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David Ramsey: Soccer great Mia Hamm asks sports parents to stop being so childish

By: DAVID RAMSEY The Gazette
November 8, 2016 Updated: December 20, 2016 at 10:55 am
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United States soccer player Mia Hamm answers questions during a news conference at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens Friday, Aug. 27, 2004. The U.S. team defeated Brazil 2-1 in overtime Thursday night to win the gold medal. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

No group in America is more partisan than sports parents. You know the type. They complain about inept refs. They complain about blind teammates who don't pass the ball to their kids. They complain about unspeakably vile opponents.

They complain.

Mia Hamm wants to offer advice for sports parents.

"Resist the urge to make excuses for your kids," she said.

Great idea, Mia.

Hamm is the greatest soccer player in United States history, with apologies to Landon Donovan. She's a pioneer who led successful revolution, lifting American women's soccer to the top of the world.

She arrived at the pinnacle by taking an honest, sometimes harsh look at herself. After losses, she resisted the urge to blame others - refs, dirty opponents, lost teammates. She focused on herself.

She's now a sports mom. This means she gets to listen to an array of excuses from other parents.

Hamm spoke Tuesday evening to a group of parents and children at the Penrose Pavilion. She will deliver a speech Wednesday at Peak Vista Health Center's annual Breakfast of Champions.

She spoke with fierce, and needed, honesty. If parents can't handle defeat, how can their children?

"They look up to you," she said. "They are so vulnerable after a defeat. They don't need to hear, 'Oh, my, if Suzie had just passed the ball to you.' Or, 'If that ref had a clue. Somebody needs to talk to him.'"

Hamm offered a better way. She suggested talking about the excitement and complexity of the entire game, a move that places one child's role in the proper context.

She believes a parent always should say, "I'm so happy watching you play." This sentence emphasizes the joy that can be found in a game, even after a loss.

"When they're extremely vulnerable that is your opportunity to set a better standard for them," she said. "I think what you're trying to do as a parent is take the pain away, make them feel better. You kind of get locked into that rather than what example you are setting for them."

Excuses were not accepted in the Hamm family. Mia grew up surrounded by five siblings. She wasn't pampered, which meant often she had to ride her bike to soccer practice. As a child, her soccer career blossomed while competing beside her brother on coed soccer teams on dusty, wind-blown fields in Wichita Falls, Texas.

She had no visions of playing in World Cups or on national teams. Photos of female soccer stars did not adorn her walls. Women's soccer was in its infancy. Female soccer celebrities did not yet exist.

She had a blast on those dusty fields. She was accepted and embraced by her teammates, male and female.

"Nobody made me feel different or strange," she said. "That acceptance meant everything. I thought, 'This is normal. This is wonderful. Why not want to be as good as you can be?'"

She became an overwhelmingly powerful offensive force, scoring 158 goals for the national team. She led the Americans to gold medals in the 1996 and 2004 Olympics. Her poster adorned walls, inspiring a multitude of girls.

She won a lot of games. She lost a few games, too. She didn't embrace defeat. She did accept defeat.

She refused the temptation to make excuses. She hopes parents will resist the temptation, too. It's dangerous to moan and point fingers after defeats.

Our precious children, Hamm reminds us, are watching closely.

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