This image has been making well-deserved rounds in social media the past few days. Whenever I witness or even hear about parents and adults behaving like this, I cringe. I cringe because it happened to me – and even all these years later, still brings back some very hurtful memories.
I was 11 years old playing on a team in my town’s recreational softball league. I had been playing softball since I was about five and I loved it. I was a decent player – a good fielder and an okay hitter. I mostly was a pitcher, much to my mom’s chagrin. She didn’t like that there was all that pressure on me to literally be “pitch perfect.” Though it was stressful, I told her that it was worth it for the huge self-confidence boost I got any time I had a good game and our team won the game.
Our team that year had a young and very ambitious coach. He was a high school senior who was super-competitive and had become a coach because his sister was playing. The prior year, he coached his sister’s team to the championship in the younger division. However this year, the new team was by comparison, mediocre – and ranked in the middle of our division.
We were playing the top team in our division. It was early in the game and we were behind. The next batter up was one of their top hitters. My coach came out to the mound and told me that under no circumstances was I give her a chance to hit the ball. Then he ordered me to roll the next four pitches over the plate. I couldn’t believe my ears! I knew protesting wouldn’t change his mind, so I did what my coach told me to do.
The shouts and protests from the coach and parents on the other team started as soon as that first pitch left my hand and rolled across the plate. I looked at my coach and all he did was nod. That second pitch brought even more shouts, boos and groans from the stands on the other side. And that’s when one voice bellowed over all the others. It was the father of the girl who was up at bat:
“What kind of a player are you? I think you’re confused! This isn’t bowling, this is softball, throw the damn ball!”
I looked again at my coach and all he did was nod. At that moment I could start to feel the hot tears coming, but fought like heck to keep them back. Pitch number three rolled across the plate. That father’s voice bellowed out again:
“You don’t have any self-pride? Throw the damn ball! If you can’t even do that, then you should leave!”
I again looked at my coach, who wasn’t responding to the other coach or parents on the other team, just staring at me with blazing eyes making sure I followed his orders. He didn’t even acknowledge the pleas of the parents on our own team, begging him to relieve me of this order.
At just that moment my mom arrived at the game – we made quick eye contact and she knew something was wrong. One of my teammate’s parents was briefing her on what was happening as pitch number four left my hand and rolled across the plate. “Ball Four, batter take your base,” the umpire said quietly. Then all hell broke loose.
That father released a harsh verbal tirade, directed at both my coach and myself. I don’t specifically remember what he said, but I remember that tone in his voice. At this point I burst into tears on the mound and was crying so uncontrollably that I had just walked right off the field. I ran straight to my mom who just held me tight.
We instinctively started to walk towards our car to go home. In order to get to the parking lot though, we had to pass by the other team’s bench. My mother went into full mama bear mode and gave this father, whom we knew socially from church, a total dress down. It was something to the effect that he was the one with no self-pride, how dare he pick on a little girl who was following her coach’s orders and most important of all that is just a game and that it is supposed to be a fun experience for the kids.
I guess he must have thought about it and been chastised by other parents on both teams because about an hour after we got home that father called our home and apologized to me for his behavior. Though it bothered me that night, I was ready to forget about it and move on. However, the next day at school it seemed like everyone knew what happened and asked me about it. I was now both embarrassed and humiliated and reliving that horrible experience. I didn’t ever want to play softball again.
But I did, and continued playing through my mid-20s, both as a pitcher and outfielder. I was even on some league championship teams! Then I retired my cleats for other things like life, career and family. I did take softball up again last year, playing on my company’s team – as, you guessed it, pitcher.
It seems obvious, parents and adults need to remember that these are just kids. There will be plenty of time later in life for stress and pressure – it needn’t occur while they are trying to have a little fun. Not everyone is a star athlete. Kids, even the stars, are going to occasionally make an error, strike out, miss a tackle or let a goal through. It’s not that big of deal. Winning or losing a game isn’t going to cause the stock market to crash, end world hunger or create peace between warring nations. Kids should have a safe environment to make these mistakes and learn and improve from them – without being harassed or embarrassed.
Now it’s your time to share. What would you do if your child was in this situation? What should be done or said to the offending parent?
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