As some of you know I like to watch Judge Judy. My sons think it’s a waste of time, and it probably is, but I can’t help myself. She’s one tough cookie, calls it like it is, and handles the “excuse-makers” with a verbal sword that leaves them speechless. For 30 minutes I vicariously thrash everyone who has ever done me wrong. Occasionally she has a show that speaks beyond the swift justice she dispenses. A few weeks ago she had a case with a child taking martial arts. His mother was suing his martial arts teachers for not providing him with the proper uniform after attaining some predetermined level of achievement and for eventually kicking him out of the school for being insubordinate.
As the case evolved it became abundantly clear that the mother was way too involved in her child’s training. I began to have a deep sympathy for the defendants who were trying to cater to a class of twenty students, one of whom had a sports mom who rivaled Mommie Dearest. She had so many demands that I lost track of what this school was supposed to do for her son. The problem with the uniform was it had the wrong Korean symbols according to her and a different embroidery thread than the other uniforms. It was also too big, and she believed was given to her son in the larger size specifically to embarrass him. Therefore she was also suing for pain and suffering.
As Judge Judy eventually said, “Every parent thinks their child is God’s gift to a sport. Get over it!” And with those words she dismissed the case. As she put it, “He’ll grow into the uniform.” There’s that wonderful common sense I love in the show. As far as kicking the child out of the program she said, “If I had to deal with you for even ten minutes I would have kicked your son out immediately!” In other words she had no sympathy for the mom’s demands and every sympathy for the school which had put up with these antics for a year.
I have stood back and watched parent after parent insinuate themselves into a child’s sports life, cringing as I hear the words coming out of their mouths, and wishing I could do an intervention. While parents know their child, most don’t have the perspective to understand their child in the context of the sport they are playing. Few parents can see with an unbiased eye the pool of talent that exists around their child. They see the goals their child makes, the four great passes in a game, and the excellent tackle made to steal the ball at the start of the game, and they translate that view into their child being indispensable to the team. First I can tell you no player is indispensable to a team, ever, even if he is Wayne Rooney or Hope Solo. Second I can tell you that until you have traveled around to at least thirty regional tournaments you can’t possibly begin to judge the strengths and weaknesses of your child. And even then, there’s an entire country of players left to set a standard.
I wish I had a video camera with me at all times where I could record parents’ behavior as they talk to coaches about their children, then play it back. I’ve seen parents poking their fingers at and into coaches as they demand more playing time. I’ve heard parents declare their child the best player on the team and threaten to remove their child if their demands aren’t met. I’ve witnessed parents bullying other players on the team. I watched strong coaches who have refused to participate in these discussions and even disciplined parents for their behaviors. But more often I’ve seen coaches and, worse, clubs capitulate fearful of losing an integral player or having someone bad mouth them to the community. I think clubs should take their cue from Judge Judy and tell parents to “get over it!”
When I was a club administrator I had one parent who owed $100 in additional fees for his daughter’s registration. His response was “I’m not paying it and if you make me pay it I’ll take my daughter out.” When I told the club president, he said to let it go. Then the father began to brag on the sidelines about not having to pay the $100, leaving me with a dozen angry phone calls on how could we let this guy get away with this. Given that tryouts were long over and that most strong teams had full rosters, I’m not sure where this father would have taken his daughter. I would have preferred calling his bluff and telling him his daughter couldn’t practice with the team until he was paid in full. In the end, his daughter left the next year anyway for what they believed were greener pastures taking with him six players.
One player on my son’s former team was being picked on mercilessly by the father of another player. When he approached the coach about the situation, the coach refused to intervene because the bully’s son was one of the stronger players and he feared having the father pull the kid out of the club. In the end the bullied player left and several parents who had witnessed the club not acting also took their players out of the club, leaving the coach with his strong player and no support teammates. When a very strong player tried out for a team, the parents felt threatened for their children and informed the coach if he took this player they would all quit. The coach followed the wishes of the parents which ended up becoming the first of dozens of demands once they realized they had the power. It ended up pushing the team into disarray and their success dwindled.
These are anecdotal examples, but I have to believe that when the parents, who usually have the least amount of soccer experience, have the power to control what happens on a team, rather than the coach, that team’s chemistry will suffer. Coaches and clubs need to say to parents that they are welcomed on the sidelines to cheer, but they are not welcomed to advocate for their child or to suggest how a team should be run. If parents don’t like what they see, then they have the option to change clubs during tryouts.
I wish more clubs called a parent’s bluff. Clubs have to release players, so a kid can quit, but that doesn’t mean she’ll be able to actually move to another club right away. I really encourage coaches and clubs to create a united front on issues of playing time, playing position, travel and fees. Parents need to defer to the experts. After all they chose the club because they thought it would be the best one for their child. If they end up with buyer’s remorse, then they need to “get over it” and go club shopping at the next tryouts. The stronger the club, the more competition your child will face for those precious playing minutes. If the supporting cast already has five midfielders, your son or daughter may find themselves tapped to be a defender or a forward. The coach has to judge what the best fit is for the entire squad not just for your child.
I’m pretty sure Judge Judy’s knowledge of soccer is limited to the fact a ball is involved. But I’d trust her to come down on most parents who think they can run the show and know precisely how their child compares in the vast pool of excellent players throughout the area. She would recognize that soccer decisions should be left not only to the experts but also to those who have the widest base of knowledge and no personal bias. Parents should give advice to their children and then let them fight their own battles. That’s the way kids get stronger and confident.