Saving the World One Teen at a Time - Column on Parenting Tweens and Teens

Overinvolved Sports Parents: A Plea for Sanity

By Abby Margolis Newman


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 Not surprisingly, the offer was withdrawn).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.



I couldn't agree more. I'm sure most of these parents feel they are trying to make sure that their kid gets their fair share of time on the field, or that ever play called is fair, or that their child's team wins as much as possible. But by doing so, they are missing one of the most important benefits their kids can get from doing sports...resilience. Everybody needs to learn how to get back up when they fail, and how to persevere when something unfair happens to them. Trying to smooth every bump in the path for our kids, while an understandable impulse, is, in the long run, not doing them any favors.


Our baseball league has a no-tolerance policy as far as bothering the umps. It works well for the adults, but the younger kids who ump end up taking more abuse because they don't feel they can confront the adults. On occasion, a sympathetic coach will step up and take care of the situation, but mostly they just take the abuse and most don't ump more than one season.

I've seen way too many parents take kids' sports too seriously. I'm so glad my older son is now playing high-school sports only and isn't involved with anymore Little League or other volunteer-run leagues. We had major issues in our leagues where parents who coached would get together before the season and get parents of talented kids to "assistant coach" their team so the kid would automatically be on the team. This would usually result in a couple of teams "stacked" with all older, returning players and promising newcomers leaving other teams with mostly rookies. Instead of being a positive experience for kids to be active and learn a sport and teamwork, the kids that ended up on the non-stacked teams often played one season and quit. It was really sad to see that happen, especially since a lot of those kids were the ones who really needed a positive outlet.


I reffed soccer when I was in middle school and high school and while most of the parents were ok, some of the coaches were awful. I red carded a particular coach once because he was SCREAMING at his players, the other players and me. the kids he was coaching were 6 and !

I tossed him off the field and hoo boy, did I (and everyone else in town, judging by his volume) hear about that. It got to the point that I was the only one willing to ref his games because the other kids were all afraid of him. Eventually, he was asked to not volunteer in the future, which was a good thing.

My kids are more artsy than sporty, but I would never encourage them to work youth sports because there is so much potential for trouble between crazy parents and coaches!