What do we say when kids start fighting — or worse, hitting each other — while playing? “Calm down and say you’re sorry.” But what do we say when grown-ups do that?
Unfortunately, it gets more complicated. The Australia-Philippines brawl during the Fiba World Cup Asian Qualifiers has people taking sides, and frankly, sounding like six-year-olds whining, “He started it first!” The crowd was hostile, the Aussies used trash-talk and stripped stickers off the courts. Meanwhile, social media pseudo-intellectuals have hijacked the fairly simple issue of athletes with bad tempers to prove their socio-political beliefs. “See, this is what’s wrong with the government/Philippine culture/colonial mentality…”
This is not about culture. It’s about human emotions. People get mad, and in the heat of the moment, can do foolish and harmful things. It happens in sports competitions, karaoke bars, family reunions, playgrounds, and even at our dinner tables. We all had moments when we were so angry we said or did something we regretted — it’s just not aired on national TV.
Use #basketbrawl as a teaching moment about the game of life
“Televised sporting events provide a wonderful source of teachable moments,” says Jim Thompson, author of Positive Sports Parenting. Your kids will encounter lots of people who will make them so angry that they want to hit something (or someone). Now’s a good time to talk about recognizing and diffusing emotions and making right decisions when everyone else has lost their cool.
Now, don’t go all preachy on the kids. Just ask questions and help process their ideas. Resist the urge to rant or drill down your opinions about what happened.
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This is not really about the Australian-Philippines game; this is about what it can teach your kids.
“Your objective here is to reinforce character traits and life lessons you’d like your child to embrace,” says Thompson.
What do you think the players felt that made them act a particular way?
Do you agree with what they did? Would you have done the same thing? Why?
What do you think is a better way of dealing with it?
Has anyone ever made you feel that mad? What happened?
What would you do if someone makes you this upset?
The brawl at the Fiba World Cup Asian Qualifiers is extreme proof that even adults can get very emotional and make mistakes. You can share an experience with your kids — a time you lost your temper, broke the rules, hurt someone because of something you said or did something unfair. Talk about why you did it, what you would do differently, and why in many cases saying sorry will not fix the damage entirely. Most of us don’t have to bear the burden of the whole world by replaying our mistake or commenting on social media (thank goodness!). But we still had to be accountable.
Kids need to see that everyone makes mistakes, but a real adult owns up to it and deals with the consequences.
Share examples of how peacemakers are the best kinds of heroes
It is not cool to beat people up. Period. Show them that real men don’t need to punch someone to feel good about themselves. The ones we need to praise are those who step in to stop the violence.
In 2017, basketball icon Lebron James (who was that day's biggest sports headline because of his move from Cleveland Cavaliers to Los Angeles Lakers until the Fiba game happened) tweeted a video of a man who stopped his car when he saw two teenagers in a fistfight in the middle of the street. Lebron praised him, a father of six, for getting the teens to stop fighting and even shake hands.
"Salute the homie who stepped in and spoke real to our young generation. We all need a word or 2 to help!"
This game is a sad example of how you can win a game and still lose it. Nobody is talking about the score — it’s all about the players’ behavior. And that is a really, really important reminder to us as parents.
Sometimes we get too obsessed with our children’s grades and achievements. We invest in after-school classes, tutors, educational toys. We always lecture them about grades and homework.
But sometimes we forget to talk about how important it is to treat people well. We don’t obsess about making sure that they’re kind and have a strong sense of fairness. We need to prioritize these kinds of talks with our kids, especially in the world we live in now. I think the #basketbrawl isn’t as disturbing as the stuff that’s so common it doesn’t even make it to the news: violence in the streets, bullying in the schools, trash-talking in politics, hate speech in social media.
So talk to your kids, not just about basketball, but how you hope they will play the game of life.
Dedet Reyes Panabi was editor-in-chief of a parenting magazine for seven years, then quit to work from home and spend quality time with family and Netflix. She now works from home as a digital communications and social media manager for a multinational. (Or has her son described it on Career Day, “My mom’s on Facebook the whole day.”)