Spectators who should know better

2008-07-23 00:00

Do you remember anything about the sports events that you took part in at school? All those hockey, soccer, rugby and netball matches. All those athletics days and swimming galas. Do you recall much? Anything at all? Depending on your experiences of school sport, perhaps you’d rather not remember much. I remember very little even though I played first team sport.

Since my school sporting career doesn’t even register the minutest blip on the radar of importance in adult life, I fell to wondering about the way some parents behave at school sporting events. You guessed it — I’ve been doing time on the side of soccer and hockey pitches.

I have watched a father sit with his back to the field and read a newspaper. I’ve seen another father conduct business deals on his cellphone throughout the match. I’m convinced one mother was writing a novel, she spent so long tap-tapping on her phone. Then there was a mother who was so busy talking to the other mums she didn’t notice that her daughter had been injured. Me? I’m the one trying to work out which one is mine in the mob of little boys or girls surging up and down the field like a shoal of fish caught in a net.

However, I’m most bemused by parents who behave as though their very identity is at stake in a game of sport played by seven-year-olds. You’ve seen the ones I mean, stalking the sidelines like the coach of a big-name league team and yelling instructions at their hapless offspring. This behaviour is not restricted to fathers, either. Some mothers are out there patrolling the sidelines too, as if their life is the small white ball being chased by a mêlée of little girls with big sticks. Maybe that’s precisely the point: fathers trying to live vicariously through their sons, mothers investing too much of their lives in their daughters. I suspect that parents who harass their children when they are seven could end up turning their attention on the referee when those children are in high school.

The small people in our household get the upper hand from time to time (I’m convinced it’s a conspiracy by those who qualify for sport equipment that says “no one taller than 1,2 metres”). When they do, my beloved and I ask each other: “Who’s supposed to be the adult here, anyway?” As the grown-ups of the family, we’re supposed to be the ones who create the safe space for our children to be just and only that —

children. To expect them to carry the weight of one’s life meaning and purpose is not only unfair, it’s unhealthy and, perhaps, even dangerous. So, if you’re one of those parents, I want to offer a piece of Yiddish-sounding straight talk: “Get a life already.”

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