Sporting Declaration: Is Shoosh For Kids week the time-out some parents need?

QUIET PLEASE: Children from a range of sports and age groups are taking part in the NSW government's Shoosh For Kids Week campaign. Picture: Courtesy of Office of Sport

QUIET PLEASE: Children from a range of sports and age groups are taking part in the NSW government's Shoosh For Kids Week campaign. Picture: Courtesy of Office of Sport

So this is the first Shoosh For Kids week across junior sport in NSW.

What a shame.

Not that there is one, but that we apparently need it.

That we, the parents, coaches and supporters of junior sport, need to be asked to offer only positive comments from the sidelines –  well, for one week at least. 

It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?

You’d hope so, but who hasn’t seen, or even been, that person who crosses the line? The one so overcome with passion, pride, protective instincts and perhaps a pinch of living vicariously through their kids that they go from supporter to coach, critic, match official abuser or worse.

I’d like to think I’ve seen and not been, and I’ll explain why.

When I moved to my grandparents’ place in Onus St, Telarah, at the age of 12, I slept in the bedroom overlooking Hartcher Field, in the shadows of Coronation Oval – the home of the West Maitland Red Dogs and nursery of Test players like Noel Pidding, the Bradman of rugby league, and Greg Bird.

Now, Hartcher Field was just over a stone’s throw away, and every Saturday morning I was woken by the blood-thirsty screams, shouting and vitriol from the sidelines of small-sided games featuring the youngest players. And in the middle of that was a referee, usually a kid himself, copping it from both sides.

“Hit him!” “Tackle him!” “Run!” “Go, Go, GO!!!”

I couldn’t help but sit up to see what amazing feats were being played out to warrant such fervour. 

Most of the time, though, it was just little kids running into each other in the middle of the ground. Trying, learning, doing their best to live up to expectations, which were impossible to ignore. 

The shouts, albeit from almost 30 years ago, mentioned above were just the common comments and, many might say, relatively harmless. Really though, does screaming at your kids, even if it’s just seemingly useless motivating calls, help them? Or does it simply increase the pressure on them to perform?

Either way, I wished, in those days at least, that they would have toned it down or simply shut up. I’m not a morning person, as my four kids can attest to today.

Those morning cries, though, even in my little corner of the world, were nothing new. I remember hearing stories about Pop refusing to stand on the same side of the field as Nan as they watched their sons play league for Wests. Her blow-ups were legendary and I vaguely recall one tale about Nan wielding an umbrella as a weapon. Anyway, cracking characters, Jack and Doris. Long gone but not forgotten.

But I digress.

I think most people have experienced the ugly side of junior sport on the sidelines. The ambitious, win-at-all-cost coaches and pushy parents, all thinking, hoping their kids will win. Believing one day they can “make it”.

And I get it. We all want our kids to succeed and enjoy the exhilaration of victory. To be winners. It’s always better than losing. And when we see, often through rose-coloured glasses, a referee’s call, a coach’s opinion or anything else getting in the way of that, we can slip.

It’s hard to remember sometimes that it’s just a game being played by children and, for the vast majority, it will only ever be amateur competition where fun, fitness and friendships are the real rewards.

After covering junior sport for 17 years, I’ve learned that most budding superstars don’t get to the top and, in most cases, the ones pushed the hardest have had enough by the time they were destined to get there. The pressures and expectations are so high, the fall to reality hurts.

After flicking through some online articles and studies, it was no surprise to read that parents and coaches putting an overemphasis on winning, while building unrealistic expectations and criticising were all detrimental to children’s performance in and enjoyment of sport. However, so was “pampering too much”, as one put it, or not showing enough interest in children’s success.

Which brings me to Jeff Walz, head coach of the women's basketball team at the University of Louisville. You may have seen the video of Walz’s press conference where he laments his players’ lack of will to win and how their generation has been brought up.

“Everyone gets a damn trophy,” Walz says.

Walz believes they have been taught that it’s OK to lose, making them unprepared for the real world and the consequences that come with failure.

He makes a good case.

It made me think of the end-of-year ceremonies at my kids’ primary school a few months earlier. Every student – at one of the biggest schools in the Hunter – got an award. Needless to say, it was a logistical challenge.

And what did it achieve? Sure, it’s nice, but if everyone gets an award, doesn’t that strip away its value?

I’m not with Walz completely. There’s value in recognition through limited encouragement and coaches awards. Not everyone can win but there should be reward for effort and attitude. A pat on the back to keep them coming back, and I think most clubs, association and coaches get that mix right.

Like those kids I remember at Hartcher Oval, most of us are in the middle, trying our best and learning.

Some, though, could probably do with a week in the time-out corner to think about their behaviour.

About 50 Hunter clubs across a range of sports have signed up for the Shoosh For Kids campaign which asks supporters to stop comments that are negative or directed at a player or match official. It asks to “reward good play by both teams with applause” and to “show respect to players and game officials”.

And, most importantly, “remember it’s their game”.

Join the converation at #shooshforkidsweek

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