“We’re talking about football here, and a lot of people took it further than football,” Sherman said. “I was on a football field showing passion. Maybe it was misdirected and immature, but this is a football field. I wasn’t committing any crimes and doing anything illegal. I was showing passion after a football game.” — Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks cornerback
Our family’s first foray into youth sports didn’t go quite as planned. The female coach who had volunteered to coach our son’s T-ball team told the children on the first day that the players who didn’t get dirty would get candy at the end of the game. A few parents took this well-meaning (but misguided) mother aside and explained to her a few things about the nature of boys and something about the physical properties of baseball and dirt and informed her that their sons would not be participating in her little “clean game” nonsense. This was our introduction to the ubiquitous drama that permeates youth sports leagues.
My husband and I spent a lot of years coaching youth sports as our sons grew up — baseball, soccer, basketball — mostly because we were the only parents who didn’t drop-and-run. We weren’t savvy enough in the early years to realize that you are by default the U4 soccer coach if you’re the only parent left on the field five minutes after practice is scheduled to begin (other parents, making a beeline to the parking lot, shouted to us, “The whistle and cones are in the blue crate! We’ll see you in an hour. Good luck!”)
We always believed it was important for our boys to participate in team sports, not only for physical fitness reasons, but because they were of the male gender and we thought that participating in sports would be a good way for them to learn to control and channel the aggression that is inherent to their maleness.
Through the years we coached dozens of boys, all the way through middle school. As with many other areas of life, we found that the apples didn’t fall far from the trees. The boys with the bad tempers had parents with bad tempers. The boys who threw their bats in frustration had the dads who cussed out the umpire when there was a bad call. As coaches, we felt we had a responsibility not only to teach our own kids about appropriate behavior on the field, but also to teach those values to other kids who were not learning them at home.
It’s a tricky thing figuring out how far to let kids go in expressing their emotions on the field — their “passion,” as Richard Sherman calls it. We are firmly in the “there’s no crying in baseball” camp and wanted our kids to be tough and resilient. Play hard. Get dirty. If it hurts, rub a little dirt on it. Don’t be the kid running to the dugout for a band-aid or an ice pack twice a game. (I confess that once Ryan played baseball with the stomach flu and actually threw up on second base. Bad parenting moment on my part. But seriously…who throws up ON second base?) Play your heart out and leave it all on the field was our motto.
But at the same time we also demanded that that our kids be respectful to coaches, teammates, officials, and opposing teams. That means you don’t throw things in anger, you don’t complain to the umpire (leave that to the coaches), you don’t trash talk the other team, and you shake hands at the end of the game, whether you feel like it or not. It wasn’t always easy. One son took his games very seriously and struggled to control his emotions. He had to learn to channel that into hitting the ball harder, running faster, or, sometimes, just stewing on the bench for a while. Those were the moments that he learned self-control — where he learned that part of growing up and becoming a man is learning to control your emotions and to use your strength appropriately. Sure, there were plenty of hour-long car rides on the way home from games when we had to listen to him complaining about something that happened on the field, but he knew better than to go off on a coach or an umpire and was able to keep his anger in check on the field. (Fortunately, it only took being grounded from one game to teach this lesson.)
Because we saw the value of teaching self-control, it always frustrated us when a coach left a kid in the game who was having a hissy fit on the field. It doesn’t matter if he’s your best player; if he’s flinging his bat at the fence in anger, there should be a nice spot for him to warm on the bench as he contemplates his bad attitude. It’s part of the responsibility of a coach to teach self-control, character, and good sportsmanship, not to mention explaining the relative insignificance of a youth sporting event in the whole scope of life. The same kid who flings bats in 3rd grade will throw bats in high school if he’s allowed to get away with it. The boy who mouths off to the coach with impunity in middle school will continue to do so unless and until his attitude problem begins to impede his ability to play the game — unless a coach tells him “no” and applies consequences to his behavior.
The reason these things are important is because the values a boy learns on the athletic field will be reflected in other areas in his life. The boy who can’t control himself after a bad call from a referee will have difficulty with a boss who tells him he can’t have a raise or that day off. The kid who can’t handle losing or missing a goal will stumble in adult life the minute things don’t go his way. The boy who isn’t taught to ignore the taunting or bad behavior by others on the field will be the guy who grows up to unload his frustrations to a Fox Sports reporter after a big NFL playoff game.
One thing I’ve always appreciated about the NBA is how, at the end of every game, players from the opposing teams shake hands and hug. Actually, I marvel that they’re able to do this. These hulking men with testosterone and adrenaline coursing through their veins tear up and down the court, dropping shoulders into one another and jabbing guys in the eyes with their elbows (very discreetly and completely by accident, of course). Suddenly, the whistle is blown and those huge, sweaty men fall all over each other in a big hug fest. They play their hearts out, leave it all on the court, and at the end of the day they figure out how to dial down the adrenaline and the testosterone and understand that it’s just a game.
And that’s what Richard Sherman missed. Okay, so he didn’t commit a crime and the pundits have been praising him for not cussing and because he had straight A’s in high school and he’s a Stanford graduate. Good for him. But I’d be more impressed if he would have instead demonstrated self-control by not having a postgame hissy fit at all.
Sherman is correct that his rant was immature. There’s no crying in baseball — or football. I say, man up, Richard, and show a little self-control next time. I’d have benched you for that stunt if you were on my team.