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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Dawson

The US Sports Abyss

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

What the hell. I mean… WHAT. THE. HELL.


Perhaps I just used a swear word, but after all the language I heard from the coaches at this weekend’s basketball tournament for kids aged 14 and under, my words feel relatively clean. We are letting the coaches use this language with our kids, so I think I have a free pass.


I recently returned to the US from Europe after almost 18 years of blissful ignorance of all things related to kids’ sports in America. I thought I knew what it was like here, but I didn’t really know. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that my kids missed out on the pleasure of their lives getting taken over by endless sports obligations and coaches that reward them for their dedication by constantly screaming f-bombs at them. My kids are involved in sports, for better or for worse, so we are now in the deep, dark, depths of the US sports abyss. It’s a scary place to be.


We as middle-aged adults can’t blame anyone but ourselves. We did this!! This is our generation, people. We are the ones who took competition to a ridiculous level and think it’s ok to live vicariously through our kids in a frighteningly aggressive manner. We allow coaches and ourselves to bully kids because our 8 year old’s local softball team lost a relatively meaningless game to another local team, with maybe 10 spectators in the audience, all parents and grandparents.


I’m not a psychologist, but it’s pretty easy to see what happens as a result. Our kids burn out. They lose confidence in not just their sports ability but in their overall being. They forget about that love of the game that brought them there initially, and never really get the chance to live a magical, carefree childhood that we mostly had. I've always believed that real achievement comes from our own passion for something, not by someone forcing it upon us by invoking fear.


Living vicariously through our kids aside, I’ll give everyone a very miniscule benefit of the doubt for a moment and address a possible, more rational reason why adults in this country have an over-the-top obsession with our kids winning at all costs. We’ve got the ‘well-rounded person’ college resume problem. These days, college is just a pipe dream, even with straight A’s. Perfect grades + competitive sports + environmental charity work + founding a billion dollar business = perhaps you might get into a random 4 year college. Maybe. You might need to top it off with some cash under the table. Competitive sport success is a minimum requirement for college, similar to having the ability to breathe.


Back to the powerful-lunged, potty-mouthed adults screaming at kids at sports practices and games. Shame on you for yelling, and shame on you for enabling our coaches to do so as well. Yes, you read that correctly – I am lecturing you, because I never yell. Not ever. Well, not at sports games. Maybe a bit at my kids this morning for running late. And maybe yesterday for them not cleaning up their mess. And perhaps it is feeling like every day these days because they are two sullen teenagers causing me to lose my mind.


Addressing the larger sports problem, not my personal teenagers-in-the-house struggle - yelling is sometimes necessary to be physically heard, especially in a loud sports arena, and kids can be frustrating in general. But losing your voice while screaming an obscenity because a young player missed a layup in a random practice?!


As parents, sometimes we have to sign a code of ethics at the beginning of the sports season saying that we recognize that the chances of our kids playing in the NBA are about negative zero, so please back off and go play the lottery where the chances are higher. We sign it, and then most of the adults in the room basically throw it out the window. If our kids don’t win their tournament, we as their parents and coaches are successful in one area at least – creating miserable kids who become future nightmares for our grandkids.


Maybe we should yell less and coach more. Tell your kids you love watching them play, and leave it at that. And save your f-bombs for when you really need to let them out, like if your kids have a raging party when you're away.


Namaste.

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