Point of No Return —Youth sports should be about, well, the youth

The flowers are fighting through some random cold snaps to find their blooms, numerous seasonal businesses are beginning to open up their doors and Darin’s sinuses are more blocked than Central Avenue after a giant sinkhole appears underneath the asphalt, causing me to forget that the road is closed at that intersection about a million times over the...

But I digress.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, spring has indeed found its way to the forefront of our calendars, and with it comes the anticipation of warmer air, later sunsets and the sounds of children playing baseball and softball on fields across this nation.

It is important to note here that I wrote “sounds of children,” and not “sounds of screaming parents or coaches.”

Interestingly enough, youth sports are mostly intended for our youth. They are incredibly valuable in terms of teaching our younger generations about teamwork, committing to something, seeking ways to improve one’s self, confidence and learning how to lose or win with humility and grace. Sports can also get our kids moving, which benefits them both physically and mentally, and are a great way to improve social skills, as communication is an essential element in sports success — either between teammates or players and coaches.

I loved playing sports as a kid. I vividly remember Saturday mornings growing up, sitting on the floor with a bowl of cereal and rooting for Bugs Bunny to outsmart Elmer Fudd once again while I was fully decked out in my baseball uniform — a good six or seven hours before my game started. I would usually rush outside after breakfast and play basketball with my friends for a few hours, run back in for lunch and then head out to the field to meet my teammates and coaches, already soaked in grime and slime before the warmups began.

It was fun standing in the on-deck circle waiting my turn at bat and swinging my mighty lumber back and forth in a slow rhythm, emulating Eddie Murray’s approach I’d watched a thousand times before. It was great throwing out a potential base-stealer from my catcher position and celebrating with my teammates with a high-five or tip of the cap, just like our idols did on television. And, honestly, nothing beat kicking back with orange slices brought by one of our parents or getting together with everyone for a post-game pizza.

You know what sometimes ruined it, though? Adults.

I would cringe when a father would yell at his kid for dropping a ball or watching a third strike sail by without swinging at it. I’d get mad when I’d come to bat and some father or mother on the other team would yell to the pitcher, “Alright, Brian. This kid’s a bum. Fire it by him.” And it was embarrassing when parents would start yelling at the umpires for what they perceived to be a bad call.

And you know what would happen as soon as one parent would start berating an umpire? You guessed it. Several other parents would join in, and then a few of the kids on the field would hop on and, just like that, the game we were all just enjoying turned into something much worse. It became something serious.

Kids don’t always need serious. Sometimes they just need to be kids.

Look, I’m not one to advocate for “participation trophies.” I think kids will do better in life if they are striving to accomplish something, particularly in a team environment. It takes an entire team to win a game, or to succeed in a combat mission or to put out a weekly paper.

If you can learn early on how to do your part in a team effort, and to recognize that you are only as strong as your weakest link, well, that is a skill that can take you far in life. You learn that you have to pull together to make that weakest link stronger, and you learn accountability in your own personal efforts.

And if those efforts result in your team being acknowledged for its work with a certificate or trophy, then you really did accompish something. If your efforts didn’t, then you know what you have to work on to improve, you strap back on your cleats and you try again.

But you should be able to do that with a smile on your face and some enthusiasm in your heart.

Nothing can dampen that enthusiasm more than being ridiculed or verbally attacked by an adult, particularly when that adult is your parent, or your friend’s parent or your coach. You know, those people kids are supposed to be looking toward as role models. Guess what happens when kids’ role models behave like jerks? Those kids often become jerks. Or they lose their confidence. Or they simply don’t want to play anymore.

And that’s a shame.

We’ve all read or seen the extreme instances of outlandish behavior by coaches or parents at youth sports events. The ones involving a parent shooting at a coach or slapping their kids during a game or fights breaking out in the bleachers all make the headlines, and they rightfully should.

But the ones that don’t make the headlines are disturbing, as well, and potentially just as damaging.

As the Little League season ramps up, and junior soccer and lacrosse games are heating up along Delmarva, keep in mind that these are youth sports, and for the kids. Please do get involved if you choose, as the leagues always need help.

But remember you are not the stars. You are the adults. Act like adults, and let your kids be the stars.