Competition in Minor Sports

When my son was five, we entered the weird and wonderful world of minor sports. Now, at age 12, Nick is playing organized or pick-up sports, talking on the phone making plans to play sports, or breathlessly arguing about the timing of dinner while busy playing sports.  Needless to say, my husband and I have spent a fair bit of time at the hockey arena, soccer field, baseball diamond and basketball court.

As parents, we value the fun and excitement of organized sports for kids, but also recognize the learning opportunities provided by these activities.

If all goes well, we can count on our kids learning to play fairly and to treat team mates and opponents with respect. We hope they will recognize that everybody makes mistakes and that forgiving one self and others is an important life lesson.  Ideally, our kids will also learn the importance of putting forth their best effort at all times, about team play and cooperation, and to be understanding and tolerant of the different abilities of others.

Unfortunately though, it’s sometimes the lessons learned as a result of negative situations that can overshadow what’s good in the game.

At a recent road hockey tournament, each team was required to provide an adult referee. During one of my son’s games, the other team’s adult ref missed calling a number of his own team’s infractions.

One of the tournament organizers happened to walk by, stepped in and penalized a player for a physically aggressive move similar to those that had become commonplace during this particular game. The organizer also informed the player and his parent ref that players can be ejected from the tournament for similar moves.  Still, the ref neglected to call subsequent infractions.

My son and his teammates, with angrily gritted teeth, continued to play within the rules and lost the game. The boys have suffered their share of losses, but found this one especially demoralizing.

I offered suggestions as to why the game played out like that. Perhaps the gamekeeper was inexperienced, or not a quick enough thinker to referee such a fast paced game.  Both of these were definite possibilities, but I couldn’t help but remember other situations during my son’s ice hockey games which prompted me to consider the possibility that this parent simply doesn’t recognize the importance of teaching about fair play.  And judging by the inaction of the other parents of the team, they appeared to be likeminded.

Amazingly, some parents seem to value the win more than the learning opportunity afforded their children, which – and forgive me for being so very obvious here – is so much more important than winning the game.

We criticize refs for failing to make what sometimes seem to be obvious calls against the other team, but rarely react when our own team benefits from a missed call.

Around kids that absorb adult behaviour like sponges, looking the other way when a rule is broken, I think sends a message that none of us want to send. Although it’s not likely to turn them into outcasts on the wrong side of the law, teaching our kids to take responsibility for their actions helps them learn from their mistakes, and helps to builds the type of character we presumably all want to see in our kids.

I would never underplay the thrill and confidence boost when kids are able to revel in the victory of a well-played game. But I do find it troubling when we risk winning the game at the expense of teaching our kids valuable lessons.