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Where Has All the Sportsmanship Gone in Kids' Sports?

Posted by Elisabeth Wilkins

OK, I have to start this blog post by saying that I am not a violent person. I don’t even like to watch violent movies. But what do you do when your kid is getting hurt and no adults are stepping in to help? Do you encourage them to fight back, or run away every time? What if they can’t run away? And is there ever a good time to fight back?

The reaction I had last week surprised me.

2 Saturdays ago, my husband Joe took our son Alex to soccer practice. He’s on the kindergarten soccer team, which basically entails a bunch of five and six-year-olds swarming the soccer ball in a big kid-sized clump and having a little fun.

Except last week. You see, there was a first grader on the opposing team who was knocking kids down left and right, and hitting, pushing and kicking anyone in his way (yes, even the girls). For some reason, this boy’s coach wasn’t doing anything to stop him. The kid’s dad was standing behind my husband saying, in a loud voice, “Well, this is a rough sport, you know? That’s the way the game is played,” and kind of chuckling a little.

Well, our son Alex, who is on the small side for his age, was getting knocked around and pushed down with all the rest of them. And then, from out of nowhere, it happened. As my husband tells it, Alex had had enough. When the other kid came up behind him, he got in his karate stance, blocked him and used an elbow jab. Alex didn’t hurt the other boy, but he did shock the heck out of that first grader, who was a little less rambunctious afterward.

OK, would I normally advocate for my child to use karate on his opponents, or hurt anyone? No way. But in this case, I thought he did the right thing.  If no adults step in to stop bullying behavior, shouldn’t kids be allowed to protect themselves? Or am I way off base here?

Later, I asked Alex how he felt about what he did. “OK,” he said. “That boy was hurting everyone. It wasn’t fair.” I hugged him until he said, “Mommy? I can’t breathe,” into my sweatshirt. I never thought I’d be so proud of my kid for standing up for himself. I think I was partly just giddy that he’d learned how to protect himself and wasn’t just standing there letting kids whale on him, which is what was happening last year in pre-school.

Still, when we signed him up for karate, I didn’t think he’d be using it to protect himself on the soccer field. I don’t understand why coaches don’t step in more to stop that kind of behavior — and should parents say something here? What do you tell your kids about protecting themselves? Is it ever OK to fight back?


About Elisabeth Wilkins

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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