one of your kids is on a team that finishes 0-15, not the year his or her team goes 15-0.

No. 4: Honor thy fathers and mothers.

In leagues with daddy coaches and "team moms" -- aka dugout marshals and juice-box ladies -- the correct response to almost anything they do is "thank you." Remember, in most cases, you could have volunteered for the job, too, but you didn't. If you disagree with team strategies or your child's playing time, keep it to yourself. Seasons are short. This, too, shall pass.

No. 5: Thou shalt not run onto the field of play.

If your child appears to be injured, please say a quiet prayer and keep your seat. In 99.9 percent of cases, they will pop up under their own power. If your child is over 12 years old, your presence will actually cause more heartache than healing.

If there's a true medical emergency, it will be obvious to the adult coaches and officials, and they may indeed wave you onto the field as they are calling 911. But don't decide you know what happened from 30 yards away, dash onto the field and find yourself eye-to-eye with a suddenly vertical -- and mortified -- 13-year-old.

No. 6: Remember Sunday School to keep it holy.

If attending religious services is important to your family, you will eventually have a conflict between church and youth sports. Decide in advance how you will handle this or it can become a slippery slope. Remember, there's a fine line between sliding into home plate and back-sliding at church.

No. 7: Thou shalt not admonish your neighbor's child.

If you want to see a sports event turn ugly, watch what happens when a parent calls out another child. Often it's done defensively -- for example, when one of your kids gets fouled. Please, let the coaches and officials handle the situation. Otherwise, you'll get two dads all bowed up with no idea how to back down.

No. 8: Thou shalt not bear grudges against referees or umpires, especially when they are 12 years old.

No. 9: Thou shalt learn to take a walk.

Some people who are naturally competitive don't have an "off" switch. They appreciate effort, sure, but they love winning. If this describes you, you might be very successful in life. You might also be a miserable spectator at your kids' games.

If you notice your own competitive emotions getting the best of you, do what I sometimes do, walk away. Get some distance. Cool down. Heck, stop, drop and roll if you must. Remember, your fever-pitch emotions are not your fault, but they are your responsibility.

• No. 10: Thou shalt enjoy the ride.

Blink once and your 6-year-old is 12. Blink again and he or she is 18.

Between blinks, enjoy every game -- win or lose -- because one day the last whistle will blow, and it will all be over. At least until the grandkids arrive, when life will have taught you instinctively how to be cool, calm and collected.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.