Be an Athletic Supporter

by gillis


The organizer of the “Szlats”youth basketball tournament just took to the court, with oversized poster in hand, to loudly and pointedly remind the spectators that they had all taken a pledge of sportsmanship at the start of the game. Parents in the stands needed a reminder. Needed to hear that the refs, three of them for the final games, were people providing a service to their kids. And they were not to be verbally abused. This was not a game I had a vested interest in, it was the game which took place before the one I would sweat through, so it was easy for me to detach. Detaching was helpful moments later when one of the coaches earned a technical foul against his team for his colorful turn of phrase and use of body language toward one of the referees.

I’m not proud of some of the thoughts and emotions that can flood my psyche when I watch my daughter play basketball. Although I am quite proud of my daughter and the way she plays basketball. As if I had anything to do with it. As if I were somehow involved in her athletic life beyond driving, fundraising, and laundering from the sidelines. I’m not on the court with her, but a piece of me clings to her whether or not either of us wants it to. She moves independently of me but there is a psychic tether on my end, and I’m unable to fully separate from her experience. Another player fouls her? They are no longer another kid learning the game, they are the other who seeks to hurt, or at least thwart, my own. The points that she racks up? Somehow I have a stake in them. So, too, the shots she misses and the passes she drops.  It’s probably a good thing I’m now taking blood pressure medication. Tournament season is a killer. Sporting events are as riveting as opera, if you truly care about the outcome. Suddenly I now care about the outcome. Perhaps a little bit too much.

I can understand how some parents become so emotionally entangled in their children’s games that they shout out in protest at perceived bad calls. I don’t do that myself. I don’t know enough about the game to say much, but I do clap loudly and frequently. I say safe things like, “Good try!” and “Tough D!” I have a harder time understanding it when parents shout other sorts of things, things directed at their children to call attention to errors they’ve made or coaching suggestions that directly contradict what the actual coach is saying. When the tone turns a little ugly, the air above the stands becomes a slushy gray and we’re all on edge for poor Alyssa who can’t get a shot in despite her father’s insistence that she continue to “go through” someone else in order to make that happen. When he asks her, very loudly, what’s wrong with her, we all cringe a bit or turn and look at him until he is shamed back into silence.  So I’m glad  to see that at this tournament they take sportsmanship seriously. It’s a relief when the folks in charge take charge and call a technical foul or throw spectators out for being unsportsmanlike. Even I know that if you can’t be an athlete, you can always be an athletic supporter.