22 Aug 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by annmaries_hair_on_madison

Stratford SportsBeat: Parents in Sports

With a lot on the line, parents are putting more pressure on their kids to succeed in sports. Is their behavior hurting their children instead of helping them?

Stratford SportsBeat: Parents in Sports

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Recently while covering a baseball game, I noticed a man in his 50s hovering around the backstop.

He was yelling at the kid behind the plate incessantly to "catch the ball," "throw a strike to second base," and "stay down to block that pitch." The man wasn't the coach of the team, but the father of the catcher who was trying his best in the game. The 17-year old player appeared to be getting uncomfortable and was really pressing.

After unleashing a throw that would've hit a blimp if it was passing overhead, the kid turned around to his father and yelled, "How'd you like that? Was that good enough for you?"

Scenes like that one seem to be happening with more frequency during games from the youth level all the way up to high school. The pressure to get their children onto the best teams, into prestigious colleges and perhaps a scholarship, has caused some parents to behave badly during athletic competitions.

"It's craziness across the board," said Joe Madaffari, athletic director at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk. "Some parents are frustrated and think they are entitled to act like that. They may have played a sport and they automatically think they have become experts in them all. But it doesn't do anybody any good when they yell at the kids."

Every parent wants the best for their children and see them succeed. With travel teams, personal instruction, and equipment, some parents are making a significant investment to help turn their children into stars, but according to Ariela Sarai, a licensed social worker and Fairfield resident, that can have a negative effect on a child.

"Anytime you make a goal more important than a relationship, you are off-track," Sarai said. "Parents have to be careful of not killing the inner motivation of their child. If their desire to have their kid succeed becomes more important than the well-being of the child, that becomes a point of crossing the line."

Anyone who has played sports knows that mastering or succeeding in them can be difficult. When you factor in parents yelling and shouting advice to their kids during the heat of the game, it can be nearly impossible.

"When athletes get pressure from the 'outside', it can have an effect on them," said Sarai. "Kids can become embarrassed if their parents are yelling things at them. It can also making them tighten up and not perform to the best of their ability."

Patch reader C. Hutchins posted a comment last year about what it's really like for a young athlete trying to compete when competitive parents try to become part of the game:

A mother was making a breakfast of fried eggs for her teenage son. Suddenly the boy bursts into the kitchen.

"Careful! Careful! Put in some more butter! Oh my goodness! You're cooking too many at once. TOO MANY! Turn them! TURN THEM NOW! We need more butter. Oh my! WHERE are we going to get MORE BUTTER? They're going to STICK! You NEVER listen to me when you're cooking! Never! Turn them! Hurry up! Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind? Don't forget to salt them. You know you always forget to salt them. Use the salt. USE THE SALT! THE SALT!"

The mother stared at him. "What's wrong with you? You think I don't know how to fry a couple of eggs?"

The son calmly replied, "I just wanted to show you what it feels like when I'm trying to play soccer."

Matt Merullo, who grew up in Ridgefield, played baseball at , and had a six-year career in the Major Leagues, said it can be a tough call for parents when it comes to pushing their children and giving them advice in sports. His son, Nick, was an All-State quarterback at Hand High School in Madison, who is now struggling as a catcher at James Madison University.

"I hated when my father called me all the time when I was struggling," said Merullo, whose father, Lenny, played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. "I felt more pressure. When I talk to Nick, I won't do it at games or in front of anybody. I'll give him pointers on how to get better and what he needs to do to improve. Doing it during the games would just cloud his head and give him more to think about which he doesn't need."

If you Google, "Parents bad behavior at sporting events," you'll see hundreds of stories about incidents that ended horrifically for parents and their kids. Sarai said that when it comes to sports and parenting, the adults should keep modeling in mind.

"Parents want their kids to use good sportsmanship during games and act with class," Sarai said. "But when they themselves speak out and behave badly, ultimately, that's how the kids may act when it comes to sports or other situations in life."

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