Monday, December 29, 2008

Sadistic Coaching and Parenting

Before it goes stale along with my Christmas cookies, I just have to vent about this expose of Santa and his head reindeer, Donner, via Christy Hardin Smith at Firedoglake (caution: not suitable for kids):

It's about time! Even as a kid, I hated Donner's overbearing, unsympathetic attitude. Until now, though, I didn't notice how relentlessly Santa had his back.

Didn't you have a coach or gym teacher just like Donner, too? For me, the worst was Mr. Rosen in junior high. His favorite trick was to make his classes run "gut drills." I think they're called by different names in different parts of the country, but the upshot was that - starting at one end of the basketball court - you had to sprint to the first freethrow line, touch it, pivot and sprint back to the starting line, then do the same with the center line, the other freethrow line, and the out-of-bounds line at the court's far end.

If you didn't finish the gut drill in 30 seconds, you had to run another. Then another. And another. You were done if you made it in under 30, or when Mr. Rosen could see you were about ready to puke. Woe to you if his basketball team had lost the night before.

I almost never finished in less than 30 seconds. All through those long North Dakotan basketball winters, I'd make myself sick with nauseated worry on days when I had gym. Since P.E. was always late in the afternoon, I lost entire days of my life to that dread.

Mr. Rosen was a sadist. I suspect my sons' gym teacher has a similar, though much milder, streak. As a parent recently said on an email list I lurk on: "P.E. is institutionalized bullying." I'm think it's changed somewhat since 1975, but I don't see it as wholly transformed.

The truly appalling thing about the Donner character, though, isn't that he's a coach. It's that his parenting reflects the same sadistic approach. Even more sadly, I don't think he's wholly fictionalized.

This fall, watching the Tiger's kindergarten soccer team, I overheard a dad yell at his child: "Come on, pull yourself together out there!" He then stalked away in disgust. Dude! These are five year olds!! Ironically (but irrelevantly) this man's daughter was actually paying attention to the ball. My Tiger, meanwhile, was running in the wrong direction and chatting with a little girl who'd befriended him.

Sometimes I think my boys need to be a little tougher - not because they're boys but because they can both be cloyingly thin-skinned. They tend to cry over every little bump. They tattle on each other at each opportunity. I'll readily admit that my understanding and frustration spring from the same source: I was just like them as a kid.

But you know, the world is full of Donners, and my sons will encounter plenty of them. They're leading P.E. classes. They're on the playground. They're clawing their way up the corporate ladder. (Who hasn't had a Donner as a boss?)

What my kids need from their mama is not a Donnerette. They need love and understanding. They need sympathetic encouragement to distinguish the minor scrapes of life from the big bruises. They do need me to discourage the tattling, too - but that'd be another post for another day.


Pam Golden said...

What a great way to put it - kids need parents to help tell the difference between minor scrapes and big bruises! That is a terrific way to discourage tattling - educating your child instead of punishing. There is a great book that helps children learn how to work out problems with each other and make sure to tell you important things where someone can get hurt. It's at

Best to you,

Sungold said...

Good luck with your book, Pam. I don't generally allow commercial comments but I regard books differently.

Yeah, the trick is definitely for kids to learn to when they need to involve an adult. On balance, I'd rather they come to me too often instead of not enough. Last year my older son was having some hassles with another kid during recess, and in that situation I wish we'd heard even sooner - but was grateful that he didn't wait more than a few days to clue us in.

Sugarmag said...

I need that book, tattling is difficult. I get so tired of my kids telling on each other but I can't tell them not to tell me.

When I was in school, the P.E. teachers weren't mean but most of them (especially in high school) seemed to be just plain stupid. When I was a Sophomore in high school we once did a whole unit where we did the same Richard Simmons video over and over again. What a waste of time! The P.E. teacher at my daughter's elementary school is really good and I respect him because the kids have fun and they get some exercise. I wish every P.E. teacher was like him because physical fitness is important. It's too bad that so many PE teachers are either mean or stupid, because educating kids about the importance of exercising and taking care of their bodies should be a good thing.

Oh and that is so awful that a parent was yelling at a 5 year old about her performance is soccer. She will probably end up hating soccer. The whole point is to have fun, learn about the game, get some exercise. That's funny that the Tiger was running the wrong way and talking to a friend. How cute.

Sungold said...

Happy New Year, Sugarmag!

I actually did have one P.E. teacher I adored, once I moved to California. He was also a math teacher - young, smart, and handsome - oh, all of us smart girls had a crush on him. If I don't despise exercise completely, he deserves some credit.

I agree about the little girl probably growing up to hate the game. Our soccer league is generally very mellow - no one is even supposed to keep a tally of the goals - but there's always one or two parents who take it too seriously.

Someday I should write a post about the Tiger's approach to soccer. His coaches thought he was the funniest kid they'd ever seen. I don't think they were wrong. :-)