When I was fifteen my local girls’ community softball league recruited me to become an umpire. I didn’t need much convincing. I’d just quit the high school team but I was desperate for a way to stay in the softball community. Plus the job paid between $15-$30 a game. Considering each game went no more than two hours this was good money.
My years of playing helped me fly through training, and before I knew it, it was time for my first game. I piled on all the gear and served as the umpire at a game of seven ten year olds. Thanks to the ten-run rule, the game was over in 45 minutes but I made the full $30. I was hooked!
As time went on, I worked through the ranks until I was experienced enough to call the “big” games – the tournaments and the all-star games. These games paid more (bonus!) but they were also much more fun for me. The players were extremely good, so I enjoyed watching them.
Unfortunately, the job wasn’t just calling balls and strikes. A HUGE portion of it was dealing with the parents…and I quickly realized that a lot of parents were jerks. They’d scream at their daughters, scream at each other, and scream at me. They would treat me like crap and set terrible examples for their daughters. Sure, I was just a kid myself, but I was the umpire and required a level of respect if not for any other reason than it was the right example to set for the players.
Being an umpire made me appreciate authority and hate adults. I often gave coaches warnings for the way they spoke to their players. On more than one occasion I actually made parents leave the stands of a game for being completely inappropriate. It was scary to stand up to these adults when I was only a teenager (especially if I knew them), but it was worth it when I’d see their daughters totally relax after the parents had been sent away or put in their place.
The biggest thing I gained from the three year experience (besides lots of money to buy clothes, wheeee!) was knowing exactly what kind of parent I did NOT want to be. Fifteen plus years later I still feel the same way. I never want to become so wrapped up in winning that I lose sight of my children. I don’t want to conduct myself with such foolishness that another person has to ban me from a playing field. And I never, ever want to put so much pressure on my kids to succeed that they throw up from fear and nervousness.
It’s important to motivate your kids and give them a push when they need it, but I witnessed too many parents taking it WAY beyond that. When it comes to sports – or really anything that your child excels at – it can be so easy to get swept away by the excitement of it all. But now that I AM the parent I have to constantly remind myself (even at Annie’s age) that it’s about HER happiness and I, as her mom, am there to support and encourage her and THAT’S ALL.
I have a feeling as she gets older my competitive side is going to make it very hard for me to follow my own advice.
I was a site supervisor for soccer games (from ages 4-16?) and I once had to call my manager and we almost had to call the cops on a parent…of an 8 year old… I was scared. I never had more fun at a job, either.
I see a lot of that with my girls’ sports. At ballet I actually hear one parent berate her daughter constantly about stance and her weight. She’s no more than 11. I ended up talking to the school who had a few complaints about the woman and she was told that if she didn’t stop, she wouldn’t be allowed to sit in the viewing room during class and she’d be asked to wait in the front lobby away from the dancers and parents.
At the barn in the riding arena, same thing… but I’ve also seen what an absolute spoiled craphead of a teen that kind of parenting can produce. I feel embarassed for the kid and resent the parent.
Why have a child if your goal in life is to beat them down instead of helping them find something they are naturally good at, and nurturing that?
Wow, I’m so impressed that you were an umpire! I could never handle that kind of pressure. People getting mad at my calls and all that. Nope, just not in my personality. Good for you for standing up to jerky parents! That’s awesome.
I taught swimming lessons when I was a teenager. Because I was on the high school swim team, I was considered qualified to teach at our local YMCA. I loved it! I had a class of about 6 five year olds. None of them could swim. And at the end of the 6 week session, they could all swim across the pool. That was a good feeling
I love this post! So true, such good advice.
My brother has umped Little League games pretty much since the day he aged out of being able to play in them (and he’s 23 now) and he has said the exact same thing that you just did — he loves umping because it’s taught him how to deal with people (especially jerkwads) in a respectful way, and has definitely made him think about what kind of dad he wants to be some day.
I used to play softball and I remember some of the parents in the stands were so hard on their kids. Their daughters were always the most miserable on the team. I’m glad my mom was about encouraging me but not pushing me so hard I no longer wanted to play.
My aunt used to couch middle school volley ball and experienced the wrath of crazy, angry parents. Some of the things they would scream at her would be bleeped from an adult game. I can’t believe they thought it was appropriate to say these things in front of their daughters and to a person who was an authority figure in their lives.
Dudge OH says:
My boys haven’t had the opportunity to partake in sports, yet, though I am looking forward to standing on the sideline, cheering on them and their team.
Something I learned when playing sports is that win or lose, nothing feels better than leaving it all on the field, (football and rugby, in my case), regardless of the result. I hope to pass that on to my boys.
Only in Louisiana ~ documenting the adventures of life! says:
It really is amazing to see how parents lose perspective in the sporting world. This is a great post and it should be printed and distributed at all sporting events. I once went to a soccer field that had “Rules for Parents” printed and among them were tell your child 1. Great Effort, 2. That you love them 3. Where do you want to go eat?
Great post! I wish all parents would read this and take it to heart. My 2 boys are in traveling baseball. I am appalled by the behavior of many of the coaches and parents. It is disappointing to see that level of disrespect in an adult. I wish we had just one umpire like you! It makes a difference and that is the kind of role model I want my kids to see.
I had expereince with this problem in soccer. My ex-husband (don’t berate me) was a ref. He was good too. But the parents were aweful. One time he had to call the cops because he had two teenage linesmen and the parents were thretening them for over an hour after the game and during the game. I totally agree with you! You are a great MOM Heather and a great dad MIKE.
My dad umpired and coached softball in Ft.Lewis, Wa for many years and even after we relocated here to Florida he continued to ump. He was about 5′-10″ and 300lbs, a big old teddy bear. He went through some crap from players, so I am totally impressed that at 15 you were able to take on such a big thing. They could be downright crappy to my dad over calls and he was huge but they didn’t care. Kudos to you for standing up for respect out there.
Whenever you are feeling the pressure coming on to become one of those crazy, winning is everything Moms, just put on an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras and see if that cures it. OMG!!!!
My husband has been an umpire for the last 25 years. He has done little league, girls softball, high school (boys and girls), college, our local semi-pro leagues, and has even officiated one weekend at our local Minor League team, when they needed an emergency replacement.
The parents are the worst. It gets worse and worse as the kids get older. He has had to throw players, parents, coaches, and other spectators out of games countless times.
It takes someone special to be behind the plate. We sometimes Mea and I will go watch, but he always says, “There’s no cheering section for the Umpire.” So sad!
Parents can absolutely become the worst versions of themselves when kids and sports are combined. I was a catcher in high school and recall looking at parents on the stands that would be talking smack to me and just shaking my head thinking, “Really? This is your life?” Now I have a son that plays select baseball and, while it is easy to get swept up in a sport I have so much passion for, I remind myself that this is his life experience, not mine. And as much some parents dreams of college scholarships and/or pro sports, the lifelong lessons gained from sports is what is really important – hard work, commitment, pride, humbleness and respect for others (teammates, coaches and umpires). I know that if I expect him to learn those lessons, I must model it myself.
Oh the stories I could share about obnoxious parents. My teen boys have played sports since they were 4. Parents are the worse. In football last year, parents complained about the rules and what they perceived as cheating by other teams. I’ve never been more embarrassed watching parents scream about alleged rule violations and missed calls. My husband, who has a football coordinator, had a parent tell him to do something that is anatomically impossible. She was allowed to continue to come to games despite a policy that should have prohibited that until she apologized to him and the refs.
Yet, the kids, who’ve just played opposite their friends, leave the field seeking out those opposing players to hang after the game. I love that. The kids recognize that the sport is just a game and that there is more to life than the game.
Heather, the fact that you recognized your competitive streak and are concerned speaks volumes about your character. Maddie and Annie are blessed to have a mom who is already thinking about the future what ifs and making appropriate plans.
If I could stand and applaud you while typing, I totally would. It makes me so happy to see that an ump really cared about the KIDS playing.
My son and daughter both play ball. Daughter is playing with the boys until she’s a little older to move over to softball. And it AMAZES me the way the parents and coaches react to FIVE and SIX year olds playing ball. My son plays a few teams that I just can’t stand because for 3 innings I have to sit and listen to their coaches YELLING at the kids, instead of cheering them on. They even had their catcher yelling stuff at the batter. My son had enough and told him to shut up. While I don’t condone saying shut up, I couldn’t correct him that time.
Our coach is even getting to the point that he cares much more about winning than teaching the kids the right way to play. I wish coaches and parents would see that there is SO much more to winning and that as long as the kids are out there playing and having fun, that’s the ONLY thing that matters.
I’m coaching soccer again for the summer season. I seem to have a great group of parents this year. Last year, I had a few parents that were hard on their kids and got lippy with me….and this is for 6-8 year old community soccer where we don’t keep score and just emphasize learning skills!!
Great advice! Thank you.
I ref girls lacrosse from grades 3/4 all the way up to high school and I have seen my fair share of nasty parents and coaches. It blows my mind how out of control these “adults” can get over a stupid game. I played lacrosse all the way through college so I understand the love of the game, but they way these people act you’d think it was the national championship every game.
Any time I hear a parent who is actually being positive towards the girls, I make sure to go up to them after the game in front of the rest of the parents and thank them for their positive support of their daughter and her teammates and to keep up the good work in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, one more parent will follow suit.
Win or Lose it’s supposed to be about the fun and sportsmanship. Some parents take it to the extreme because they are “living” through their kids. They weren’t able to do this or that as a child, so now that they have children they “live” through them. Wrong take on life!
Both my kids did sports. We cheered them on and if they lost and were a little down we told them “next game”.
Unless they are professional’s getting paid to play, then it’s not that serious.
Great post and great advice Heather!
Even with your competetive nature, your experience as an ump will always be with you and it won’t be so hard follow your own advice. Both of my girls play softball, and it is so hard, and embarassing, to watch some of the other parents behavior. My husband has been coaching our daughters in basketball since they could play and this has given ME the experience, through him, to not behave poorly as i’ve seen other people do! And it just gets worse and worse as they get older too….
My experiences as a kid will definitely help me be a better parent also. It’s important to remember to focus on your child’s happiness and also make sure you know your child well. I didn’t ask to leave gymnastics at age 8 because I didn’t like it, but because I was being made fun of. And I dreaded every softball game and practice in middle school because I had no friends on the team, and no one ever encouraged me. Thankfully, I’ve grown up and become more confident, thanks to being a camp counselor, and 6-year-olds won’t make fun of your running abilities
I’ve been a hockey, baseball, track parent for over 12 years now. I could tell you story after story. Like when the parents of two teams ended up in a brawl at a 9 year old baseball game while the two teams of kids huddled together terrified in the middle of the field. Or the parent that waylayed and screamed at my 14 year old son as he came out of the locker room because he thought my son did something wrong that it turned out he didn’t even do. Or the parent that ran over to the bench and screamed at the opposing coach. I’ve seen parents do pretty much everything. One of my sons has ended up doing very well in his sport and I’ve said that I hope he makes it far, just to show that you can make it far with parents that are just quietly supportive, instead of the parents that are way over-invested.
Haha I remember those days! One time I was umpiring (probably with you!) and a dad got in my face. Mr A threw him out of the park. Some parents are nuts!
Parents are the reason why I quit coaching soccer!
I hear you. Some of the parents in my son’s hard ball league were just SO out of line. We go to enjoy the kids’ games, cheer them on. Am sure you will be the same even with a competative nature
I love the perspective that your purpose is to support your daughter’s happiness. So frequently parents get wrapped up in their own agendas that they lose sight of the real reason. We are teaching our children how to be good productive members of society. What type of example are we trying to set?
My parents had high expectations for us in sports, in school and pretty much everything we did. We always knew and they reminded us that their love wasn’t based on whether or not we were the best on the teams. I am sure they would have loved to have a star athlete, but with their support I ended up falling into speech and debate and loved it and when I loved what I was doing I was successful.
Dawn @What's Around the Next Bend? says:
I had a parent on my son’s team yell out to her son, “If you miss another ball like that, no supper for you.” She then turned to the rest of us parents and laughed at her joke. Her son though returned to the dugout bawling. I tried to console him and explained to him that his mom was just joking. (I hope she truly was…) I was appalled though… I mean, WHY would you EVER tell your child that??
It made me realize all of the MEAN, NASTY things the parents were shouting at EVERY game… things that I hadn’t paid attention to before. I now make sure I shout POSITIVE things to EVERY boy that comes to bat.
Parents should be the first to encourage their kids to pursue their dreams.. lack of parents encouragement is one of the reason why
there are kids who have low self-esteem.
“Umpire Heather.” So cool. You’ve lead such an eventful life.
I played softball a good portion of my life and I’ve had coaches make me cry, it wasn’t fun. My parents were always great at keeping calm and being “normal” though so that helped. Some people take it to the extreme.