Friday, April 08, 2005

Gun love

Hey, dads! Is Junior's career flagging? He doesn't get enough playing time? Is the coach an idiot? Just shoot him. And it's not exactly the first time, nor the second. An ESPN search on "violence in youth leagues" returned 17,952 articles. A Google search returned 230,000.

I've coached and refereed in youth roller hockey leagues, so I've been witness to some fairly ridiculous things myself. An opposing player's parent once heckled my goaltender - a boy of nine years old, who had volunteered to try it just that once to let our regular goalie play forward. Once, while volunteering as an assistant, I was threatened by my own head coach. But this beats all.

Sometimes I wish kids would just play in sandlots, yards, and cul-de-sacs the way I remember doing. We learned how to resolve our own problems and enjoyed ourselves without uniforms or scoreboards. Not that I wouldn't have been grateful for Little League, but I think I got the point without the headaches, so I was lucky that way.

You moms and dads may find this incredible, but your children don't enjoy your bon mots or the volume you use to speak them. They're embarassed when you belittle them, their teammates, and their opponents. They begin to hate the game itself when you ref or coach from the stands. (Notice that we have yet to address actual violence.) Nor do you make it better when you add a whistle or clipboard to your caustic tongue. Paying the league fee or volunteering your time is not a punched ticket to indulge your taste for abuse and mayhem.

Sooner or later you know what happens? You lose the kids. I don't mean that they stop playing; they may play harder than ever, so you won't notice they've gone, but it happens. They check out. In high school or younger they play as if for the paycheck (which never comes for most of them). You think they're just imitating their "heroes" on TV, but their heroes are closer to home. They're emulating you. Congratulations.

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