Sideline Parenting: The Good and Bad

It’s finally baseball season. And with it comes a fresh start for all 30 teams and hope for fans of each. It means warmer weather. It means tiny gloves and uniforms that is little league. And finally and definitely last, it means sideline parenting.

IMG_3032In little league, where kids are as young as five, they’re not-so-quietly present. In high school and even college, when they’re still kids but in the 18-22 years-old range, their presence is at its peak.

A vast majority of the time (~90%) the sideline parent is the one you don’t want to associate with. It’s the loudmouth, obnoxious oaf who makes it about him/herself instead of the kids. Sometimes (~9%), it just so happens to be a parent of your kids’ friend. And finally, ~1% of the time, it’s just an isolated incident.

When you see it, when you hear it, it’s painful. You’ll catch yourself subconsciously moving to the other end of the bleacher or even further down the foul line (where they might eventually wind up).

Here’s a non-scientific look at the types of sideline parents you are certain to encounter throughout your kid’s sports career, however long it lasts and regardless which sports they play. (I’m using first-hand baseball references I’ve encountered in my time playing and coaching)

A+ Sideline Parents:

  • Unofficial Team Photographer: Usually spotted behind the lens, you simply enjoy photography, capturing action shots of your kid, their teammates, and come in very handy in high school when Senior Day rolls around. You’re always willing to email photos of so-and-so’s kid to them and rarely miss a game. Keep snapping those photos.
  • Weekday/Weekend Warrior: You’re at every game with a coffee in hand, ready to enjoy some baseball, and the beautiful spring weather. You’ve brought along your chair-in-a-bag, a cooler, and some snacks. You’ve got your sunglasses on and a newspaper for between innings. You’re easy-going and reliable.
  • Sports Savvy Parent: You’re supportive when the team seems down but you don’t over-do it. You’re aware of how the game is supposed to be and is being played and even if your kid isn’t in the lineup (because they’re a lefty and there’s a tough lefty on the mound), you’re ok with it. You’re kid knows they’re part of a team and it’s partly because you instilled good values and raised them right. There’s also a high likelihood you played and succeeded at a sport when you were younger. You’re a coach’s dream parent.
  • Season Ticket Parent: Not every parent can get to every game. Midweek day games are often tough to get to because of work. Even weekend road trips more than a few hours away are tough for some. You’re not that parent. You bend over backwards to basically travel with the team and you’ve always got snacks or drinks for between games that you’ll offer up. There’s a saying that goes “don’t eat yourself out of the lineup” but chances are you’ve got a few subs for the taking anyway. You offer up Gatorade, granola bars, fruit, whatever you have so the kids can reenergize a bit. In little league this is more or less whichever parent volunteered to bring snacks after the game.

F- Sideline Parents

  • The Ump Hater: In your mind, you’re a way better umpire. You get on them when pitches look close as you sit down the first base line and have no angle to judge in or out, only up or down. You’re vocal with your displeasure with a bang-bang play at first not going your team’s way even though the play wasn’t nearly as close as you thought it was. Sure, umpires blow calls, they’re human. So are you, and you’re a damn adult. Besides, you’re not doing your kid’s team or coach any favors.
  • The (Non-)Assistant coach: You never sign up to coach a team. Instead, you go to every game, barking out/acting out/mouthing instructions to your kid about what they’re doing wrong or what they need to do. Besides being totally obnoxious, you probably also say to whoever will listen, “See, I told him/her to do that!,” when in fact they actually didn’t. You’re not at every practice and often times what you’re acting out to your kid is the opposite of what the coach actually wants them to do. If you have the playing pedigree, great, maybe it worked for you but your kid isn’t you. There’s a time and place to offer advice and during the game isn’t it.
  • But you drove in both runs“: If your kid doesn’t already tell you to shut up, I will – Shut up. Your kid is playing a sport where a team’s success is pretty reliant on chemistry and cohesion. They just lost 16-2 but your kid (not the kid listed below) went 1-2 with both RBI off an infielder who they brought in to save their bullpen. You clearly don’t get it.
  • Stats and Info Parent: You know every statistic for every player on your kid’s team. You not-so-subtly bring up stats when you see the lineup for the 20th game of the season and see that Billy (.265, 7 2B, 3 HR, 16 RBI) is hitting 5th in the lineup despite your kid’s batting average being a robust .333 (he’s 3-for-9 with 3 infield singles). We get it, you know the stats. Players who know this are referred to as “stat rats,” and usually are head cases.
  • The Critic: It doesn’t matter that your kid or his team do right, you’ll always find something wrong. You put too much pressure on your kid, and depending on their age, can totally turn them off to sports. This parent can also double as The Umpire Hater or Stats and Info Parent. It’s a game for God’s sake, let the kids enjoy it as a game.
  • TheHey Coach, got a minute?“: Never, ever a good look. You pine for the moment you’re able to corner the coach and talk about your kid’s playing time, whether it be in the parking lot after the game or in a rushed email that night. Do yourself and the coach a favor and talk to your kid first. If they’ve got an issue with playing time, they’ll let it be known. Sure, as a parent, you want the best for your kid, you want them to succeed, but maybe you don’t know the whole story.

As parents, we all want the best for our kids. And honestly, if they’re playing a sport, I hope it’s because they want to. I get that when they’re young you’ll convince them to play a sport because their friends are and who knows, maybe it piques their interest, but DO NOT make your middle schooler (and up) go out for the team because you want them to.

IMG_2853Let them make their own decision on extracurricular activities – within reason. Kids are wired differently, so support them. Whichever direction they choose to go in, support them.

They don’t have to do something because you did when you were younger. They’re part of you, but they’re not you. So what that you played college or pro baseball, maybe they’d rather try their hand at theater or science club or even bowling (which kids love!). Or maybe they do all of the above. But give them the choice. And support their choice. You’re their hero, their role model, their protector, their guide.

Wow. This just got way deeper than I intended but you get what I’m saying. Sports are cool until you –  the parent – cross the line and ruin it for them. And everyone else.

Basically what I’m saying is don’t be an asshole on the sidelines.

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