City of Ukiah, California

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The Universal Language

I really enjoy watching the Olympics. It doesn’t matter if it’s the ice skating, the ski jumping, the speed racing or even some of the events that aren’t so popular; I enjoy watching and cheering as the athletes strive to do their very best.

I seem to save my biggest cheers for the underdog–that emerging, come-out-of-nowhere athlete who becomes larger than life each night during the telecast.

Now maybe this is a bit strange, but when I’m cheering, there’s a part of me that’s convinced that somehow my cheering is helping those athletes, even though I do realize they’re all the way over in Russia. But, cheering makes me feel good; it makes me feel like I’m part of the action.

So, while I know talking to (and sometimes shouting at) the T.V. is strange, I’m doing it because I care about what’s going on. This is important stuff. Our athletes are competing in a far off land, against athletes from foreign countries–countries that sometimes are not our friends. Our athletes need all the support they can get, and I like to think cheering at the T.V. helps.

But the funniest thing happened while I was cheering. I noticed that everyone in the stadiums (and probably everyone watching around the world) were also cheering, regardless of which country they came from or which team they were on.

What people were really cheering for wasn’t the win or the loss, it was the effort. When the athletes threw everything they had to give their best possible performance, the cheers were loudest.

Most importantly, what really struck me was the fact that this magical cheering was not a foreign language; it was a collection of voices speaking in a single voice to encourage the best within our athletes. It was a voice that everyone from every country understood.

This cheering, I came to realize, really is the ultimate universal language. It is a language that is reserved for those who had done their very best, those who worked as hard as they could, those who achieved as much as they could.

Here At Home

A while ago, I was talking with a youth sport organizer who was having a hard time recruiting umpires and referees. It seems that all too often people decline to volunteer to serve as a coaches, umpires or referees, not because the task of being a coach, referee or umpire is hard, but maybe because the cheering in youth sports has become so rare.

People are declining to be youth coaches, referees or umpires because instead of listening to the cheers, these coaches, referees, and umpires are often burdened with the constant drum of criticism, ridicule, and second-guessing. While many people would be excellent coaches, umpires, and referees given their invaluable experience as athletes, they decline these critical functions because they do not wish to be part of a bad experience.

Sadly, these bad experiences are all too common. Stories of violence at youth sporting events throughout our country include a 13-year-old baseball player who killed a 15-year-old player when he struck him over the head with a baseball bat; a father who threatened a youth football coach with a handgun when his 6-year-old’s playing time was limited; and a group of cheerleaders who were arrested for being involved in a brawl following a middle school game.

Here in Ukiah, luckily, we haven’t experienced anything this bad. But, I am sorry to report, that every single year without fail our police officers are asked to investigate a criminal violation that has occurred because of passionate parents, coaches, or fans at a youth sporting event.

Passion is the Key

It’s easy to cheer for your kids, friends, or relatives. In fact, it’s expected. As parents and coaches we want the best for our athletes. The problem is that as parents and friends, we can become passionate – emotionally invested – in the sports our children participate in.

And this passion sometimes gets the better of us.

In one poll conducted by Survey USA, parents were asked about violence in youth sports. Fifty-five percent of the parents said they have witnessed other parents engage in verbal abuse at youth sporting events, and 21 percent said they have witnessed a physical altercation.

Winner’s Edge Kids says that parents’ best intentions might be hurting youth athletes’ performance more than they’re helping it. They explain that parents can diminish or destroy game day performance with actions like these:

  • Yelling Instructions During a Game – by yelling, parents and friends might be taking away an athlete’s focus, confusing the athlete, or even undermining instructions given by the coach.


  • Stalking – if you’re a parent who needs to be 10 feet away from the dugout, Winner’s Edge says, STOP. Let go of your need to control. Detach yourself and allow your athlete to perform at their best levels.


  • Bad Mouthing – is Public Enemy #1. By always focusing on the win, second guessing the coach, and talking poorly about teammates and umpires, parents undermine the attitudes and ultimately ruin the experience for both individual athletes and teams, because they create a constant negative mindset for the athletes.

Cheers Help

Just before our national champion and Olympic women’s figure skater Gracie Gold took her turn in the team competition on T.V. last week, her coach’s final words of advice and encouragement were summed up in a single sentence.  “Love what you do,” he said.

After her incredible performance she was asked about her coach’s advice. She said that when you’re doing what you love, it’s easy to do your best. Her best performance that night helped contribute to their team winning an Olympic medal.

It is often said that there is a fine line between our best and our worst performances. The difference is often our mental attitude.

So next time you have the chance, use your opportunity to cheer. Cheer not only for the win, but also cheer for the effort. Support the athlete, coach, and umpires who do their best, because cheering for the best really does bring out the best within us all.  

As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey or leave a crime tip on our website: 

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Safety · Professionalism · Community Service