This summer, my brother played on his little league 12U baseball team, and I tried to go to as many of his games as possible. They were pretty successful, as they won their District Championship and were one win away from entering the regional round of play. They always seemed to have a great time on the field and my brother loved playing, but there was one thing that bothered me at every game I attended: parents (including my own).
On any given play, I heard hoards of parents yelling things at their kids ranging from “Move over, you’re too far down the line,” to “Come on Joe, hit the ball,” to my personal favorite, “throw strikes here, buddy” (Seriously, how is that supposed to help?). None of them were following little league baseball’s guidelines to “honoring the game”, and I am positive that none of the players appreciated their parents singling them out in front of their peers. The players had enough to think about- beating their crosstown rivals, facing the best pitcher in the county, and performing up the the standards of their fellow players and coaches- the last thing they needed was misguided parental advice.
One time, I was talking to my brother after a key win, and asked if he was feeling excited. “I guess,” he said. “I just wish Dad would be quiet for once. I get really anxious when he gives me instructions from the stands during games.” He had just won a huge game, but wasn’t feeling great about it because he had to hear my Dad hollering from the sidelines the whole time. Clearly, parental presence at games can detract from a player’s enjoyment. While coaches can instill fear in players or sometimes push them too hard, parental pressure at games brings a new level of discomfort. When parents pressure their kids at games, the kids have to not only endure the embarrassment on the field, but also fear that they will be less accepted at home.
A few weeks ago, I tagged along with a few of my friends to watch their IM flag football team’s playoff game. Even though it’s just an IM sport, it can be very competitive and serious. Some teams have coaches, and a few even have statisticians that record every play and drive. One thing that is absent from these games, however, is parents. None of the players have to worry about disappointing their dad who is trying to relive his glory days, or listen to their moms make an embarrassing complaint about the refereeing. Although it was just as competitive as a little league game, it was a much more comfortable environment, and I consequently enjoyed watching it more.
In A. Bartlett Giamatti’s Take Time for Paradise (1989), he talks about the connection spectators have with the games being played in front of them, saying, “the spectator invests his surrogate out there with all of his care-free hopes, his aspirations for freedom, his yearning for transmutation of business into leisure, war into peace, effort into grace.” This certainly holds true for little league parents, and they may be even more invested into the game than Giamatti suggests. Giammati also writes that spectators and players share “a bond of energy, resentment, and awe,” and in the case of little league games, the players definitely sway more towards resentment. While parents may simply be expressing their deep connection to watching their children play, they are unintentionally degrading the game by making their children think about their expectations, rather than the game they are playing.
Overall, I felt that the IM football game was a much more enjoyable event to attend because the players were operating free of outside pressures. The athletes were not thinking about their obnoxious parents before the plays were called, and it made for a more fluid game. It felt like the players were truly competing with each other, instead of battling their personal anxieties about their family members in the stands.