We are enmeshed in the season of high school wrestling. You all know my sons are wrestlers because you all know I’ve bred a colony of Oompa Loompas. Thankfully, there’s no height requirement for wrestling. Or writing a column.
As with any organized high school sport, we’re privy to the good, the bad and the ugly; that is parents as well as their children. Sometimes, the behavior of one is worse than the other. You all know what I mean.
Listen, I’m as obnoxious a sports parent as you’ll find anywhere, but I contain that behavior to the actual event taking place. My voice, which normally can cut glass, reaches a decibel level that cannot be measured by any barometer when my son is wrestling. However, I’ve never aimed my over-animated antics at a coach or a referee. Ever. Maybe I have in the privacy of my own head, but there’s so many voices in there, it’s hard to keep track.
Lately, I’ve witnessed the very worst behavior displayed toward coaches by parents of athletes. It’s mind-boggling that grown men and women think it’s their right to not only school a coach on the rules of fair play, but demand reciprocation if their child loses, or doesn’t play up to their imagined standard.
Sadly, in these litigious times, coaches must handle their teams with kid gloves. If a player acts in a manner not representative of the organization or his teammates, he should be benched, suspended or given a time-out. Throw him in a corner if you must. But these days, it’s challenging to reprimand a player in the manner they need to be punished. It has become laughable.
Coaches at this level do not coach for the lofty paycheck or benefits. Trust me. They’d make more money raking leaves. My sons’ coaches have instilled in them a respect for authority, resilience and the agony and benefits of back-breaking, good old-fashioned hard work. It’s the love of the sport and their team that propels a coach to keep coming back for more. I’ve witnessed a great coach take an average wrestling team and bring them to their peak of glory as he turned out several district winners; a coveted honor for any wrestler. However, not everyone wants to do the work to obtain the prize.
Unfortunately, along the road to victory, a coach must sometimes tolerate insubordination, disrespect and a sub-par team mentality. The children are protected by their parents and so, punishments are minimal. And when a parent condones the bad behavior (much too often), the coach’s job is 100-fold harder.
When I ponder why parents believe they need to be involved with the coach-athlete relationship on any level, or why their child spits defiance, I just need to witness how the athlete speaks to their own parents. And then it all becomes crystal clear. Disrespect begets disrespect. It’s generational and it’s disappointing.
Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy stated it perfectly: “Uncoachable kids become unemployable adults. Let your kids get used to someone being tough on them. It’s life. Get over it.”
Let the coaches do what the coaches are supposed to do. Stay out of it. Be a parent. Advocate for your child from the bleachers, not the coach’s chair. Don’t fight your children’s battles when it comes to sports. Don’t support disrespectful behavior toward authority. Encourage your child to do what my friend Mrs. DeLuca says to do: “Just shut up and play.”
It really is that simple.
Maria Jiunta Heck of West Pittston is a mother of three, a librarian and a business owner who lives to dissect the minutiae of life.