Sports vs. Debate & Forensics: Understanding Parental Duties to Attend Kids’ Events

Back when I was a young father with my first little boy, one of the strongest messages ingrained on me as a parent from other parents both in the Church and without was that A GOOD PARENT MUST ATTEND EVERY SPORTS EVENT YOUR CHILD IS IN. For example, everyone knows that when your child is in Little League Baseball, it is vital that you show support by being there for every moment of every game, even when your child might play for only a few minutes. Same for soccer and every other sport under the sun (a major source of cancer-causing radiation).

My youngest son is now in forensics and debate. He’s done really well, making it to nationals in forensics in his freshman year last year. I’ve attended the parents’ meeting for debate and forensics students, talked with other parents, and with students, including my son, and have had quite the opposite lesson ingrained on me: “PLEASE DON’T SHOW UP. YOU WOULD BE A WEIRD PARENT IF YOU DID.” That’s not what the coaches said – they are very happy to have parents involved – but somehow it was clear that it would be a bit out of the ordinary, which I could relate to from my own experience. I was very active in high-school debate back in Utah, and can’t recall any parent ever showing up to watch their kids debate, and would have been surprised if mine had. But why? Good parents stay away and don’t cramp their kids’ style when they are competing in these more academic events, but a pox on them if they don’t sit through all nine innings of baseball, even when little Zordak is sitting on the bench. Any style cramping there? “Swing higher! No, not like that. Keep your eye on the ball, watch it, get your feet apart, get your elbow up, ready, ready, AARGH!”

Can someone explain all this to me? I’m about to head to Milwaukee where I may have an opportunity to violate the sacred Code of Parental Behavior by attending a round of a debate tournament near the end of the tournament (good excuse: I need to pick him up instead of letting him ride the bus back so he can attend a Church dance in the area). My son has been warned that I might be present if he makes it to a final round and he’s OK with it, but I may have to put a paper bag on my head to protect what’s left of my reputation as a decent parent.

Aftermath, 11 p.m.:
What a great day! As I arrived at Milwaukee’s Marquette University High School, a student from our high school recognized me and told me to hustle to Room 416, where my son was about to begin the semi-final round. I walked in, sat nonchalantly at a desk behind my son, said hi, received a kind smile, and then pulled out my book on Open Business Models, trying not to look too attentive. The debate (public forum style) was really quite interesting. Dealt with the Fairness Doctrine. Really enjoyed listening to my son take a position I know he actually opposes. He and his very talented partner won that round and went on to win the final round, which was cool (nice trophy for Appleton East). It was a great relief to see that I didn’t need to wear the paper bag on my head, even though I was the only parent there. Other students mistook me for an adult – perhaps a judge or something. And between the rounds, my son and his partner seemed to enjoy discussing with me some details of the debate (my ancient experience in the area actually was a bit helpful). Their response, in fact, was a request for me to be more involved, not less. What a pleasant surprise! Much more enjoyable than the old experience of endlessly watching a crowd of little kids stand around a soccer ball while all of us parents shout encouraging words such as, “The ball, go for the ball! Kick it! Kick it! With your foot! Toward the goal. The goal! No, the other way.”


Author: Jeff Lindsay

13 thoughts on “Sports vs. Debate & Forensics: Understanding Parental Duties to Attend Kids’ Events

  1. I don’t know that the difference is the nature of the activity (academic vs. athletic) as much as it is the age of the kids involved. Simply put, a high school debate team is made up of teenagers. Teenagers, as we all know, would rather die than have the world know that they are in any way connected to the backward morons who are their parents.

    This is not a trend I think good coaches should encourage. Yes, the kids need to feel to do things on their own at this stage. They don’t need your support at every single competition. But it shouldn’t be weird for you to attend some of the competition. Next time a coach tells a group of parents that, I hope you or someone says “Well, if showing interest and support in my kid’s activities is weird then I feel sorry for the kids whose parents don’t have the guts to be weird.”

  2. Yes, but the expectation that parents should attend sports events continues even when the kids are teenagers and able to drive themselves. At least out here, the “good parents” are always attending hockey, soccer, track and field, football, basketball, etc. But forensics? Forget it.

    And pity those kids in chess club! Nobody goes to watch them compete.

  3. Having been in the forensics myself (3 years of it in high school), I actually agree with this double standard.

    You see, it’s not the academic element of debate that makes the parental presence awkward. Most of the debate rounds are held in relatively tight quarters, so if you show up, your son/daughter will pretty much be looking you right in the eye as s/he rips some poor soul’s argument apart. Or as s/he reenacts (which often involves screaming, yelling, and other quite unusual expressions of emotion) some painful scene from a play. If your son/daughter is relatively normal, they might be weirded out by participating in activities that would normally be called eccentric in most circumstances.

    With sports, there’s typically at least 100 feet separating parent from child. Plus, the athlete is looking at the ball, the players, other things besides his parents. Imagine that you could in some metaphysical way stand by the pitcher while your son was at bat. Would that be a little weird for the son? I think so.

    Once, my mother coerced me into performing a pretty traumatic scene from my piece in our living room. Wow. Awkward. Even remembering it makes me shudder.

  4. I’m a high school student who’s been involved in both sports and debate. And you pretty much hit the nail on the head. You want your parents there for your baseball games, but not at your debate. It’s just a little embarassing. Why? I dunno — I took a pledge not to self-analyze myself for a while.

  5. I think Russell pretty much nailed it. Debate rounds are typically held in small classrooms, and there’s seldom any audience at all (at least for the initial rounds). Not only does the proximity make it strange, but the fact that your parents would likely be the only spectators makes it embarrassing.

    I participate in Academic Decathlon, which has a public competition component where a large audience is expected, and parents come to that, so it’s definitely not the academicity of the event.

  6. I was never on the debate team. I don’t even know if my school had one. (Given the budget at my school for anything that wasn’t football, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t.) Why would you act out part of a play in the middle of a debate? I thought the arguments were supposed to be facts, statistics, precedents and such.

  7. I just want add that I observed this same behavior too. My perents never missed a soccer game of my brothers and they never attended even one of my debates. I don’t think I’d have felt it was wierd if they’d shown up. However I did notice that none of the other kids’ parents showed up either.

  8. Why would you act out part of a play in the middle of a debate? I thought the arguments were supposed to be facts, statistics, precedents and such

    Ah, I see there was some miscommunication. In speech/debate, there are other events (not debate) like dramatic interpretation, humorous interpreation, and so forth. A bit like acting (though not really–I won’t burden you with the absurd rules of speech/dbate). The point is that in either debate or these other events, the weirdness factor gets cranked up by about 10 with parents there.

  9. Regardless of whether my parents were around or not I have always done “weird” things. Most of the time though when trying to show them something good I would stuff up. Perhaps that is the theory behind debate? Another theory I have is that intellectual sports athletes are more able to cope with their parents not showing up due to an embarrassment factor of them not being “cool”.

  10. I appreciated that my parents were often the drivers when we attended academic, science, and math meets. Once I was old enough to drive the team, it was less important, but I know my parents had to be awfully bored waiting for us while we took tests, did cyphering, and generally competed by being students. Some of them were fun for parents who like shows like Jeopardy, I guess, because they got to listen to questions we were having to buzz in to answer. Still, it was nice to have involved parents.

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