Sending the wrong message



Humiliate. To make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and selfrespect, especially publicly.

A Flushing varsity hockey team parent reminded us this past week, that our words can injure. She sent us a “Gee…Thanks” email for using the word throttled in a headline when her son’s team lost 9-0 to Lapeer.

We use many different words to describe wins and losses in our writing and none are supposed to embarrass the kids. These aren’t new words, have been around since people starting writing about sports teams. We aren’t using them in a malicious fashion, but it was a reminder that people can often take them that way.

When I had a conversation with my staff about perhaps being more sensitive in our choice of words, I got the eye roll and a “they got killed” from the group. “They know that already,” I said. “We know that, and their parents certainly know that.” While our intent was not to pour salt in an already stinging wound, we did.

Here’s my bigger concern, though. When this mom said the kids were already humiliated by their season, that struck a chord in me. If we have kids that are humiliated by their season, we have bigger problems looming. Kids have pretty short-term memory after their games. Most shake it off and move on to more pressuring teenage worries and endeavors. I can certainly see where a kid might sulk and pout for a while, but if parents and coaches are letting these kids go to a dark place, then I’m more than concerned.

I played three years of varsity tennis back in the day. We certainly took losses hard, but we never felt humiliated by them. Our coach did an awesome job of keeping us focused on the reality of each win or loss and moving on to the next opponent. There were certainly tears and frustration after some big losses and I still remember some 30-some years later just who we lost to and why. They were better players than we were. Fact. No pre-judgement, no excuses. Their skill sets were just that much more advanced than where some of us were. Just shades above in some instances, miles apart in others. We went back to work the next day, worked on skills and shortcomings with our coaches and my parents certainly didn’t let us wallow in self pity or humiliation.

Any kid that is playing a varsity sport gets our support and approval. With so many kids opting not to play sports these days, those willing to give it a go in front of their school and community absolutely deserve credit. To have people say that our writing is humiliating kids that are already humiliated raises more than one of our collective eyebrows. Staffers that overheard our conversation said, “Oh, give me a break. Like they don’t know they are horrible.”

I had an interesting chat with one of our hockey coaches this past week about perceptions. He had a pretty good answer. He told me, “our perception as coaches of where these kids stand is often vastly different than what the kids’ perceptions are”. A player had told him that he was giving more than 100 percent effort. However, that percentage on the coach’s scale was closer to 30 percent. True enough. In a child’s still-developing brain, they might think they are going full blazes, while their coach sees two more gears that child could be using. That’s educational-athletics. It’s not just about the physical effort being put forth. There is a mental level, sport IQ if you will, that coaches are holding their kids to. Now, put in mom and dad’s perception and I dare say that perhaps they are the ones feeling humiliated for their kids.

My point is, don’t ever use that word when talking about your child and his/ her athletic endeavors. The coaches aren’t using it. Proud of your effort. We need to dig harder. There is more we can do. This is going to be one of hardest things you do this season. Those are the phrases they use. Embarrassed, humiliated or ashamed. Those just aren’t words adults should ever be using toward kids.

We can certainly do our part by thinking about the impact our words have. It’s going to be boring as hell for us, but in the best interest of your kids, we can try to up our game, too.