Bad Sports Aren’t Bad Kids

“Your child’s success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of parent you are. But, having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient, and who tries their best is a direct reflection of your parenting.”

Oh, just shut up. Really!

I’ve seen this sign crop up more than a few times in my Facebook feed, and every single time I think: listen, you sanctimonious super-parent-slash-sign-maker— you are wrong, and you’re not helping anyone.

Let’s think about it, for a moment. Kids come in all shapes and sizes, and are blessed with all manner of abilities and personalities. No two children are alike, and yet, if for some reason your child is not quite coachable, respectful, mentally tough….the list goes on, then you have failed?
That’s what this sign is telling me.
I call bullshit.

My son is eight years old, neuro-typical, a pretty good athlete and, sometimes, a spectacularly bad sport. He has thrown his helmet, he’s thrown his glove, he’s even thrown his batting gloves—which I can’t imagine would be all that satisfying. He’s kicked dirt. He wants to be the best, he wants to win, and hell hath no fury like my child when a game isn’t going his way.
“You have to look at the parents,” I’ve heard people say, shaking their heads sadly. And yes, we’ve all seen parents who berate their children from the sidelines for poor performance. We’ve seen parents who are disrespectful toward everyone, demonstrating to their kids that respectfulness is optional, at best. We’ve seen parents who fight with coaches, with umpires, with each other. I know signs like this are meant to remind parents to ease up, stop yelling, cease living vicariously through your kid. Don’t take the fun out of it. Don’t be an asshole.

The trouble, as I see it, is that the actual assholes never believe they are the assholes. And therefore, the lesson is lost.

Still, I’ve looked at these parents. And I’ve considered myself and my husband quite a bit in this regard, wondering what we’re doing/have done wrong. I’ve spoken to parents of other ‘poor sports,’ and what I have seen, by and large, are parents who are trying really hard to deal with a child whose personality “flaw” is regularly on public display. We’ve also tried everything—from punishment to positive reinforcement—to get our kids to ease up, have fun. Some have tried therapy. All have tried talking to their child, often ad nauseum… and the end result is the same: no change.

So tell me, sign-maker, what’s a parent to do? How do we change a person? Your sign tells me that my parenting has made my child’s personality and temperament, a notion that is laughably simplistic at best. You’re telling me I’m doing it wrong, but you’re not offering suggestions. You’ve discounted the years of struggles we’ve had as parents and completely ignored that every child is different—and not a single one of them is mom-sign perfect.

Our kids are our kids, but that’s not all they are. They’re human beings, they’re individuals, they have strengths and flaws and cute mannerisms and weird quirks. This poor sport of mine? Almost never whines. He does very well in school and rarely complains about homework. He helps with housework. He tries hard to make me laugh. He has never once had a temper tantrum in Target, not even when he was a toddler. He sings me songs and does funny dances. He’s a good kid, a good athlete, and a terrible sport.

So, yeah. You do have to look at the parents. But maybe once in a while, it’d be good to look at them with compassion and consideration, instead of immediately leaping to criticism. To feel grateful for your own child’s good qualities, without dumping that ugly smugness all over everything. To stop blindly putting other parents down when the fact is, in almost every situation, you really just don’t know. You don’t know what’s going on in the next mom’s yard. And you don’t know who’s peeking through the fence at yours.

So the next time my kid throws his helmet and you say, “You have to look at the parents,” look around you first for the woman in the beat-up blue chair. Because chances are, I’m right there.

Melissa Janisin is a writer, reader, baseball fan, and mom whose work has been featured on HuffPost, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, WordPress Discover and Scary Mommy. Read more at her blog, http://goodnessmadness.com.

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