August 2, 2010 11:46:00 AM
Expectations can be difficult for student-athletes and parents to handle.
As another high school sports scene begins its first official full week today, all teams still have an optimistic glow about them. Most Mississippi Association of Independent Schools fast-pitch softball teams began their seasons Friday and Saturday, while some MAIS football teams -- including Starkville Academy -- will scrimmages later this week.
Mississippi High School Activities Association will gear up for their first games later this month, and some football teams will play in jamborees Aug. 13 and 14.
As you prepare to watch your favorite teams compete, remember your words can chasten or bring down the student-athletes you support.
It took only three innings Saturday for the comments of some "supporters" at the Heritage Academy fast-pitch softball tournament at Propst Park in Columbus to strike a bitter beginning to another season.
The "fans" were lamenting the less than perfect performance of one of the teams loudly enough for those gathered around field A and B to hear. It didn''t matter this was the team''s first game of the season, or that the team lacked the experience of its opponent. The team''s mistakes weren''t acceptable, and the "fans" wanted everyone to know they didn''t approve.
Yes, the team had practiced before Saturday''s games. Yes, the players were better than they showed in the first game, and they went on to show it in their next two contests, making significant improvement.
But it''s frustrating that student-athletes -- some in their first true test at the varsity level -- are immediately expected to play like All-Stars. That is not realistic in any sport, whether it is fast-pitch softball, football or water polo.
Every volunteer, umpire, coach, and player worked hard to survive in the 90-plus degree temperature Saturday. The players bore the brunt of the exposure, and many refused to wilt, some even after playing three games at catcher or pitching three games.
It''s a credit to those players that they persevered and played to their potential -- and blocked out the negative comments.
"Fans" have to understand positive support is priceless. It can motivate. It can relieve pressure. It can remove doubt.
But there should be no place for the negative comments heard Saturday at Propst Park, or the anonymous rantings of "fans" on message boards. "Fans" have to realize all of their words and actions leave impressions on young athletes. The comments enable student-athletes to blame teammates or coaches if someone makes a mistake. They make it easier for student-athletes not to push themselves to go beyond what they think they can do.
The power of words is immeasurable. Imagine a coach trying to motivate his or her players if everyone hears their "fans" are going to leave because they are so upset with they are seeing. What message does that send? Is it OK to give up after a few innings?
No. Student-athletes have every right to play in an environment where positive examples are set on and off the field. They should push themselves to learn from their mistakes and to work hard in practice the next day to eliminate them. They should listen to coaches and to teammates who can help them to be in better position the next time they are challenged.
Those players also can come together and challenge their "fans" to support them, no matter what. They can remind their "fans" to keep their negative feelings to themselves and to stress positive reinforcement. That might be difficult because it often is tough to keep a positive face in competition when things aren''t going your way.
But players will learn more -- and have a better time competing -- if everyone relishes the positive side of sports and keeps their negative comments to themselves.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Commercial Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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