Rude Fans Should Hear Through a Child’s Ear

Deb Beaupre
 (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Deb Beaupre (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

We just lived through holiday tournament time in basketball land. That means 30 games in three days. And if you misread the schedule and go to the wrong venue, you’re toast. Because in the time it takes to park, they played six games and lost four, but they would have won if you had only done it right. Isn’t this fun?

During tourneys, it is the parent’s job to provide healthy snacks, watch over the iPod, find a seat and then to be able to say something knowledgeable to the child on the way home. You must also chip in for a coach gift, buy tournament clothing and go to the nearest pizza joint with 100 other hungry people all trying to eat in 27 minutes. Then, do it again the next day.

This is fandom.

Fans can be enthusiastic and cheer for their team/kids in a positive, uplifting way. Some even cheer for the other team. I have a neighbor who used to do that when her kids were in grade school. She has a clear, loud voice, too. When they reached high school, another mother told her she could stop that now, as though the building of self-esteem was for sissies. We both felt a little sad about that for a moment.

Fans can be so focused on their teams’ success that they become the coach’s little unwanted helpers. This is bittersweet; if the person hollering out advice has a philosophy and approach similar to the coach, then, it works — sort of. Coaches generally don’t want the kids listening to anyone but them. Sometimes kids are so used to hearing one person yelling from a certain section that they turn first to the bench coach, then to the crowd coach for other advice.

Sometimes fans can develop a personality. This is more readily noticed at tournaments where games are shorter and in quick succession. It’s great when, as a fan group, we become so familiar with the players’ habits, strengths and foibles that everyone picks up on when a kid takes a risk or does something truly outstanding. Next thing, everyone is cheering for No. 28 and remarking about how that was so much better/different/faster than the game against so-and-so. Later, the adults comment to the kid about it, telling them specifically how they were impressed and talking about it. This is one of those it-takes-a-village moments when even I can see the value in sports for helping a kid develop into a more fully-rounded person.

There are, however, some fans who define themselves as fiercely loyal and supportive but who bring a more negative tenor when they argue, harass and berate officials and the coaches. There’s always some at every tournament, and they suck the life right out of the gymnasium. These folks claim to know a lot about basketball. They have several crowd coaches and other people with the loudest voices you ever heard who say things that make the people sitting near them freeze and then find reasons to move away. If you happen to be sitting near them, your eyes dart for the exits. You’re thinking, “I do not want to get tossed out of here if someone thinks I am with these idiots.”

I’ve been to games where the referee stops the play, walks to the stands and addresses the fans with a warning. But this type of fan is completely unfazed by a tongue lashing from the de facto principal of the game. You can see all the first-born, rule-following parents shuddering in their seats at the idea of being spoken to by the ref — the shame, the horror!

I have always wondered what it is like for the kids on the court. Can they sense what is happening? The game starts, the fans all yell out encouraging things to begin with, then one thing happens and wham! The “feedback” begins.

The tension is palpable, and the room goes as quiet as a gym with four sets of kids running on squeaky sneaks, balls bouncing and those whistles from hell tooting all over the place can be. You have to figure that these kids play in enough games in enough different gyms to realize that all fans don’t behave as theirs do. So how do they explain this polarity to themselves?

An aside as an example: Last spring, I was with my daughter at the Museum of Science in Boston. A school trip was ending and teachers were lining their kids up to count them. The kids were 7 or 8 years old, and I was thinking with my teacher’s mind that they were pretty quiet, considering. Then, four different teachers bellowed at their classes to stand straight, not talk, look forward and stop moving. I thought that far too harsh for the situation; I had no idea my kid was noticing that, too.

She commented, “Those teachers are mean. I’m glad my teachers aren’t like that.” Me, too, I was thinking, but I was watching the faces of the little ones who filed past me. Some looked ashamed, some frightened and some switched off all the animation in the faces that was present seconds before. I wished their teachers could have seen what they just did to them.

That is what I wish for the kids of the unruly fans, that they’d stop for the sake of their kids. I know their kind of support comes from a good place, but I think it’s harmful. Kids aren’t old enough to understand all that grown-up stuff being argued about. They just feel “funny.”

All they want is to play, make someone proud of them and go get some pizza. And do it again the next day.