Lessons Kids Learn From Spectators

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

First Impressions

When I make new acquaintances and they learn that I am a high school teacher, there is always a mixture of awe and a little pity in their responses. Most often I hear, “Bless you, Dear. I don’t know how you deal with all that attitude and disrespect.” 

Years ago I would take up for my students. Today, well, after reflecting upon an incident that happened a few weeks ago, I have more reason to ask myself, “Why are you teaching teenagers?” 

Perhaps it is that I still believe teachers can make a difference. Maybe I believe that coaches can get through where adults and other teachers can’t. Maybe I have seen it work when parents and teachers, staff and coaches work together and a kid many have given up on turns around in a magnificent way, and I’m addicted to that scenario.

Most likely I stick with it because I feel that to quit would be to give up on what could be the greatest, most accepting, and most progressive generation of all time. Lord knows we’ve given them a lot of mistakes to learn from. Whatever the reason, still, I teach.

They Had Help Getting Here

The thing that always confuses me about this disapproval of teenagers is that the kids didn’t get to these levels of attitude and disrespect overnight or by themselves. Somebody has had at least fifteen years of pouring into them (or perhaps not) before they ever reach high school.

Still, somehow, at least much of the time, turning teenagers into respectful, productive members of society falls squarely on the shoulders of teachers. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard adults say, “Well when you look at what they learn in school…” or “That’s what happens when you take prayer out of schools.” Really? Can people really believe first that kids who are taught to pray at home don’t pray in school, or that they learn and adopt their disrespectful behavior in the 180 days a year schools have them?

Sportsmanship and Spectators

I think of those who pour their lives into our kids, and my husband is an excellent example. He has coached YMCA soccer since my oldest daughter was four, and she is twenty-five now. Even when our children aged out of the program, he saw how beneficial Y soccer was, and recruited our youngest daughter to help him coach and referee games. That’s when she “saw the light.”

YMCA soccer is not about winning, or even teaching soccer skills, though both are valuable components of the program. The main benefit to YMCA soccer is that the program focuses on sportsmanship.

For example, today my husband’s team played against a team that has a special needs player who has yet to score a goal.  My husband talked to the child’s coach and to his own team and everyone was excited to make sure this young player scored a goal today. 

No one cared about the score in that game because everyone had already won the moment that ball went into the goal. That act of sportsmanship – of allowing children to see what it feels like to take care of others – was life-changing for some.

How Spectators Teach Life Lessons

Later today though, everyone on the field – parents, coaches, referees, and players –  lost when spectators started arguing with a referee. Through the years there have been spectators, and even coaches, who have taken the program to levels it was never designed for. Still, today was eye-opening for me. 

It Starts with Parking 

The YMCA relies on generous companies to donate fields for children to play soccer on. But drivers must honor the company’s parking rules. The businesses do not stop on Saturdays for soccer, so their employees and delivery personnel must have somewhere to park. This is why there are “No Parking” signs and cones in certain places.

The lessons for our kids begin the moment spectators chose to disregard no parking signs and move cones. Though seemingly harmless, this action actually exposes a blatant disregard for players, other spectators, referees, and for the companies who graciously donate the space.

Then the lessons move to how the spectators treat other teams and adults , most notably referees during the game. 

Now, I’m not saying refs always call it right. Believe me, I have called Austin on a call a time or two myself, but never in anger, and never with disrespect. In fact, grumbling about a call is all in good fun and part of all sports games. Verbally attacking the refs week after week, though, is quite another thing. 

And this type of behavior isn’t an isolated event. Our youngest daughter stopped refereeing, in part, for this unreasonable behavior.  After two seasons of being yelled at by spectators, she opted to spend her free time doing something else.

The Lesson

But what is all of this teaching our kids? You can be sure they are watching.

When drivers get out of their cars to and move the no parking zone cones and children watch adults do this, it teaches a lesson: Rules are to be followed as long as they are not inconvenient. 

When spectators attack coaches and referees, the kids learn that respect is optional…and that is respect for self and others. These spectators can’t respect themselves or their kids and behave in such a manner, and that attitude morphs as the kids get older.

Two things are true when raising kids.

  1. They will find and most often follow the path you thought you covered up.
  2. If it won’t be cute at 12, you’d better not let it happen at 2…so don’t show them how to do it.

The Idea that Respect Is Earned

Respect doesn’t die overnight, and it is not earned overnight, but to live in a productive, safer society where guns are used for recreation rather than settling differences, some things must be agreed upon.

For example, adults do not deserve admiration and respect by virtue of age, but to disrespect someone you do not even know says more about you than it does about the person you are disrespecting. And when kids show disrespect to referees, coaches, teachers, etc., it often says a lot about what they saw while growing up.

I don’t blame the kids. During such a time of life when hormones are changing, responsibilities are more apparent, and realizations about life are being made, who can blame kids for  responding in anger? Most often they are repeating behavior that has been modeled for them, they just do not have the finesse adults have when they do it.

The Solution

Enjoy the moment on the soccer field and realize that no one on that field is out to get your kid. Most are volunteers who see value in community service; they are not there to make sure the other team wins.

But neither are they professional coaches or referees and they will most certainly make bad calls, but that is where you can become the problem, or create a lesson. Imagine a high school where all students there had parents who used bad calls made on the little league field as a way to teach them that sometimes life is unfair; sometimes bad calls get made.

I remember when one of my daughters lost a middle school student body president election to the quarterback of their football team. It was so unfair. It was a bad call on the part of the student body and the adults in charge, but all they could do then was change requirements the next year making attendance and participation in the office for which you are running mandatory.

That year, though, the quarterback never attended even one meeting, but do you know who did? My oldest daughter also did the work that year and that action didn’t pay off for her in any way, at least not immediately. But four years later when she needed letters of recommendation, those teachers remembered my daughter’s character and wrote letters that earned her serious scholarship money. 

When my daughter grappled with the unfairness of it all, I could have raised sand at the school. I could have grumbled at the dinner table every night, and no one would have blamed me. I could have let her quit and move onto something else, and at the time, she would have thanked me. Instead, we took a bad call and used it to build character. I wish other adults would do the same.

Life isn’t easy, but we can make it easier for our kids if we’d just be the adults we want them to grow up to be.


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