Earlier today, my seven-year-old son warmed up with his team for his afternoon baseball game, while I walked around the grounds. Those grounds hold more than a dozen fields for kids to play baseball and softball. I thought about this blog post—which at the time was still in very rough draft form. And I watched and listened to the parents in attendance. I listened to screams of “Tag her! TAG HER!!” And “What is wrong with you? Pay attention!” I overheard one dad say to his son, as they walked to the car, “Don’t even look at me after the way you played today.” Another dad threw his cap on the ground in disgust when his kid struck out. The environment made me uncomfortable. It has for years. I thought that playing a sports game was supposed to be fun?
The first season that my son played t-ball (at four years old), the police were called to the ball field. One of the dads disliked the way the coach taught the kids to hold the bat as they prepared to swing. A war of words ensued in the bottom of the second inning—which escalated to threats of violence. The dad ended up escorted from the field still promising to return later in the day to punch the coach in the face. Because that is a natural reaction to not being satisfied with the level of athletic instruction your preschooler is receiving. This father did not reserve his anger for the adults either. He regularly yelled at his son for not running fast enough or swinging hard enough. This guy truly was a delight.
The first season that my daughter played softball? (She was eight years old.) Parents of one of her teammates were told to leave the stands because they mocked and belittled a teenage umpire. The kid made a bad call on an out at second and the mom and dad called him “stupid” and “awful.” They told him to get his shaggy hair out of his eyes. For the rest of that game (and the next game), these parents watched their daughter play from behind a fence far in the distance. I mentioned after the game that this was not setting a good example for our kids. And the coach responded, “I was angry, too! And the bad call was against your daughter so maybe you should have yelled as well!”
These two incidents set the stage for my becoming a quiet sports mom. I did not want to be associated with what I assumed was the accepted norm. Being one of the overzealous parents who shouted at their kids and the coaches (and probably even the guy at the concession stand) at every opportunity held no appeal.
My kids love playing ball. And I love watching them. It is a joy to see both my son and daughter develop skills, make friends, and grow a real passion for playing. But for several seasons, you probably would not have known which kid was mine until you saw us walking to the car together after the game. I sat in a quiet corner of the bleachers by myself or sometimes opted to bring a chair and find a quiet patch of grass along the outfield fence. My kids always knew where I was, and I offered a wave and a smile when they looked my way. But I rarely cheered or clapped. And I certainly did not offer any coaching instructions from behind the fence.
Every now and again, I headed back into the crowd of parents who gathered together to watch the games, wanting to give it another chance. But at the first scream of “Why did you swing at that?” or “What’s wrong with you?”, I retreated to my quiet zone. On the rare occasion that I found myself becoming too enthusiastic, I cringed and internally yelled at myself for my own behavior.
Finally, just in the past year, I have found comfort among other parents. My daughter is part of a team that has been composed of mostly the same girls for the past three seasons. The parents support and encourage all the kids, and it’s rare to hear a disparaging comment. I’ve even formed some genuine friendships with many of the other moms and dads in the stands. I’m finally enjoying a sense of community during the games. And that’s not to say there haven’t been wonderful parents and coaches during every season my kids have played. I’ve made some great mom friends from those teams. (I did talk sometimes.) But this is the first time I don’t remember at least one parent yelling non-stop through the fence.
I know that my early experiences always will make me hypersensitive about how I come to the fields. And I certainly take some responsibility for letting other people affect me so much. I am still usually quiet other than to yell out a child’s or the team’s name in support after a great play or to whisper “run, run, run, run” as a player races to first base. I doubt that I’m ever going to be a mom who wears her kids’ name on a t-shirt, and I try my best not to make comments like “we” have a big game this weekend.
This may come across as a negative statement, but I don’t want to be emotionally invested in my kids’ activities. I don’t want them ever to think my enthusiasm for them is tied to what they do on a ball field. And I write this as someone who has wonderful friends who own all the supportive parent gear and who cheer loudly from the sidelines. I just don’t think I can get there, as I’m guilty of swinging too far the other way on the pendulum.
Despite my struggles with how to fit into the sports world, my kids’ involvement in baseball and softball has been overwhelmingly positive. They both have had amazing coaches who care about them and check in with them during the off season. These men are important role models who have been essential to our family’s village. My kids have made great friends with whom they enjoy spending time both on and of the field. And they both have become really good ball players and students of the game. So on the ball fields we will stay. I will just remain here quietly.