Thursday, March 19, 2009



March 13, 2009

“You’re Perfectly Entitled to Think It --

Just Don’t Say It!”

John McCarthy

The Yanks are in Tampa, the Mets in Port St. Lucie. The Masters is on our radar. The ground thaws; the days grow longer; the temperature moderates. Soon cinder tracks, all-weather tartan surfaces and baseball diamonds will sprout this year's crop of teen and pre-teen athletes. Shaking off months of muscular lethargy, they'll be put through their paces, just like their professional counterparts, in the annual ritual known as Spring Training.

But what about you, their most ardent, sometimes too passionate supporters? Their Gatorade-lugging, unpaid-chauffeuring, ego-massaging parents? If you're one of those parents who has screamed so loud at an umpire that you became lightheaded and nearly passed out, or someone whose face turned beet red from anger or embarrassment after being asked to vacate the playing area, either your heart is going to explode or your spouse is going to kill you.

Don't despair; you're not doomed; you're not a fanatic, and most importantly, you're not alone.

Maybe it's time to limber up with some mental calisthenics.

New York mayor Mike Bloomberg admits he gets more nervous watching his daughter compete as an equestrian than he does running the most challenging city in the world. I know you can relate to New York City's even-tempered mayor. You don't watch "kids play games." You watch your flesh and blood, your DNA, your only link to immortality, struggle in a life and death battle. That's your free throw, your triple, your game-winning goal. How are you expected to sit calmly at a game, as though you're at a lecture on the ways meditation can lower blood pressure?

Be serious. Well, maybe not serious, but let's try practical. Humor me while I ask you a few questions:

--When you yell, and/or curse, at game officials, what are you hoping to accomplish? To get the refs to realize the error of their ways and make calls favoring your kid's team? Think about some of your tired phrases: "Open your eyes, ref, you're missing a good game," "You're the worst ump I've ever seen," "Why don't you go back to Foot Locker?" Do these phrases have even a scintilla of a chance of currying favor? You know they don't. In fact, your own experience should tell you that game officials never, and I mean never, appreciate these disparaging comments. If your goal is to help your son's or daughter's team, your remarks will surely guarantee the opposite result. Think what you want, just don't say it!

--When you constantly challenge a coach's competence and judgment at a volume that needs no technical amplification, what are you hoping to accomplish? To get the coach to agree with you, especially after you berated him or her from the opening pitch or whistle to the final batter or buzzer, all within earshot of his/her family and friends? You have as much chance of that happening as you do of being asked to sit on the bench as the "guest coach" for the next game. Again, count to 10, take a walk, text yourself. Think what you want, just don't say it.

--When you confront your kid's coach on the phone, or as he or she is exiting the playing area, demanding to know why your kid didn't play, or didn't play enough, what are you hoping to accomplish? To have the coach admit that you're right and promise to increase minutes, maybe even start your kid? My experience is that your kid will be buried on the bench longer than Cubs fans have waited for a World Series title. Will that be fair? No, but it's unquestionably going to happen. In my 40 years of following high school and college sports, I have never, and I mean never, seen or heard of a coach who increased a player's minutes after being challenged by an irate parent. Again, breathe deeply, recite the Serenity Prayer, stroll to your car. Think what you want, just don't say it.

Here's the bottom line. You may be a very astute sports fan with an eye for talent and a thorough knowledge of the rules. The fact is, you sit in the stands, not on the bench, and you don't get to make substitutions. You might be correct about a call, but the fact is you're in the bleachers, not on the court or the field, and your calls don't count.

As much as you love your offspring and want his/her team to be victorious, there is absolutely nothing you can do to affect the outcome. Why not sit back and let your kid compete without inserting yourself into the equation? I'm lousy at math, but even I can see that your unsolicited, unappreciated opinions don't add up to any favorable outcome for your child. No one is asking you to give up your love of sports, or to become indifferent to your child's participation. Your kid needs you to be a supporter, not an advocate.

My suggestion? Bite your lip. You'll save face, and who knows, maybe a life, yours. That'll make your kid very happy.

John McCarthy, retired teacher and high school and college coach, is co-founder of the Institute for Coaching and Center for Sports Parenting at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University.