“There is no safe place in this gym.”
I whispered those words to my husband last year as the crowd surrounding us rose up in anger with a referee’s call on a particular basketball play.
I was joking. Mostly.
For several games, we had tried different places around the gym to sit — looking for fans like us — ones who enjoy cheering on the kids in a positive manner.
No booing. No yelling at the ref. No yelling at the coach. No yelling at their kid. Just encouraging the student athletes to do their best.
At that moment, though, I felt there was no place in that gym where we could really enjoy the game and the team.
I’m well aware this is not a new issue. I remember it from my playing days and I’m sure it was happening long before that.
But has it gotten worse?
For nearly 20 years, I’ve been either a coach or a parent of kids in sports. And before that, an athlete and a fan. I’ve attended hundreds of athletic events. Basketball, football, volleyball, soccer and baseball games, tennis matches and track and field meets.
I’ve seen how parents can be wonderful supporters. But I’ve also seen how they can be THE WORST fans.
So I was not surprised when I read about a referee shortage in the state. Nor when I heard of high school football teams having to move some of their Friday night games to Saturdays because they can’t find referees.
Tim Crone called it a “crisis” in his June column in the Columbia Daily Tribune after attending a meeting with the Missouri State High School Athletics Association (MSHSAA).
“The official (referee) pool in the state of Missouri is aging and desperately needs new blood and fresh eyes,” he wrote. “(But) young people are not interested in joining the officiating profession because the reward is far less than the abuse doled out to them by coaches and fans.”
MSHSAA is the governing body for high school activities throughout the state, from basketball and football to music and speech and debate. Its mission is to promote “the value of participation, sportsmanship, team play and personal excellence to develop citizens who make positive contributions to their community and support the democratic principles of our state and nation.” One of the objectives in doing so is “to foster a cooperative spirit and good sportsmanship on the part of school representatives, school patrons and students.”
This shouldn’t be that difficult…
Players play. Coaches coach. Referees ref. And parents cheer.
If you’ve been to a game, from little league through high school, you know it’s not that easy for some.
I guess if you can’t keep your mouth shut, I have a lollipop in my bag for you.
I read a Facebook post by New York Times bestselling author and Momastery creator Glennon Doyle soon after my gym “safe place” revelation where she talked about being a soccer mom and fan.
She wrote: “If your shirt says one of the following words, Coach or Referee, feel free – throughout the game – to yell coachy or referee-ish things. If you do not see these words on your shirt – hush, mostly.
“This will be surprisingly difficult… So, since you cannot be trusted – bring lollipops. Put them in your loud obnoxious mouths as soon as you sit down on the sideline. Let them serve as a reminder to you that children are dropping out of sports in record numbers – largely because their parents are behaving (badly) on the sidelines in record numbers. Things, in general, are less fun to do when bigger people scream at you the entire time you do them.
“You, parent, yell nothing but yay and good hustle and you got this.”
Amen, Glennon, amen.
As we begin a new school year, I’m happy to take on the role of lollipop mom.
Be loud. Get crazy. Have fun. I know firsthand the benefit of an awesome fan section. Just do it positively and respectfully.
And if you can’t, come find me.
I have a bag full of lollipops to help you practice your good sportsmanship.
I’ll even let you pick your favorite flavor.