A girl I once coached was at the free-throw line, where she always was aces. As she went through her pre-shot routine, the crowd at the state tournament game hushed, as they all do. From that silence rang a single, familiar voice.
"Make your free throws!" the voice commanded.
It was her father. His words plunged into her psyche like torpedoes. And ... she ... missed ... both ... free throws so badly, I swear it was on purpose.
With spring comes the chirping. And I don't mean the robins, either, although they, too, are harbingers of the new season.
It's the symphony of the parents that I'm talking about. Their caustic cacophony is the soundtrack to club basketball. They sit a lot closer for club games than high school contests, so you literally can hang onto every word -- not that you'd want to.
Sing along. You know the words:
Take care of the basketball! I often thought to tell my players to, go ahead, toss an errant pass into the front row, make it whistle past your mom's ear. Let her know that she needs to keep reminding you, because you are considering being careless with the basketball the entire game, perhaps the entire tournament. Maybe the next game she can remind you about every three seconds to take a breath.
Let them play! I imagine that, back in the day when women were required to wear skirts and only allowed to roam half of the court, a referee lassoed the lot of them and prevented them from playing. That image somehow sticks in the DNA of helicopter parents, causing an irrational anxiety. In my experience, savvy officials do indeed let the players play. That makes for shorter games, which makes for longer rests between games or just plain going home sooner.
Shoot the ball! This is a prime example of the delayed processing that proves the futility of screaming instructions from the stands. You yell, she hears, but the moment has passed. And what sense are we to make of the parent who yells this command as his/her daughter is retreating on defense? This is the first cousin, by the way, of, "Pass the ball!" (Translation: pass it to my baby so when she catches it, I can then yell, "Shoot the ball!").
Take her! Sorry but in a girls' sport, I cannot think of many things more vile. This conjures, at least for me, images of medieval knights "taking" a "wench." Or soldiers "taking" an enemy. This is the sister phrase, by the way, of, "She can't guard you." Ugh. On the other side of one of these back-handed exhortations is another girl you're insulting.
What are you doing? Once, just once, I'd love it if a player grabbed up her coach's whiteboard, marched into the stands and diagrammed some of the offenses and defenses her team is running. Your kid knows what she's doing, which means she knows when she has made a mistake. There are few things more grating during the heat of the moment than a sarcastic remark like this.
When my daughter was playing high school ball, during the preseason parents' meeting her athletic director always revealed results of a survey of the players about what they wanted most from their parents. Oddly enough, "Scream instructions to me during the game," never appeared on that list. Neither did, "Insult the refs," or "Yell at my coach."
Parents, if your daughter looks to you in the stands during a game, she's looking for support, not your rolling eyes or your head cradled in your hands. Those only reinforce the dismay she already feels. This is a difficult game she is playing, so next time try throwing her a kiss, flashing her a smile, clapping your hands.
And if you must say something, how about something encouraging like, "Let's go!"
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.