Kirkham's Korner: Sportsmanship Part 2

By Steve Kirkham published October 24, 2006

As we continue our discussion on sportsmanship I am compelled to address the perceived influence of parents at many athletic venues. Of course one would never know if a fan is a parent at a Tennessee or Michigan football game. When you have over 100,000 fans making constant commotion individuals rarely stand out. This of course could be a major contributing factor to a streaker needing to be seen.

In the past thirty years, I have observed parents at smaller venues achieve both extremes of sportsmanship. The ugly non-golden rule behavior we all cringe at and the, "everyone be nice and the score doesn't matter" attitude which causes the same cringing. I have no doubt this comes from the observation of tee-ball and youth soccer, etc. Parents who never competed at the high school varsity level or in college have no perception of game results at those levels and how it affects the coaches and players.

Their only real concern is that their son or daughter not be embarrassed. Most would never admit this is their motivation when they complain about sportsmanship but it is. Coaches and players know and understand that when you play in someone else's house "" you need thick skin, self-induced hearing loss, and/or a wry sense of humor. When the entire student section at Fort Hays State would chant, "sit down Steve," I pretended to sit and then didn't. They loved it and I kept their attention on me and not my players.

Another way to deal with it is to turn it back on your opponent. These are the rare athletes indeed. Michael Jordan loved to take a crowd that was on him as motivation to score 50 and then just smile after his team won. The Spike Lee vs. Reggie Miller moments were terrific.

When I was young I remember almost all adults reminding you that, "sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you." I wish I knew when we decided that physical pain became more acceptable than verbal pain. If you don't think that is the case you have never seen Ultimate Warrior fighting or the Jackass series.

One of the great lessons learned in athletics is the ability to ignore ignorance. Someone making fun of your hair, or your nose and ears, or the fact your uniform number equals your IQ actually means you are in the game!! Some crowds have made fun of bench warmers but even that is a positive experience if you think, "at least I have a uniform."

So please, if you're a parent at a smaller venue and a fan is verbally abusing (whatever that is) lean over and say, "the player you're trying to distract just scored their 40th point, you might want to leave them alone!"

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