Sports Parenting: Where is the Problem? With the Team or with Me?

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Earlier this week, I posted one of those controversial reader questions that Travel Ball Parents is famous for. If you saw it, you most likely nodded recognizing the type of parent described. If you missed it, here’s a replay.

“I coach my son’s travel baseball team. I have one parent that likes to bad mouth me behind my back. Her son is an awesome kid and a solid player despite being really small. I’ve had him on my team for a couple years. Prior to coming to my team this kid’s mom has bounced him from team to team. She thinks he’s a superstar and gets mad when coaches don’t jump on board with her hype. She will bad mouth me and other kids on the team behind our backs. She also rarely socializes with anyone from the team at games or tournaments, but isn’t afraid to run her mouth to other parents when she does. Its gotten so bad that other coaches that I’m friends with are hearing it. As much as I want her gone, do I punish the kid for the mom’s actions.”

Over the years, we’ve been on a few different teams. (I say “we” because, as most of us agree, travel teams are made up of families. We ALL play a role on or off the field to some extent…even those of us who claim that we don’t. It’s like the employees who swear they don’t play office politics. Yes, you do! You’re playing whether you know you are or not. Everyone is.)

Anyway, where was I?

Oh, right.

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Over the years, I’ve encountered my share of parents who could be defined as “team cancers,” gossiping, judging and bad mouthing the coach, players and other parents, causing a scene when they feel their kid isn’t receiving the treatment he/she deserves, being overly sensitive and reactive about things that have nothing to do with them. If given an impressionable audience, a coach who turns a blind eye and enough time for the toxicity to spread, this behavior can erode even the strongest of team bonds. (Wow! That was a dramatic sentence.) More often, though, what happens is that others pick up on the destructive parent’s negativity and make the wise decision to avoid them.

When I have to deal with a toxic parent, I can’t help but wonder, does this person have any idea how they’re viewed by others? Do they not see how their behavior is sabotaging their child’s relationships, confidence, sense of fairness, responsibility and commitment? What’s it like for the kid at home? Does the parent ever have a tiny inkling that they, themselves, might be the common denominator to all the drama they find themselves in?–The fact that every team they join turns out to be a “daddy ball” team.The coaches never recognize and appreciate their kid’s talent. The coaches who hold them accountable to unrealistic and unnecessary rules even though they always have valid excuses. The team parents who are always too cliquish. All such unfortunate coincidences. 

Honestly, though, I find that truly toxic parents aren’t that common. Through my decade of being a ball mom, I can think of only two who fit the stereotype.

Much more common are those moments of toxic behavior that we’re ALL guilty of. Moments when we should’ve kept our mouths shut, not sent that email, not posted that scathing rant on Facebook, not called three other parents to lambaste the coach….and, instead, left the game to our kids, who most likely didn’t even realize there was a problem in the first place.

I can think of a couple of okay, a few times at the field when I should’ve minded my own business, taken a walk, taken a Valium, counted to 50, called my mom, etc. But I didn’t. Here’s a recap of one.

It was 2012, in the Georgia Little League state championship. Our Dudley Little League 11u boys were playing their hearts out trying to bring home the title. Not long before the tournament started, my son Andrew, who has always been a consistent line drive hitter, conveniently entered the worst batting slump of his life. The way Little League All-Stars is set up with a 12-man roster is that every player must be in the field for at least six consecutive outs and is insured to get one at-bat.

By this point, you’re probably guessing that Andrew rode the pine for much of the tournament and that his mom was getting more livid with every game. I just could not understand the injustice of my starter sitting the bench!!!! Couldn’t they at least play him more than one at-bat and six outs? (After all, shouldn’t Little League rules be rewritten every time a mom gets mad!?!)

Somewhere in the middle of game three, enough was enough! I marched up to the dugout, fully-cocked and ready to give those know-nothing coaches a piece of my mind. And I did just that-spewing anger and hostility all over one of the nicest, most reasonable assistant coaches in the history of Little League, as my son looked on in horror.

Turning his attention away from the action on the field, Coach Chad tried patiently to explain the Little League 12-man roster rules and why Andrew was sitting. Having none of it, I huffed back to my seat, leaving him standing there in mid sentence.

What my outburst accomplished: NOTHING! Except to make me look like a hotheaded idiot who embarrassed my kid and my husband.

I mean who was I to think that my son, whose batting average was somewhere around .005, should be entitled to more playing time in a pivotal game of a state tournament that we were trying to WIN?

When agreeing to do all-stars, my husband and I understood the playing time rules. We knew there were no guarantees that Andrew would get more than six outs and one at-bat. If he’d been performing better, he would’ve played more. It was that simple. No one was “picking on my kid.” They were trying to win a title!

I think I apologized to Chad. If I didn’t, I should’ve. I did apologize to Andrew, who made me promise to not interfere with his games ever again. And I haven’t.

My point here is that spending as much time as we do at the ball field, we’re going to occasionally say and do things that aren’t terribly wise. We’re going to read situations incorrectly and maybe assume things that aren’t true. Admitting these mistakes and not repeating them is key. Seeing, or at least attempting to see the team, the game and your child from the coach's point of… Click To Tweet

Sometimes I think team sports offers as many learning opportunities for the parents as it does… Click To Tweet

Coaches, have you ever had a parent come to you, admit they were out of line and apologize for something they’ve said or done? I hope so.

Parents, have you ever had to say sorry for words or actions that impacted your player or team? Feel free to share your story in the comments. You’ll be surprised at how many of us can relate.

Or, on the other hand, do you consider yourself an outspoken type who doesn’t hesitate to ruffle feathers, storm into the dugout, rant on social media and regularly talk about changing teams? And you’ve never considered the effects of your behavior? Then you might be one of those toxic types referenced above. Maybe it’s time for some honest introspection (said the blogger kindly to no one in particular).

Click here to check out the 184 TBP fan responses to the reader question above. Lots of great advice there.

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Angela Weight

Founder and publisher of Travel Ball Parents.com, Angela Weight is still a little shocked to be running one of the most popular youth sports parenting sites on the web. Click the ABOUT US tab to read her story.

2 thoughts on “Sports Parenting: Where is the Problem? With the Team or with Me?

  • November 1, 2017 at 5:50 pm
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    Love this post!

    It’s interesting because when I observe parents who are “over-the-top”, with everything, I can only wonder how much their identity, self-worth, is tied to their kids’ performance, experience, etc.

    One of the more insightful comments someone made to me was a few months ago regarding parents described in this post. The person that was speaking to me was a coach who has dealt with parents like above. He told me that when he sees parents care so much about winning and results and only care that their kid plays on a team that’s going to win championships, he told me some perspective that his father actually gave him, and it was something like the following:

    “Son, sometimes parents act and think that way because deep down they don’t truly believe their son is going to play or go far in baseball. So the youth championship game is all they (as in the parent) has to hope in. And they think it’s all their kid will ever have in the game as well.”

    I bring this comment up because it makes me think, more globally, how many parents come to travel ball seasons and teams bringing their inability to be self-aware and manage their own fears, anxieties, and misplaced identity.

    What would happen if parents like that mom or even me, ask some questions like:
    – Why do I get so nervous when my son gets 2 strikes on him and one more could mean a strike out?
    Is it because I’m afraid he’s going to be ridiculed, ostracized, or rejected? If so, did I ever experience those things in my youth?

    I’m no psychologist but I do like to take some personal inventory from time to time and read a nice book. In Eric Geiger’s book “Identity”, he put a quote in there that, paraphrasing, said: “We only do, act, and behave, in accordance with what we believe about ourself..” In other words, this mom, and maybe me more often than I’d like to admit, cannot separate how I behave with what I believe about myself.

    If I believe that my son’s baseball experience says something about who I am as a parent, that’ll certainly impact how I behave.

    Great post, again, Angela.

    Reply

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