I recall a public service message from years back where a father and son are taking a walk through the woods. The little boy is enamored with his father and imitates his every move. After a while, the father sits down under a tree, leans back against the trunk of the tree and crosses his legs and the boy does the same. Finally, the father reaches in his shirt pocket and gets out a pack of cigarettes and lights one up. The boy picks up a stick and pretends to smoke his own cigarette.

Do your kids want to imitate you? Are you making sure the things you say and do in their presence are what you want them to say and do?

I understand how difficult that is. I remember my youngest as a kindergartener, with help from his older brother, finding a bad word scribbled on a concrete wall. With due diligence, he was able to sound the word out and then came to me as I stood in a concession line to report the word that was written on the wall. I took him around the corner and explained that was a word we didn’t say.

Fast forward to a couple of years later and I’m taking him to school one morning and needing to get in the left lane. There is a car determined not to allow me to do that. As the frustration mounted, the before unmentioned word escaped my lips before I can pull it back.

“You told me to never say that word,” he said. Memory like an elephant.

I made it out to Chatham High School Saturday to watch some of the playoff games for the 8u and 10u ballers. I saw two great games, a two-point winner in the first game and an overtime contest in the second. There was a really good crowd on hand, many very passionate about the outcome of the game.

Unfortunately, there were some who were a little too passionate. Rumors had been circulating in recent weeks about bad behavior surfacing from some of the youth league games across the county. I observed it for myself on Saturday.

In speaking to youth coaches over the years, I have always encouraged them to emphasize two things. One is to make sure the players are having fun and the second is to teach them something. I believe, especially for the very youngest of players, if they don’t have fun, they will have no reason for them to return for another season.

Without their participation, it is impossible to teach. The coaches I observed on Saturday were very positive for the most part in their approach to the players, congratulating or consoling based on the conditions at the present time.

I wish I could say the same with regards to their attitude towards the officials. In one game, I watched the officials stop the game to scold one bench for its critical comments made in his direction. These are not the lessons that players need to be taught, but it is not surprising to watch eight-year old kids treat officials with disdain when you see the examples set by their coaches.

The lessons that need to be taught reach far beyond the triple threat and the crossover. It’s about teaching the kids to treat people the right way whether that be teammate, opponent, coach or official. As a coach, if you allow your player to show a lack of respect to an official, how long before the player does that to other authority figures, including coaches, teachers, and even parents?

The behavior of parents and fans may have been worse than any others at the game. As I observed the behavior of some people I have known most of my life, I wondered if they ever thought how their actions might be affecting their children.

It didn’t take long to get my answer. I watched some fans yelling at officials, standing and waving their arms over what they considered to be a missed call. Not long afterwards, I observed a player being whistled for an obvious traveling call. His reaction to the call duplicated what I had seen in the stands and it came as no surprise when he finished trying to show up the officials, he turned to the same group of fans for moral support.

I can’t help but think about South Carolina Coach Frank Martin a few years back when he was asked if kids had changed. Martin responded that kids didn’t know how things were, so they couldn’t have changed, but that instead the adults had changed.

The kids will know what we teach them, what we allow. Like the ad with the boy and his father, remember they want to be like you. Make sure you are what you want them to be.

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