Sportsmanship Must Be Taught by Parents

I am horrified to share what I recently witnessed at a high school junior varsity soccer game. Within the first few minutes of the game, a member of my son’s team caused a penalty and the ref awarded the opposing team an indirect kick. Despite getting that call, that coach felt his team should have received a penalty kick, not merely an indirect kick. He loudly voiced his displeasure.

Not surprisingly, the ref gave the coach a yellow card. Undeterred, the coach continued to berate the ref and then began making his comments personal. He was loud, obnoxious, and completely out of control. Like the energizer bunny, he was on an unstoppable roll.

Again, not surprisingly, the ref gave him a red card, which meant he had to leave the game. With that, he pulled his team off the field and forfeited the game. Though he had no assistant coach, I believe the ref told him he could get a parent to fill in, though I’m not positive about that. I’m not sure it mattered. It seemed he chose to make this his personal stand and took his players with him.

There are so many things wrong with this incident, that I can barely decide where to begin. This was a junior varsity high school soccer game. While that is clearly important to the kids who play and to their parents who drove the half-hour to the hosting school, in the scheme of life it is pretty insignificant. It wasn’t brain surgery. The coach clearly needs some anger management, and it’s hard for me to imagine how his school’s Athletic Director will allow him to continue coaching. My understanding is that he pulled a similar stunt last year.

Coaches, like teachers, are there to help instill values in our kids. Athletic events provide a wonderful opportunity to teach kids the value of competition and sportsmanship. Maybe the coach had a legitimate gripe and should have gotten the call he sought. But his utter disrespect for the refs, his team, the opposing team and all the parents who witnessed his outrageous behavior, certainly wasn’t the appropriate way to handle disappointment with a call.

What made the situation even more depressing was the support a couple of the parents gave the coach. They applauded his actions and were proud of the coach stuck up for his team. That certainly wasn’t the way I saw it. To me, standing up for your team means teaching these young men that you don’t always get the call you seek in life. Sometimes things don’t go your way, fairly or unfairly. It would have been a far greater lesson to pull the team together and encourage them to prove their point through strong play. It is likely that they would have scored the goal on the penalty, which meant they’d have been in the lead. Instead, everyone ended up as losers.

I urge parents to teach your children good sportsmanship. They will have many knocks in life when things don’t go their way, and it will likely be about something way more important than a soccer game. It is your job to teach them to handle these disappointments appropriately, so they can work through them in the most positive way possible.

I am not sure how this coach can look at himself in the mirror. What did he gain by his brutish behavior? Certainly not respect from his players. These athletes worked hard to make this team and they deserved far better. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children good sportsmanship. Sadly, we can’t always depend on their coaches to provide this important life lesson.