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Did you hear the story about the crazed “Little League Mom” who stalked, threatened and harassed a Little League official after her son failed to make the summer travel baseball team- and who then arranged to have the official killed?
Sounds like an episode of “Monk,” doesn’t it? But except for the murder part, all of this actually happened last month in East Meadow, N.Y. Janet Chiauzzi, 44 and mother of two, was arrested on June 18 by the Nassau County Police and later released on bail. The 12 separate charges included multiple counts of stalking, falsely reporting an incident, endangering the welfare of a child and aggravated harassment.
Now I understand that Ms. Chiauzzi is an extreme case, but: what the hell is going on in kids’ sports these days? Some parents seem to treat their children’s games like life-and-death matters… but isn’t the point for the kids to have fun, get exercise, learn about teamwork, experience the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat-and to learn to deal with either outcome with at least a modicum of grace?
If you think about it, this attitude is simply the logical extension of a pervasive culture within modern parenting: call it the “helicopter” or “tiger parent” generation; but whatever label you want to use, many of today’s parents are way, way too invested in their children’s achievements-or lack thereof.
This applies in all kinds of situations-academic, artistic, athletic-as it seems more and more parents see their role as their child’s resume-builder for the much-feared college application process (and even beyond: my friend Sarah told me a story about a law-school graduate whose mother called HR at the firm that had hired him, trying to negotiate the details of her son’s job offer. Not surprisingly, the offer was withdrawn).
But the downward trend in civility and respect in the realm of kids’ sports is a disheartening devolution within our society. My youngest son, Henry, who is 12, also plays Little League in our northern California town. In truth, I am not immune from being a little stressed-out during some of Henry’s games. He is not usually a pitcher but is sometimes asked to pitch; watching him on the mound makes me a little nervous. And knowing how hard on himself he can be after a strikeout, error or close loss, I feel his pain deeply. I am not a perfect sports parent, but I try to maintain at least a minimum of detachment.
Henry and several of his friends made a little extra money during the spring Little League season by working as umpires for the younger kids’ games. Just so you understand the scenario: Henry and his friends are 11 and 12 years old. The games they umped involved kids who are 9 and 10 years old. By the end of the season, Henry and his friends collectively decided they never wanted to ump again.
Their calls were often (and loudly) questioned by parents and coaches. If they made the mistake of calling a ball a strike (or vice-versa)- or if, in a close play, they called a kid out when his coach or team’s parents thought he was safe- Henry and his friends would hear about it. Maybe I’m old-fashioned and/or naïve, but seriously: are you kidding? These are 11- and 12-year-old kids who are out there doing their best to make accurate calls. They, like any human beings, will sometimes make mistakes. So what? That’s baseball.
Parents, coaches, anyone involved in the venue of children’s sports: you need to lighten up. It is a game. Your child’s future admission to Harvard does not depend on whether a 12-year-old umpire (or even an adult umpire) incorrectly calls your child’s slide into second base, or whether your kid is the batter who strikes out to lose the game for his team, or any other upsetting or disappointing scenario that happens every single day in kids’ sports games.
Your child’s future does depend on this: learning to work and play well with others; learning to respect adults and others in positions of responsibility and authority; learning to lose graciously; learning to deal with disappointment without falling apart. These are all life lessons which enable our kids to grow into well-adjusted, unselfish, civil adults-things we can all agree, as parents, should be desired ends.
For the Tiger-Mom Generation, it is sometimes easy to lose perspective and to invest too much in the achievements of our kids, since it can feel like so many around us are doing the same- but the outcome is rarely good. Janet Chiauzzi of East Meadow, N.Y., learned this lesson the hard way.