Baumgartner Vaughan: Team sports, as a parent

Feb. 22, 2014 @ 03:49 PM

March Madness is coming, and as the reigning bracket champ in the newsroom (I have the “NCAA Bracket Boss” trophy to prove it) I bring you a column about basketball that’s not what you’ll find in the Sports section.

I’ve joined a new team many of you already are on, past and present. I have been to the bleachers at kids’ basketball games, and I have survived. My son is in kindergarten. They don’t keep score. Well, the referee doesn’t keep score, and probably not the coach, but apparently parents do. I learned this when a parent told me so. I think I responded with something like, “Mm,” when I was thinking, “Say what now?”

The team is for 5- and 6-year-olds, so we are talking kindergarteners and first graders. Let them learn to play before we introduce them into the societal expectations of athletics. My new baller is playing with some kids who, shall we say, will be making declarations come signing day 11 years hence. Some kids are naturals. Some kids have parents who wish they were the ones on the court. The team’s coach is laid back, which is perfect for teaching little kids about competitive sports. Teach them the basic skills, encourage them and don’t yell at them. Let them get to high school or college before the yelling. Don’t coddle, but don’t make them feel the kind of pressure on display in the Dean Dome. Not yet. They are little kids.

In a society where we expect more and more academic standards to be reached at earlier and earlier ages, don’t keep score yet. In a society where little girls’ clothing and toys are a bit heavy on the gender roles and beauty standards, don’t keep score yet. I’m not advocating for no scorekeeping at all, just not the first season. Let them learn the rules and just play, play, play instead of score, score, score. I’m glad the policy was in place for the littlest basketball players.

As a newbie to the sports-team parent world, I was pleasantly surprised by the pre-packaged team snacks. Last week, the parents that brought the team snack brought cookies. Not my first choice, but, hey, at least no one’s telling the others that all snacks must be organic oranges or whatever. Not that I wouldn’t mind an organic orange, I just don’t want to force my snack choices on other folks. But really, we could bring our own snacks or wait until we get home. It’s dinnertime anyway. Broccoli is waiting, and fruit, too. Crackers and a juice box are fine until then.

My kid will stay in taxpayer-funded municipal sports programs as long as possible. That’s the level playing field I want him to experience, with parents in suits and scrubs, slacks and sweats. At a recreation center parking lot full of Hondas, not BMWs. Because society is more Honda than BMW. Sometimes it’s bus pass, too.

The kiddie basketball season is ending, and my son asked to play another sport. So I’ll soon be a T-ball parent, too.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter: @dawnbvaughan.