Athletic pursuits were not my forte when I was a kid. I had just enough athleticism to look like I could be good, but not nearly enough to actually be good.
Every fall, though, I signed up for basketball, and every spring, I signed up for baseball. It was fun, regardless of my own personal lack of success.
That’s the thing about youth sports – above all else, it’s just about fun. It’s about success and improvement and life lessons and working hard, but sheer enjoyment always runs as the undercurrent.
Summers on this job give me a window to youth sports, and I can tell you it’s no different now. The fun persists. It’s going as strong as ever, which you will quickly realize if you happen to be at a Little League field when the YMCA starts blaring through the speakers.
The best thing about fun in youth sports is that it can withstand a lot. A boy strikes out with the bases loaded to end the game, but five minutes later, he’s all smiles while he enjoys his post-game hot dog and soda. A girl gives up a game-winning goal on the soccer field but it’s forgotten amid the splashing and shouting at the team pool party that night.
Fun can also withstand over-the-top intensity and displays of poor sportsmanship that would make Bobby Knight proud.
I just wish it didn’t have to.
My window to youth sports this summer has been filled with it – and for an outside observer like me, it overshadows the good moments. A lot of parents and coaches are terrific, the absolute models of what everyone should want to be when they’re in that position. And I don’t know that this is a trend and a sign of the youth-sports apocalypse, or if I’ve just happened to see more of it this year.
But it can get wild out there – merciless booing of umpires, disputes between parents and coaches, swearing.
There’s just no place for it.
I get it. I am a raving lunatic when I’m watching my favorite teams. I’m actually surprised my neighbor didn’t call the police when I was watching the NCAA Final Four this year.
The difference is that I don’t have a team full of 12-year-olds watching me.
In the heat of the moment, I’m sure it’s tough to hold back. Parents and families are dedicated to their young athletes and they live and die with every pitch, every shot, every goal. It’s natural to want the best for them, to want them to win.
Championship quests and magical tournament rides are the stuff of lifelong memories, too. Of course you want your kids to keep them going. In those moments where wins are in danger and it looks like a tournament ride might end on a bad call, everybody is going to have a strong reaction.
When it boils over, though, that’s where there’s a problem. It doesn’t do anybody any good – not the guilty party and certainly not the kids who are watching. Sportsmanship isn’t some empty word. It’s a principle of sports for a reason. To defy it is bad enough. To do it when you’re supposed to be setting an example is even worse.
The last few years, we’ve covered the 9/10-year-old Eastern Regional at Cranston Western Little League. You see the full gamut, from coaches who yell until they lose their voices, to parents who are supportive of every pitch, even the bad ones. The most successful teams are the ones that don’t take anything too seriously, that win while having a lot of fun along the way. That’s the kind of team I would want to be a part of.
You cheer like crazy. You go wild in the big moments. But when things go bad, you have a little bit of perspective. You take a step back.
Winning is fun. But winning isn’t everything.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.