The Best and the Worst of Youth Athletics

In hockey, I often said to other Moms and Dads, this sport would be way more interesting, fun and rewarding for the players if the parents would just "let them play" on their own. I genuinely would enjoy those practices where the parents sat in the lobby, the coaches sat in the lobby chatting with said parents, and the kids were on the ice...on their own...supervising their own activity and game. I would sneak peeks to watch their creativity, their ability to police their own improper actions, and they way they would coax other players to perform at a higher level. All without "adult intervention". Too bad that couldn't happen during a game! (I tell ya, youth hockey players are even better referees than the men in stripes. They cry "foul" where foul was intended, and "play on" when inadvertent!)

Perhaps my feelings about this comes from my parents who would drop me off at practices (if they were heading that way), or show up at random (but not all) games and support my team in a quiet and calm manner. (Okay, my brothers won't remember that given my father's zealous support of them at Hockey Games!!). It was kind of a hands off, let em play approach - which was wonderful! And in that one simple approach, there in lies the best and worst of youth athletics - as evidenced to me at the wrestling tourney last Saturday.

On one mat, picture a five year old wrestler. He is pretty good. I sit and watch with the King as these guys are really cute and pretty close to the King in size. I notice that the wrestler is sobbing hysterically - during his match. Being a mom, I do a quick Mom-scan to see if he is hurt and favoring some body part. Nope. And the ref isn't stopping the match - even as this kid is truly and obviously distressed. The whistle blows signalling the end of the first period. The crying athlete dejectedly heads over to is coach, his mom and his dad. The three of them begin to jump his case (as they had been during the match - although I didn't know at the time that this was his coach and parent) over everything he had done wrong. ("You gotta get him high-centered", "You can't back off him for a moment", "You gotta get mad and aggressive out there".) The ref blows the whistle and the now "sobbing uncontrollably" wrestler steps back out on the mat and lines up to start the second period. The crying child immediately takes the other player down to the mat, and I recognize that this poor child is winning the match. He won the first period, and he is dominating the second. I am not sure he realizes this though.

Yet the screaming and yelling continues on from the parents and the coach. "Lock it in....would you at least lock it in once...God, you aren't even trying". Sob. Sob. Sob. Winning, Winning, Winning...crying crying crying.

I can't tell you how he did to end the second, or whether he won the third. I walked out. There was no way that this crying five year old boy, being yelled at by his coaches and parents (or maybe some would call it being aggressively coached) even when he was performing at a very strong level and winning the match was having any kind of fun. He's five, and he has a job to do. Win and perform at the level of 35+ year old adults. He was destined to fail and feel he let everyone down. I couldn't stand it. (Seriously, I wanted to walk over to the parents and say "wow...how old is he" and when they responded I would say "oh, because the college recruiters in the stands told me they don't care about anyone under the age of 17, yet you are asking him to perform as if his scholarship to Iowa depended on it". Either that or I wanted to slap the mother and tell her to stop abusing this child. Of course, I did none of these, just voted with my size 9 feet and the toddler size 8 feet of the King)

Picture a six year old on the mat. He has won the first period. He is now embroiled in the second and losing by two points. The parents are yelling - Not just his, but the parents of his wrestling club teammates. The two coaches are going crazy on the sidelines shouting instructions in such a loud and rapid tone that it sounded like

Period over. Wrestler goes to talk to coaches and parents before start of third period. Coach says "well...you lost that one...", wrestler burst into tears. Coaches say "you gotta...you gotta...you gotta......" and on and on. Wrestler still crying. Ref steps on mat. Opponent steps on mat. Crying wrestler tells coach "I lost and I am not going back out". Coach says "you have one more period". Wrestler says "I LOST...YOU TOLD ME I LOST". Coach says (now nicely) "no bud, you only lost that period!". Wrestler says "I'm Done". Dad yells "Get the H*ll out there" Wrestler cries harder and says loudly "NO". Ref comes over and gently talks to wrestler. Wrestler tells him NO, I've lost. Mom screams "GET OUT THERE AND FINISH THIS". Wrestler says no. Four more minutes and about 15 pleading, yelling and cajoling adults later, wrestler walks away from the mat, and the Ref raises the opponent's arm in a win by forfeit. Crying wrestler just wants to be left alone, but every adult within 10 feet is telling him what he did was wrong, giving up is bad, and on and on. Not one adult (save me under my breath) said "That's okay buddy, you misunderstood. You don't have to do this if you don't want to, we understand you are upset". The only one who put an arm around this wrestler was the other team's coach (perhaps suspect since his wrestler won) and he said "we will see ya next time buddy".

Picture Mom's in the smoking area copping a cig. One mom talking to another about how the practices are really "loosey goosey". "They should be running more, and definitely should run to start the practice. The coaches need to be far more strict, I know my son doesn't listen to the coaches if they aren't strict. The coaches really need to wear them out so they can last during a long match. Mr. Coach (I don't remember the name she said) has too much fun with the kids - they need to learn to respect him and listen to his every word, because he was a Div I wrestler". On and on these two moms went about the coaching staff - and about how the practices weren't up to these Mothers' standards.

Having a teenage athlete, there is some truth to what they are saying. The coaches do need to be strict, they can't be a "friend" (because the size difference isn't there anymore and they have to command respect or the teenager will dismiss them out of hand and face potential injury), etc.

Then their wrestlers came out to do what every youth athlete does at a tourney...ask Mom for money for the snack bar. Moms' dig in their purses...wrestlers hold out their hands - their tiny little hands - see these were PeeWee wrestlers (born 2003) and weighed all of 35 and 40 pounds respectively. Yeah. The coaches need to harder on these tough guys. After all, you want them to be done with the sport by the time they are seven right? (Or maybe you just want them sobbing uncontrollably on the mat at five, crying and refusing to finish a match at six and then washed up at seven.......).


Let's head over to the mat that holds two 17 year old 185 pounders. A tough weight class...strong guys, usually Juniors and Seniors in High school. Both of these guys look tough. They both look like they could eat the Cadet's lunch...and dinner....and not let the cadet think about breakfast either.

Both are eying each other in that macho way that teenage boys can do. (You eyeballin me? Step up punk!). The Ref calls them to the mat center. They cautiously shake hands...yet oddly, the one wrestler has a sparkle in his eye and looks to be on the verge of a grin. Must love the sport.

The whistle blows and the match is underway. The one wrestler stands upright. The other steps in, and very slowly, and very gently, takes the upright wrestler to the mat. The now prone wrestler shimmys on his back to ensure his shoulder blades are firmly placed on the mat. They both look at the ref. The ref blows his whistle, and signals "illegal leg use" on the part of the wrestler who took his opponents down. They both stand back up - I hear one parent yell "knock it off". The ref is smiling. The wrestlers are smiling, and they set up again. The whistle blows. Again, with gentle precision, the one wrestler takes the other one down - this time without a "trip". They face chests and the one on the bottom makes sure that his shoulders are firmly on the mat. The ref blows the whistle...match over. He raises the arm of the winning wrestler and the two opponents give each other a "man hug" before walking off the mat.

I turn to my wrestler and his coach and ask "what the heck just happened". I then learn that the one wrestler had won his first two styles of wrestling (First place in both) and would win the "Iron Eagle" award if he won this match. The other wrestler hadn't won (obviously) and thought it would be cool if he tossed the match in an effort to gain the Iron Eagle for his buddy. So a plan was hatched and executed. No matter what their coaches or parents thought. And both were thoroughly happy with the outcome.

As I said...let em play. That always brings out the best in youth athletics. When the parents and coaches get involved.....it just seems to muck it up.

1 comment:

meh said...

O M G how did you control yourself and not get up and kick those momma butts across the room. Or call Social Services. Kudos to you. How sad that these parents exist.