Parents and experts are expressing disappointment in the U.S. women's soccer team after it erupted in jubilant celebrations during a rout of opposing players this week, saying the behaviour sets a poor example for impressionable young athletes who look to sports idols for guidance.
Athletes should express empathy for their rivals and keep on-field celebrations short, said one sports psychologist, suggesting that if players don't know whether they're crossing the line, they should ask themselves how they'd feel if roles were reversed.
"Sports can teach life lessons. When you have a moment when an athlete behaves well or poorly, then we should talk about it," said Gordon Bloom, a McGill University professor. "You can learn as much from when someone does something that's wrong as when they do it right."
Bloom said parents can look at the top-ranked American soccer team's recent actions as a learning tool. The "over-celebrating" incident took place when the Americans trounced Thailand, which ranks 34th, at the Women's World Cup on Tuesday. By game's end, the score was 13-0 — the largest margin of victory in tournament history.
After making it 9-0, captain Megan Rapinoe began a showy celebration — running with her arms spread wide before twirling and turf-sliding. The public display of euphoria continued when she united with her team members.
Rapinoe later defended her team's behaviour.
"If our crime is joy, then we will take that," she told FOX Sports.
Goal difference is important at World Cup events as it can decide tie-breakers for the knockout stage.
But Bloom said it was the team's apparent lack of compassion that was a more serious issue, noting that it was particularly disappointing to see such behaviour from a strong set of athletes.
"When young athletes see their role models behaving in a way such as happened with the U.S. soccer team, they're going to do the same," he said. "They're going to think it's OK to have excessive celebrations after you've already pretty much won the game."
Coaches who work with young athletes try to teach "empathy and integrity," Bloom said, but that lesson might be harder to impart when kids can point to gloating idols.
Parents and coaches should instead point out positive examples of player behaviour, Bloom said, such as when several Toronto Raptors players waved their hands during Game 5 of the NBA Finals to get sections of their home crowd to stop celebrating Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant injuring his ankle.
Some parents have also criticized the U.S. soccer players.
Christine Gallo of Brampton, Ont., said she's taught her six-year-old daughter — a soccer player and gymnast — how to behave courteously and professionally on the field.
If her child crosses the line between celebrating and "showboating," it doesn't take much to remind her what's right and what's wrong, Gallo said.
"She knows you can celebrate and be happy, and of course be proud of yourself, be proud of your accomplishments, but there's a way to do that without rubbing it in," she said. Gallo added that she's found it helpful to use examples to teach her two kids where exactly that line is.
"When you see another player on another team make a big show about the fact that they've scored, how does that make you feel?" she posited. "You're already disappointed and then they do this."
Other parents took to social media to say the U.S. athletes could have set a better example.
"It was very childish and unsportsmanlike," one wrote, while another called the team's excessive celebrating "classless."
Former Canadian soccer player Kaylyn Kyle also criticized the U.S. team earlier this week, calling them "disrespectful." Kyle, who is now an analyst for TSN, made her comments on television and said she received death threats over them later.
Fellow TSN analyst Clare Rustad, a former Canadian midfielder, also criticized the team's behaviour.
"This was disgraceful from the United States,'' said Rustad. "I would have hoped they could have won with humility and grace but celebrating goals 8, 9, and 10 the way they were doing is really unnecessary.''