It has been a busy few weeks wrapping up the winter sport season. I have spent many hours on the side of a variety of fields and courts at a variety of schools this past fortnight. Having witnessed, for the most part, what can only be described as exceptional sportsmanship from the players on the field and the supporters watching, I was saddened when I witnessed an incident of some rather unsavoury behaviour from some parents on the side of the field.
I felt it apt, after this disappointing incident, to use my article this week to remind parents, alumni, and general spectators about positive sportsmanship. I am a parent myself. I am also an educator. And since my sporting days are long past I am often, these days, a spectator. My child is at our prep school. She swims and plays netball and I am often the parent on the side of the field. I recognise, however, that me thinking she is the best swimmer on the team doesn’t necessarily make me an expert on swimming – stroke technique, team picks, starts, finishes, relay
change overs and tumble turns. On the contrary, as a spectator, I am sure that I see things very differently to the actual swimmers in the pool.
Recently, while watching a high school hockey game. I was sitting with colleagues in the stands in amongst both home and opposing team supporters. It was a very heated game both on the field and off the field. I understand that parents want to cheer for their children. I can even try to understand their disappointment and frustration when the umpire’s calls go against their team. What I don’t understand is how some parents and spectators feel it is their place to criticise the umpires and the players on the opposing team. Not under their breath, mind you – loudly and with such hostility that it was impossible to ignore. It was unpleasant and really in poor form. We teach our children that they should never engage in a negative manner with others. We must, it follows, model this behaviour for our kids.
Shouting encouragement is always welcome and always positive. Chirping the players or officials is not. As parents and educators we have a responsibility to conduct ourselves as mature, supportive spectators who appreciate the efforts of everyone on the field – that includes the opposition. As the adults in the equation we have a responsibility to teach our children to respect the rules and those tasked with enforcing them - that means accepting the decisions of the officials.
Let us also never forget the context within which we are operating. This is school sport – not the Olympics! They aren’t professional players - they do not depend on this game for their living! Your children play sport for the love of the sport. They play to be part of a team, to enjoy healthy, physical competition. They should not be encouraged to “take him out” from a parent in the stands. We should be encouraging and congratulating all players on the field for great play or goals or tactics. Children love having parents there to support them – they are grateful for your interest and appreciate your encouragement. But their joy quickly turns to acute embarrassment when your support morphs into negative engagement with the coaches, referees, umpires or the opposition teams. And when it seems as if all the calls are against your team, this is the time, more than any other, that you need to be a positive role model for your child. Rather than make a spectacle of yourself on the sidelines, show respect for all around you – officials, coaches and opposition players but most importantly your own child. Remember always, even when they are the main attraction, our children are watching us.
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