I’m not a perfect parent, never will be. Now that my older daughter has literally* kicked my butt in kumite I need to be even more careful. I’m not a perfect karate parent, either – I've made some mistakes, fortunately most of them were out of the dojo when we could talk at length and clear up any misunderstandings and work through our crazy emotions. In the dojo, our Senseis have jurisdiction so that means my daughter has to own her mistakes herself. It also means my daughter is free to achieve things without me clinging to her. She’s on the verge of adulthood, so it’s important that I loosen the leash!
I've taken my daughter to five tournaments, and I’m happy to say that out of the crowds of hundreds of parents, I've encountered only one parent who was a problem. That Parent: The Coach.
Lord knows I've done my share of sideline coaching when my daughter is sparring in tournament. But I do it quietly. I learned to shut the heck up the first tournament – I accidentally distracted my daughter. I still feel badly about that. There are loads of parents who do a fair bit of sideline coaching – mostly quietly and as an outlet for their own nerves. Occasionally one or two might shout encouragement, but usually it’s during a natural break in the action and the words are very generalized and positive (“Good job!”). Not The Coach. She screamed continually.
I don’t think The Coach understands it’s not about medals. My daughter didn’t come home with any medals. She was the only competitor in her beginner’s division, so she agreed to be in the group of girls who had more training. It’s happened before, and my daughter welcomes the challenge. She has always placed second or third. Not this tournament. She lost both fights. Her first fight she was conquered by someone who was expert in getting inside her reach. My daughter’s second fight was magnificent. She made a fantastic comeback after starting off behind 4 points, eventually tied 7 and 7 with a minute left to go. Fast and furious – and the match could’ve gone either way! The other girl reached eight points first, ending the fight. My daughter and I feel that even though she didn’t place, her second fight was her best tournament fight ever. I noticed she’s improved her skills since last tournament. This was a personal triumph. Frankly, I don’t even know where my daughter keeps her medals but I do know what my daughter achieved that day will stay with her. I don’t think The Coach sees anything but failure in the lack of a medal.
I’m not even sure The Coach is a good title. This lady probably has never trained in a martial art, so what credentials does she have to back up all the advice she screams? I’m betting zero. Nonetheless, The Coach had a lot to say, and boy did she say it loudly and continuously the entire match. I don’t think anyone within a thirty foot radius could’ve tuned it out. It’s a wonder the judges were able to concentrate. Her poor kid obviously couldn’t – I saw it in the child’s eyes as the child’s gaze was constantly drawn away from the opponent towards The Coach. “Catch the kicks and take your opponent down! Don’t let the opponent close in on you like that!” Of course the opponent could throw at least three techniques for every sentence, so the mother was mostly commenting on past actions. Did she honestly expect her kid to be able to internalize a comment about a kick that was thrown three seconds ago while blocking a jab to the face in the present moment? The screams went on and on. Right. in. my. ear.
I waited for the officials to call a halt and chuck The Coach out of the venue. They didn’t. Maybe they were waiting for me to deal with it because I was the only one sitting next to The Coach. But before I could think of something appropriate to say, I became aware of my younger daughter. I realized she was having a hard time. My younger daughter is the opposite of her sister – she shudders at fighting and so is not a karate-ka herself. She is autistic, so crowds and noise are difficult for her. Due to circumstances beyond our control, my younger daughter had to come with her big sister and I to the tournament. She coped with everything by reading her books and doing her best to ignore what she didn’t like. But The Coach’s constant screaming almost sent my autistic daughter over the edge. My younger daughter is bigger than her sister and I, so it’s best to be sensitive to her needs. I could see she was trying her best not to have a meltdown. Obviously The Coach had no clue about the effect her screaming was having on the people around her.
I no longer had a choice about waiting for the officials or saying something myself. My dear autistic daughter was tense – hugging herself and grimacing with fright. I led my younger daughter away so I could soothe and encourage her. As soon as we took our first steps away from The Coach, I could feel the tension leaving my dear, special child’s body. I didn’t see the end of that fight. I’m willing to bet that if The Coach’s kid didn’t place, it was The Coach’s fault. People with autism struggle with social situations, yet my autistic teenager showed far more self control than The Coach. I am immensely proud of my younger daughter for that. She triumphed over her impulses, which is an enormous achievement for someone under extreme stress. The Coach gave way to her impulses regardless of the consequences during what should have been a fun time for her and her child.
Of course The Coach didn’t stick around, so I didn’t have a chance to talk to her or encourage her child.
Next time I won’t wait for the officials. I finally figured out I could say, “Hey, relax – take a deep breath, your kid’s doing fine. Just trust your child and enjoy the moment.” The Coach might not appreciate this and might just might throw an amateurish haymaker at me, especially if I’m not wearing a gi – and I was in street clothes that day. If The Coach throws a punch or two at me, I’ll just start blocking and keep blocking until others come along to help. I know darn well that after a physical confrontation, one or more Senseis from my organization would debrief me to make sure everything I said and did was beyond reproach. This on top of whatever the police would want to know, and maybe even the court system. I’ll bet The Coach never considered I might lose my temper and pose a threat to her, and I’m sure she had no idea of all the things that were keeping her safe from me – my good upbringing (thanks, Mom & Dad), my faith, the Senseis who have talked with me at length about ethics, and the fact that I would be held accountable for my actions. I’ve heard of other parents who didn’t restrain themselves at their childrens’ special events, and the stories aren’t pretty.
Actions have consequences. We learn that in karate. We also learn to be good examples to others. The Coach’s constant, loud stream of advice was ludicrous and counterproductive. I don’t think The Coach had a clue that my autistic child was frightened by the screaming. Nor was The Coach being a good role model. I hope her child has other adults who are better role models. Most of all, I hope and pray The Coach’s child didn’t have to listen to an angry tirade on the way home.
Now, if you want to know how to be a good karate parent, I have an article for you by Jesse Enkamp
If you aren’t yet a karate parent but want to be one, definitely read this article by Jackie Bradbury.
*Here’s the story about my daughter literally kicking my butt. It was while we were doing two-against-one sparring. I was retreating from the other opponent’s attack. My daughter was behind me. She says she was aiming her kick higher and maintains that I blundered right into her kick before it was fully extended, thus, she concludes, I myself drove my posterior onto her foot. I have trouble believing she didn’t playfully tap me on the hiney just to be funny