Team Crazy

espn_e_elite_576This column ran in the Kansas City Star last week and all I have to say is good thing I was out-of-town because the emails I got were scary. Note to self – don’t ever write about children’s competitive sports because there are a crap ton of parents out there who will want to take you down. Seriously, I’ll be watching my back for days.

Parents where have we gone wrong? How have we convinced ourselves this is normal? Is there something in the low-calorie Gatorade we’ve been guzzling? I’m writing this as a cry for help. Someone please tell me how well-educated, seemingly fully compos mentis, adults have fallen into the youth competitive sports trap.

I’m not passing judgment. For I stand before you as one of those idiot parents who are shelling out thousands of dollars and giving up a large majority of my life so my child can “compete at the elite level.” Whatever the hell that really means.

Okay, I think I know what it means, but I’m afraid to actually be the one to say it. What’s that? You’ve got my back on this. You want me to be the one who blurts out what the rest of us are thinking as we drive 200 miles, use up all of our hotel points, and have redefined our vacation to mean squeezing in a “fun something” during a tournament?

You really think it’s wise for me to come clean that our kitchens will never get remodeled and our retirement funds aren’t what they could be because our kids partake of something with intangible monikers like “select,” “elite” or “competitive” attached to it?

Alright, I’m just going to come out and do it. I’m throwing caution to the wind here people. Here you go. I being of sound mind and disposing memory and not acting under duress or undue influence admit and/or confess that I believe children “competing at the elite level” or participating in “select” sports means that a child has an interest in an extracurricular activity and by undergoing a “try out” will be placed in a level that allows them to enjoy said activity with their peers regardless of whether or not they exhibit or posses an even slightly above average aptitude for it.

Furthermore, I believe that parents are dummies, seduced by the thought that their children are extra special and holding onto hope that maybe all the money, time (and did I mention money), being invested will someday (please dear Lord, I beseech you to make this happen) result in a NCAA scholarship opportunity or on a lesser level make excellent college resume fodder.

Never mind that a kid getting a “full ride” at college is like seeing Sasquatch. You hear about it, some people swear it’s real and have known someone who has “seen it,” but you doubt you’ll ever run into one on the plains of Kansas.

To continue this conversation further let’s just throw out the obvious pros of having a child do competitive sports. Yes, our kids enjoy it. Yes, it’s good for them to be active. Yes, on the whole team building, friendships, life lessons etc.

Now, that that’s out of the way let’s refocuses our energy on the insanity.

Am I the only one old enough to remember when “competing at the elite level” meant an athlete was training to make an Olympic team? Because now it also means a family is spending their weekend in scenic Omaha and probably dropping close to a $1,000 (at least $250 of that in entry fees) so their 11-year-old can play volleyball in a junior high gym with 750 other “elite” sixth graders.

Since we’re all aboard the way back train who else can recollect when being a starting player on a high school team was the pinnacle of your athletic career?

Now some of the best athletes don’t even play high school sports. There’s either conflicts in their “competitive” playing schedule or their “elite” coach has told them they could pick up bad habits, put themselves at a risk for injury or heaven forbid, if the high school team isn’t that great they don’t want to “be associated with losing.”

Last year I tried to start a coup. I was talking to other parents about all of us banding together and clawing even perhaps chewing off the competitive sports shackles, but none of us were brave enough to make the break.

One parent even reluctantly shared that she couldn’t leave because “this was her life.” Not her child’s life, but hers. A majority of this woman’s existence was wrapped up in her kid’s team sport. It was her community. These were her “peeps.”

I totally understood what she was talking about.

This competitive sports thing has a lot in common with religious cults. You’ve got a charismatic leader, whose attention you crave, in the form of a coach. Add in long hours spent in confined spaces (i.e. the bleachers) and families being expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities and volia you’ve got yourselves all the makings of cult mania.

Maybe that’s what we all need – a cult deprogrammer because common sense sure isn’t working.

*Attcover_1.3-2ention Snarky Friends, I have a brand new book out. It’s the second in the Snarky in the Suburbs series – Snarky in the Suburbs Trouble In Texas. You can buy it for your Kindle or in paperback on Amazon.  It’s also available for the Nook or you can get it for your Kobo reader. Click on a link and give it a test read.  I hope you like it! 🙂

The Sports Parents Hall of Shame (The Elementary School Years)

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To celebrate this season of recreation here is the definite list of irritating sports parents. I, after much research, that has resulted in bleacher butt, have categorized the parents into eleven different groups of “species annoying” or to be strictly scientific Pater Athletica. (In alphabetical order)

The Clock Watcher– More accurate than Greenwich Mean Time the Clock Watcher is absorbed with timing how long his/her child gets to participate in the game. The Clock Watcher tallies the findings and immediately after the game shares with the coach the numerical breakdown. Say it’s not so, if the C.W.’s kid got less game time than some of the other kids. This fact will turn the Clock into a ticking Time Bomb ready to explode if their child doesn’t get above average play time in the next game. In some instances the Clock Watcher has even pulled his child mid-game in protest and gone home. I call that the Jerk Play. Never mind that the kid misses practices, begs to sit out or is nursing an injury (real or imagined). All that matters to the Clock Watcher is minutes played and his kid better have all the minutes.

The College Scholarshipper – Every parent reading this who thinks their 10-year-old will, for sure, get a full ride to college due to their amazing athletic ability please take a deep breath and brace yourself for a hard truth. Less than 6% of all high school athletes get college scholarship to play NCAA sports and less than 1% of all high school athletes go on to play professional sports. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “My kid will be that 6%.” Awesome, I applaud dreaming big and I’ll be cheering your child on. But, I’m going to ask for just one little favor – please, please quit talking about it. No more comparisons of your child’s elementary school game stats in relationship to what college scouts are looking for. No more sharing of your master game plan to get your child on full athletic scholarship to your alma mater, and pretty please no more yelling from the stands at your kid – “That’s what I want to see! That’s what the Buckeyes will be looking for!”

The “I Could Have Gone Pro” Dad– Is there anything more awkward than witnessing a dad trying to show off his sports skills at a game for kids? No. This dad can be seen arriving early for practice and games in his full jock attire. Sometimes even wearing his old high school football jersey which due to time marching on is more of a stretchy crop top. He’ll go on the field to throw balls for the kids and by throw I mean show off how big, strong and powerful he is. He heaves the balls so hard the kids can’t catch them. I wonder if he thinks he’s impressing the moms in the stands. My short answer no. No mom likes seeing an adult pummel her 7-year-old with a football thrown hard in his stomach. Meanwhile, he keeps up a play-by-play of his sports experience including his impressive Pop Warner and junior high career plus his high school triumphs. Next he’s off to run that lap around the field beating the kids and then crowing about it. He even gets down and does the warm ups with the team except it’s all about, “Look at me, look how fast I can do a push up. Now watch this I’m doing a push up with one hand.” Someone hit that dad in the head with steel cleat. Please. At the beginning of the season the kids think the dad is cool. After about 3 practices the kids begin to think the dad is a little scary. “Why does he stay for practice?” they ask. “He’s not even the coach?” As a parent I think he should hang up his jock strap and sit down, preferably away from me.

The I’m Raising My Child to Be a Serial Killer – Research has shown that nothing triggers the complex gene mutation that creates serial killers like a child being pressured to play sports against their will. (Okay, so I’m making that one up.) It’s one thing to introduce your child to a wide variety of athletic endeavors and encourage physical activity. It’s another to force them to continuing playing a sport after they reach a certain age. Once a kid has demonstrated no interest whatsoever in said sport, exhibits complete misery at being made to partake in the sport and shows no discernible skill sets for the game after playing for six years then maybe it’s time to call it quits on sport A and move on to sport B or C or D. So, they don’t like team sports. It doesn’t mean they don’t like exercise.  So you’ll never get to see your son or daughter pitch in the Little League All Stars Game. Get over it and embrace your non-athlete because I have four words for you: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates. The geeks shall inherit the earth.

The Pep Squad Mom – Got spirit? Let’s hear it!  I’m all for enthusiasm at my children’s sporting events, but the Pep Squad Mom needs to switch her Starbucks to decaf and retire her high school cheerleader pom poms. Yes, we’re all proud of our kids as they try to figure out where the ball went and what to do with it, but do we really need to break into a rehearsed cheer, complete with arm movements and clapping or do the wave? There’s what, like 15 parents total watching and half of the parents spend more time staring at their phone than the field. As for the whole color coordinated family spirit wear you suggested – sure, our team is the Purple Thunder, but I’m not interested in buying spirit wear for their 8 game season. One, I’m an adult, two our kids are 6 and their games last all of 30 minutes. Isn’t that going just a wee bit overboard to have every family “support the team in unified spirit wear”? Three, I don’t look good in purple. I appreciate your energy and dedication to children’s athletics and the fact that at age 35 you can still do a pretty impressive herkie, but I could really the see the game better and my child attempting to play if you would only sit down.

The Revenge of the Rec Team Parent – Hell hath no fury like the parent stuck with a kid on the rec team when he really thinks his child should have made into the “elite” or “select” level. This parent will try to restructure the season so it’s all about his/her child getting the experience he or she needs for the next round of tryouts. Forget about it being a team sport it’s a me sport. This parent comes to every practice and game intent on his/her child being given all the opportunities to shine. May I suggest to this parent if you want your child in the spotlight 24/7 try solo sports like tennis (singles) or figure skating (and I’m not talking pairs).

The Screamer – This parent has the lung capacity that would put a blue whale to shame. They can holler and shriek at their child the entire game or competition. Usually they can be found near the field, court, pool etc multitasking by pacing and screaming. Unfortunately, the screaming is not of the encouraging variety. It’s more of a drill sergeant on speed: “C’mon you can go faster than that!  Go get that ball!  You would have had if you had been paying attention! We practiced that, remember, r-e-m-e-m-b-e-r!” I can only imagine how your child feels being bellowed at the entire game, but, I can tell how I feel. Sad for you, your family and my ears.  And may I ask where is your spouse because he or she should be telling you to pipe down. Better yet, don’t attend the games until you can exhibit some sort of impulse and vocal control or adjust your meds.

The Suck It Up/Shake It Off Parent – Sometimes it’s just a twisted ankle and sometimes it really is a broken ankle. The Suck It Up/Shake It Off parent treats every injury the same – it’s no big deal. Player down on the field or court it doesn’t matter to this parent. They always shout the same thing, “shake it off.” God forbid that play stop and a parent leaves the stand to see what is wrong with their child. The Suck it Up/Shake it Off will continue his/her monologue about how whatever happened is no big deal and that kids today are coddled babies (or pussies). Back in their day the injury would have been fixed with a jog around the track and an ace bandage. Really?  Because I would like to test your vintage theory by hitting you in the ankle with a baseball bat and see you walk that off.

Team Divorce: At most games you would never know which parents are divorced. On occasion the aftershocks of a very rancorous split will be played out to such a degree that the action is not on the field, but in the stands. Dad or mom bringing a date to the game can be the fire starter or a child custody issue can get things heated. At a Little League baseball game last year I witnessed two parents fighting over who had the right to take their child home after the game. The mom holding a baby in her arms, shoved the dad.  The dad pushed her back, another dad from the stands ( a federal judge) jumped up to separate them and then both parents shoved him. Long story short the police were called, the game was stopped, their kids were crying and the Federal Judge pressed charges. Whoever said, “baseball was made for kids, and only grown ups screw it up” was right.

The Unicorns & Rainbows – No one likes to lose. Some hate losing more than others. It’s natural for kids, especially when as they get older to be disappointed when their team doesn’t play well and really who wants a kid whose team just got annihilated 87 to 2 to be joyous. Be very careful that a Unicorns & Rainbows parent doesn’t see your child’s gloomy, ticked off demeanor.  They will descend upon him or her like a plague of happy locust. “Oh come on, it’s a beautiful day.  You got to see your friends, smell the fresh-cut grass and feel the sunshine on your face.” Pardon me, but you are not helping. Also, the bit you dropped about being happy that your alive because 150,000 people die everyday was a little over the top and freaky scary to a 10-year-old. The U&R parents can’t stand to see a child weather the agony of defeat. Like there’s a law that says a kid must be cheerful at all times. As they stalk you as you walk to your car, thank them for their concern, while making sure your keys are out so you can quickly break into a run and finally escape their happy homilies. You know after a couple of minutes in the car and a trip to get an Icee all will be well with your mopey kid. Besides, who wouldn’t be a little sad about a game gone bad.

The Whining Second Guesser – Oh my, if you were a young child your behavior would result in a very long time out and maybe a nap. But alas, you’re an adult so, that means no one can punish you for your excessive whining. Our only retaliation is to avoid you like the ebola virus even if it means hiding out with the opposing teams parents. Nothing ever goes right for you. The calls made during the game were horrible. The field was too wet. The court was too slippery. The other team’s kids looked too big to be 11. The coach got it all wrong.  If only we had played on another field. If only the coach hadn’t substituted in that child. Yikes, put a sock in it.  A big knee-high wool soccer sock.

Now, that I categorized “species annoying” go forth my friend and enjoy your child’s athletic prowess. Holding firm in the knowledge that you, for not being on the list, are already a winner.

For all thinks wonderfully Snarky go to www.snarkygear.com where you can find T-shirts, ecards for Facebook and my brand new book – Snarky in the Suburbs Back to School.  Here’s a little ditty about it:

The Spring Creek Elementary School PTA board (a coven of Mean Moms dressed in Uggs, yoga pants, and dermal filler) is up to no good.  Wynn Butler (middle-aged, uncool, and not bringing sexy back) is determined to find out what’s going on. With help from her two kids, a Roomba vacuum turned mobile surveillance drone, and a few good friends, Wynn launches a covert investigation that leads to the “mother of all revenge capers” at the school’s annual Fall Festival.

 If you’ve ever fantasized about smoke bombing the idiot parent who has yet to master the fine art of the school drop-off lane, or standing up and shouting, “Liar, liar, Botox on fire” during a PTA meeting, then this delicious tale of payback is for you.

To stay up-to-date on new posts and take part in my not so deep thoughts click on this Facebook link – http://is.gd/iEgnJ (That’s the abbreviated link to my FB page) or I twitter @snarkynsuburbs.