When the Coach Talks Sh*$

My three kids were hanging out in 8-year-old Lemlem's room the other night, blasting music. Lemlem and big sister Didi, age 10, were having a hip hop dance off, with 9-year-old Gobez as judge.

"Okay, here's how I'm going to score," I overheard him tell the girls. "Ten is brilliant, and one is sh*$."

Needless to say, I immediately busted that party.

When I questioned Gobez about his inappropriate language, here's what I learned: Coach D from his soccer team recently ran a practice drill using the same Brilliant/Sh*$ scoring system.

"Are you kidding me?" I screeched.

If Coach D had been standing in my living room at that moment, I would've kicked his a$$ -- especially since my son actually learned the idiom of "a$$ kicking" from this same guy last spring. I'd erupted over that incident too, but since I tend to be a hothead (some might say b*#@h), my husband offered to talk to the coach about his language in a calm, man-to-man way. Needless to say, that reasoned and respectful man chat never happened. Now, after a second incident of inappropriate language, it was clear that if somebody was going to confront D about his sh*$, it would have to be me.

I got right to work rehearsing an indignant speech in my head -- but thank goodness I'm too disorganized to keep the coach's phone number handy. I needed a few days to cool down, because, let's be honest, "bad" language is subjective. What counts as offensive varies from culture to culture, family to family, person to person. Context matters, and in this situation, I had a lot of competing elements to consider:

  • Coach D is British, so maybe there's a cultural component involved.
  • Soccer field mores differ from schoolroom mores.
  • On the other hand, the coach is dealing with 8 and 9-year-old kids.
  • I'm uneasy about "boys-will-be-boys" vibe. My daughters also play competitive soccer, and their European-born coach manages to teach without cursing.
  • My son and his teammates love Coach D. His language may be salty on occasion, but he's never said anything that left Gobez feeling hurt or discouraged.
  • Then again, these are 8 and 9-year-old kids!!
And so the debate went, round and round inside my head, finally swirling to a stop at the most embarrassing and essential element of the whole dilemma:
  • I've got a mouth like a sailor, and the truth is, my son has learned most of his curse words from me.
Watching my language has emerged as one of my greatest struggles as a parent. I'm not somebody who peppers my casual conversation with vulgarities. I don't, for example, habitually use the F word as an adjective (as in, "Wow, that workout was f*%$#@^ awesome!" I don't even work out.) But when I'm tired, or stressed or mad, and it's just immediate family around, the bad words can slip out. Unfortunately, as the working soccer mom of three children under the age of ten, tired, stressed and/or mad is pretty much my default position. I don't necessarily aim my bad words at anyone -- certainly not the kids -- but I still set a horrible example. I don't want to talk this way.

Is it hypocritical to expect a coach to show a restraint that I can't easily manage myself? Maybe. Maybe not. (He is getting paid, after all.) But with my kids now encountering peers on the playground who drop F bombs, and with almost every song they hear on the radio including a bleep or two for language and scads of unbleeped references to sex, it's clear that I have exponentially less control over the language and ideas they are exposed to. What do I actually have a small chance of controlling? Myself. And it ain't easy.

I need to remember that when I feel better, I talk better. I need to find healthier ways to manage my stress. But even if I succeed in curbing this bad habit, our family still needs to hold an ongoing conversation about language, and how it's best used, because that sh*$ is not going away. And yes, I still need to talk to Coach D -- but with empathy and respect, not anger. Wish me luck.


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  2. Stumbled upon your blog via good.is article, "Child Slaves Made Your Halloween Candy." I am in my 30s, childless, considering marriage, and find myself reading blogs about *parenting* a lot. I've been enjoying your RATM articles. Great post. Awesome to hear someone talking about this. (I, strangely, don't use profanity--but teach high school where utterances of profanity by students are common between students in the classroom and even moreso in the hallways and I talk to students about language almost daily.)


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