My son played in a basketball tournament recently. Like any proud father, I love to watch him play. And like any red-blooded, North American father, I live vicariously through him when he is on the court. It’s hard to be a dad and not have flashbacks to the good ‘ole days when we were athletes. And had hair. When it comes to our kids and sports, only parents are privy to a unique perspective. It gives us a superhuman ability that when our son or daughter doesn’t make a play, we, as Super Parents, knew the correct play the whole time. Some of us, and you know who you are, must immediately tell them the correct play. During the game. While they are on the court. However, if they are make the right play, we know it is clear to all parents and spectators around us who’s kid they are and where they got their skills. In a nut shell, kid makes incorrect play, parents are guardians of game-time righteousness; kid makes correct play, parents acknowledge family resemblance.
These wildly divergent behaviors happen regularly together, within a single game. Often on successive plays. One trip down the court, and we are astounded our child did not see their teammate wide open under the basket. (The teammate’s state of openness was so obvious from up here. In the stands. With no defending opponent.) The very next play, however, we extol the virtues of their ancestry because they made a 10 foot jump shot with the defender hanging all over them. (Did you not see that ref? Are you blind?!...Sorry, my vicariousness got the best of me.)
The in-game on-again-off-again acknowledgements of paternity are intriguing. Can you imagine if this made its way into other parts of life? Dropping the kids off at school would be much more exciting.
- “No, son, take the first stair with your right foot, not your left. Use the railing, do you not see it there? Nice job opening the door, very smooth. I remember when I used to open doors like that.”
- “Your fork placement was way off. How will anyone be able to find that? Good work with the knife and spoon, though. Clearly you are my daughter.”
Tournaments add a second behavior that no normal person exhibits in everyday life. We vilify the players and parents of the other team the moment we lay eyes on them. Pass any of the opposing players on the street on a normal day and we would say, “What a nice looking kid.” Or we would smile and say, “Hi” to the parents as we stood next to them in an elevator. But meet them at a tournament, and they are the spawn of the devil. The casting of aspersions on the opposing team’s character begins immediately upon sitting down in the stands.
First, we observe the other players’ moves for a bit, sizing them up as though we are scouts for a professional team. We label the ones that will provide little challenge for our boys and the ones that, in technical jargon, “have game”. Personal qualities are then assigned. Those we deem “weak” are pitied. Clearly this isn’t their game. Their parents must be forcing them to be here against their.The other players, the ones with “game”, are too intense for kids this age. (“Wow, he’s too intense. It’s a game, have fun. I’m glad my son isn’t like that.”)
The opposing parents are the next victims of our adrenaline-induced judgements. We feel sorry for the parents of the weak players. It must be so hard for them to watch. And we loathe the parents of the “game” kids because we know, deep down, that they are the ones who made these young, sweet, innocent children so intense about a game. Then we count our blessings that the kids and parents on our team are not like that.
Once a game begins, our player/parent judgements setting like quick-dry cement, we turn our generosity of spirit towards the officials. When I was in high school, I was an umpire for youth baseball. I lasted three games. The job wasn’t difficult, I was just scared the parents would beat me up. Youth sports officials have the most thankless job in the world, short of being President. Everyone yells at them. Coaches, parents, players. Even their own mother would yell at them if she didn’t like the call. We begin by questioning their eye sight (“Did you not see that foul?”). Then their knowledge of the rules, (“Hello! That was clearly a foul!”). And finally their lineage, sanity and suspected allegiance to the other team. It’s as though they were born to ruin our kids’ lives by making the worst call possible. You know the amount of money they get paid is not worth the abuse they endure. I’ve tried to figure out why anyone would continue to allow themselves to be a receptacle of anger like they are. My first thought was they do it for the kids, but I quickly dismissed that as silly. I think I have stumbled upon the reason, though. They are aliens from another world, who came to earth to study our culture. And they chose their disguises poorly. If we are invaded by aliens in black and white striped shirts one day, you will know why. They assumed we were a warrior culture because they kept getting yelled at.
So they next time you see a referee on the street, after you asked yourself, “Why is there a referee walking the streets?”, be sure to thank them for sacrificing their time, and sometimes body, to make sure kids can play competitive games. Refs deserve love, too.
In the tournament, my son’s team placed second. They played well, but it was a tough loss in the championship game by just a point. It was the ref’s fault. They were horrible.