No more seeing red

October 12, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

The other day, my son burst through the front door and shouted, “Daddy, I made the softball team!” My first thought was: Ergh, softball? Like, baseball? Truthfully, I didn’t think he’d make it. I mean, I had never seen him play softball. We played catch from time to time. We used to own a bat. We don’t own a bat. Maybe, everybody that tried out made the team.

I don’t like baseball. I don’t watch it, don’t play it. The game is too slow; the uniforms look like onesies. Chewing tobacco? Sunflower seeds? Meh. Baseball and I have never made it past first base. In the end, I was happy that he was happy.

I was a hockey kid. I played in winter, played in summer. Played on ice, on streets; on my knees in hotel hallways; with my feet at recess. Hockey was everything. Between games, practices, and tournaments, there were fundraisers and banquets. Billets. Sleepovers with friends. In high school, I travelled to Europe and played on an outdoor rink in the Alps of Cortina, Italy. When I wasn’t playing, I was watching Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy and Steve Yzerman rip things up.

As I got older, the game got faster. As I got older, I got slower. A physical game became a violent game. New shoulder pads made us look like gladiators; elbow pads were bricks. Old teammates were now adversaries. The game had become vitriolic. My father, a god-fearing man, once threw his overshoe at a referee. Things got so out of whack that my mother stopped coming to games. There were big hits and bigger fights. Sometimes, they carried over into parking lots, the hallways at school. Faster. Rougher. I was having a hard time doing both. It stopped being fun. So, I quit.

When my son was born, I knew I didn’t want him playing hockey. Instead, there was gymnastics, tennis, squash, ball hockey and soccer. He took to soccer; I was pleased. I’ve been a Manchester United fan for over twenty years. Soccer suited the pace of my life. The game on the pitch was more deliberate and delicate than hockey. What Wayne Gretzky did with a stick, Zinedine Zidane could do with his feet. My son excelled. He had a big kick, a deft touch, and always played with a smile. He’s a student of the game. Soccer is our game.

However, it turns out that soccer isn’t all that different from hockey. That rage and anger in the rinks, is also evident on the sidelines of pitches in Caledon, Brampton, Woodbridge and Orangeville. Parents chirping. Coaches cursing; every referee a target. It’s nasty, man.

Sports are like life. Learning how to deal with disappointment, whether a missed call or a missed penalty, is a valuable lesson. But that message is stifled by parents hoping to protect their child from anything negative happening. While rampaging up and down the sidelines like a caged gorilla, we’re setting a poor example for our kids. Do we want kids behaving like this in classrooms, playgrounds, their next game? I mean, would any parent want a superior at work to speak to them this way? Would it make us a better worker, a better colleague? Does it make our kids better players? Does it make me a better parent?

Before every game, I tell myself: Don’t be that parent. It doesn’t always work.

Something has to give.

Former U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach suggested that spectator-parents suck on lollipops to keep themselves from losing control. I have an idea: How about instead of issuing the offending parent a red card or fining the team, have that parent referee the next game instead?

On the day of my son’s tournament, I left work at lunch so I could watch him play. It was an idyllic scene: the sun made everything sharp, crisp. The kids gleefully chatted, cheered. It was calm, serene. The teachers on the diamond sounded more like nurturing adults than numpty coaches. They were playing for fun; my parents and I watched for fun. It was ethereal — a poem waiting to be written.

My son came up to the plate with the bases loaded. He missed his first two pitches with big swings. He settled himself and waited for his third, and final, pitch. When it came, he hit it out of the infield. The ball rolled past the first basemen, who chased down the ball and overthrew second. My son rounded second, and then third. As he ran towards home, I could see his face, his smile. When he crossed homeplate, he celebrated with his team and his schoolmates. A grand slam. I was laughing, almost crying.

Later that night, my father said it was so nice to see kids playing that way. No yelling parents. Kids playing for fun. My son told me that it was the best day of his life. For a treat, I went out and bought lollipops. I gave one to each of my kids and kept the rest for me. I needed them for my son’s next soccer game.

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