I recently had an altercation with another parent at a soccer match. The kind that brings the officials, the tournament marshal, and all the other parents into the melee. It’s all fun and games, they say, until someone loses an eye.
I’ve watched soccer from the sidelines for thirteen years. Soccer is not as violent as other sports, say hockey or football, but it is a contact sport. The players mix it up. Things happen on the field that make parents on the sideline get excited.
When the players were kids, the parents were typically concerned about the well-being of their own kid. The parents would yell at the coach or the referee for allowing the other team’s bully to attack their darling little Fontelroy on the field.
In the middle years, as the kids approach adoloscence, the parents are more interested in their child’s abilities, and their child’s competitiveness, and the performance of his or her teammates, and how that performance reflects on their own child. During this period, the parents are still concerned for their kid’s safety, but are just as likely to yell about the poor pass offered by a teammate, or the referee missing an offside.
In the later years, now that my son is technically a man, the sport is fast, the players big and strong, and the contact is often full out collisions. It’s amazing they aren’t seriously hurt each time they go out on the field, or that a fight doesn’t start.
At a recent game in Indiana, my son got into a challenge for the ball, and the opposing player sucker-punched him in the gut. My son retaliated with a forearm shiv to back him off. As often happens, the referee saw the retaliation, and called a serious foul against my son.
The opposing player’s father cheered the call, and went on to call my son an idiot. I took exception. (I’m the only guy who gets to call my son an idiot!)
I confronted the man. It wasn’t the first time I raised my voice at a parent or a coach, but I hadn’t done it in a while.
You Have To Be Ready To “Go”
When you confront someone like that, you have to be ready to go all the way with the challenge. You can make snide comments from your own seat, surrounded by friendly parents, but I don’t bother with that–it’s a waste of breath to me. If I walk over to yell at someone, I have to assume he (or she) will punch me in the nose. So I go there ready to take that punch and return the favor.
My Mother Was a Mudder
I often forget how the previous generation, as embodied by my father, was willing and able to use fisticuffs to settle a disagreement. My father threatened many an umpire, coach, and opposing player or parent. My father got out of cars to fight someone that cut him off while driving. My father got into fights at weddings.
I’ve only been in a couple of arguments that escalated to punches. David Urbanik sucker punched me in the gut in the fourth grade (I ran away) and some guy in a hockey uniform punched me during a match, but I never, ever really threw a punch in anger. I even had a drunk swing at me in a bar because the girl he was sweet on was sweet on me, but I was able to deflect the punch and drove the drunk home later on.
Third Man In Rule
While I confronted the parent about calling my son an idiot, one of the other parents jumped in and told me to go to my own side of the field. So I yelled at him. Luckily, one of the dads from our team joined me in this walk to confrontation, and better still is that the escalation stopped.
I had my say and walked back to the other side of the field. But I kept an eye on that guy the rest of the first half.
Second Half Show Down
At the start of the second half, the guy who called my son an idiot confronted me. He walked over to our side of the field. I gave him my full attention, and tensed my muscles in anticipation of a scuffle.
“I’d like to apologize,” he said. “I was out of line, and shouldn’t have said what I said.”
I also apologized. I shouldn’t have gotten angry about it. I probably could have just said something politely, and asked him not to be mean or rude.
We shook hands.
The game went on.
The battle of Carmel, Indiana ended in a negotiated settlement.
The soccer match ended two-to-one in favor of the good guys.