On the news this morning they were talking about how parents have been banned from children’s school football matches. And, you know what? I’m not surprised. When James used to play football (not at school but at the local club) I was often appalled, nay disgusted, at the behaviour of parents on the touchline. These were children of…what? Seven? Eight? And parents were bawling and screaming; yelling at their own kids to be more aggressive; taunting other kids when they lost the ball or missed a goal; bawling out the ref for ‘lousy decisions.’
It was revolting. It wasn’t supporting; it was mean…like bear baiting.
And it’s not just me being a wussy woman who doesn't understand sport - Adrian was horrified too. In fact, both of us were mightily relieved when James decided football wasn’t for him and he took himself off to play rugby instead.
Not saying, of course, that rugby parents are all saints but there is usually a bit more of a sense of ‘fair play’. People still yell and jump around and get overexcited. But generally you clap and nod (albeit with a pursed lip) when there’s an amazing run or an awesome tackle from the opposing side.
The other day at school I watched my boy taken down in a quite spectacular fashion (which will have hurt his pride, as he’s usually the one who does the taking down) and muttered ‘Oh bloody good tackle’.
The woman walking past stopped and smiled. ‘That’s my son,’ she said proudly.
‘And that’s mine, underneath him, eating mud,’ I said with a smile.
‘Oh god, I’m sorry,’ she said.
‘Nah,’ I demurred. ‘That was one awesome tackle.’
She smiled again. ‘Well, he’ll be pleased. Last time he played your side, he broke his arm, so it’s always going to be a bit of a grudge match.’
And we chatted a bit and watched the game, and applauded good work on both sides.
But then, as Adrian often says, I don’t *get* sport. Sure I support my son’s side; sure I want them to win but nah, I don’t get the screaming and yelling. Apart from anything else, the boys simply can’t hear. I went through a phase of trying to make an effort, to enter in the spirit of it. Taking my hint from the people around me, I’d yell out, randomly, ‘Legs! LEGS!’ or ‘Heave!’ or ‘Ruck over!’ But James said, pityingly, after the match. ‘Mum, just stop it, huh? We can’t hear you. We don’t need your advice. And, frankly, you look a bit nuts when you jump around.’
So really, parents. Stop it already. Get a grip. Think of your children and put them before your pride. I think the main problem is that parents (particularly the men) live vicariously through their children. Listening to Adrian talk, you’d think he had had an illustrious career as an All Black. He verges on the obsessive when it comes to rugby, picking apart the team, each match, the opposition. It’s great, to a point – it shows he’s interested, that he cares. But it can become too much and sometimes I see James' head go down. ‘Sometimes I just want to play, to enjoy playing,’ he says with a resigned sigh.
And that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Yes, sport is competitive but it’s also supposed to be fun, to be enjoyable. When parents push and yell and degrade, that’s not fun any more. Is it?