Baseball season is just beginning here in the northern part of the country, and this week one of our local Wisconsin Little Leagues found itself receiving national attention. A few years ago the Glendale Little League had several signs printed and hung on the fences of the ball fields where their teams play. The sign, pictured above, and featured in a story on the Today Show this past week, offers parents and other fans five simple reminders:
1. These are KIDS.
2. This is a GAME.
3. Coaches are VOLUNTEERS.
4. Umpires are HUMAN.
5. Your child is NOT being scouted by the Brewers today.
The sign is a humorous way of addressing a problem that is anything but humorous. When parents and other fans yell at kids, coaches, and umpires during a Little League game, it can ruin the experience for everyone. Ask any youth sport leader what one of their greatest challenges is, and they will tell you that it is finding enough people—youth or adults—who are willing to serve as umpires, officials, and referees. The turnover rate in these roles is high because of the verbal attacks that come from parents, and sometimes coaches and players.
We have a class on emotional wellness as part of our Living Compass Wellness Initiative and one of the teachings in the curriculum is intended to help people realize the important difference between the following two sequences:
The Glendale Little League is clearly advocating for the second sequence, as it invites parents to keep things in perspective and think before they speak. They are encouraging them to pause and think about the five reminders listed on the signs they have posted. A quote from John Diedrich, the President of the Glendale Little League, summarizes this well: “Think before you speak or shout at the field, and sit back and enjoy this time because it goes by quickly and it’s a real gift.”
This column is titled, “A Sign for our Times” because the problem of unhealthy emotional reactivity is not something just found at Little League baseball fields. It is all around us. It is like a virus and if we are not careful, we can easily become infected. In my work as a family therapist I regularly show people the two sequences above, and they almost always then recognize that they have been following the first sequence much more than the second, and that this is hurting their relationships.
Throwing out a rude comment and going for the “perfect put down” may unfortunately feel good in the moment, but such behavior always comes at the expense of someone else, whether it be an umpire, coach, player, spouse, friend, colleague, or child. Umpires are not the only ones who are human, make occasional mistakes, get hurt when they are treated rudely, and may feel like quitting. This can happen to any person who is treated disrespectfully.
I am grateful for the Glendale Little League for posting its five reminders about the importance of treating others with basic respect. And I suspect that the reason their sign received national attention is because the spirit of the these five statements applies to how we treat one another not just at Little League games, but in all aspects of our lives.