The game on the sidelines: Kids’ sporting events from a parent’s perspective

Sideline confidential: Children aren't the only ones worth watching at your kids' games and meets. File photo Sideline confidential: Children aren’t the only ones worth watching at your kids’ games and meets. File photo

For some, the start of children’s sports season is a flurry of e-mails from team coaches, attending the first practice, or making a last-minute run to the store for athletic gear.

For me, sports season officially begins when I sit down in my sandy folding chair at the opening game, and set my water bottle in the cup holder with the missing mesh bag. My elementary school-aged children have been playing team sports since 2008. They’ve done soccer, tee-ball, coach-pitch baseball, and swimming. There’s nothing like watching my kids chase a ball around a field or race from one end of the pool to the other, but in the hours I’ve spent cheering from the sidelines, I’ve concluded that our little athletes aren’t the only ones worth watching at these events.

Here are just a few of the inevitable scenes a parent will witness at their children’s games and meets:

The Meet and Greet. Attending young children’s sporting events in Charlottesville is like starring in your own personal episode of “This is Your Life.” From the parking lot arrival to the post-game juice box, a steady stream of neighbors, work colleagues, and school acquaintances cross your grassy path. Everyone tends to walk and talk because they’re running late, urgently leading a child to the bathroom, searching for their visiting in-laws’
lost sunglasses, or rushing their other child to her game across town.

The Three Little Bears. Some parents watch their kids’ performance too closely (scold), some not closely enough (glued to their smart phones), and some just right. By far, the majority of parents fall into the “just right” category. They mostly follow the game, give encouragement to the team, and offer due praise to the opponent. Still, there is the rare and awful berating of a young athlete. In these cases, a wave of tension can wash over the sidelines as families indirectly try to offset the offending parent’s negative energy. “Good try, number six,” they call out. The best remedy I’ve ever seen in this situation was when a coach walked around the field, took the unrelenting parent aside, and calmly explained that his comments were hurting all the children on the field.

The Gear. For every hundred families with a blown-out cup holder, there’s one clan with a magazine-worthy spread. I’ve seen resort-like beach umbrellas, folding tables, director’s chairs, glass beverage dispensers, and cheese straws. Actual cheese straws!

L’Esprit de Corps. People with young children understand people with young children. And they have each other’s backs when challenges arise on the field or pool deck. There’s a whole economy of free goods and services exchanged in the market of parental camaraderie: uniforms, goggles, bandages, snacks, diapers, rides, and temporary childcare. And that’s not counting the empathy and useful information shared between plays, including tips for tantrum management, school recommendations, physician referrals, and scoops on upcoming local events.

For all these reasons and more, I look forward to the flurry of e-mails and errands that heralds the arrival of our kids’ sports seasons. Especially because in our family, my husband manages our athletic activities so I can sit back and enjoy the show.—Whitney Morrill