By: Ryan Cole
The landscape of youth sports has drastically changed over the years. Youth sports are now more competitive than ever with a large increase in travel programs, training options, instructors and indoor facilities. The trend is for youth athletes to play more games than ever before. Whether you like it or not, this is where youth sports are currently at and all indications of this trend show no signs of slowing down.
I have been coaching at the youth and high school level for over 10 years and one of the biggest issues that we deal with as coaches, is the behavior of the parents. Due to the increase in competition and sheer number of games played, the parents are now watching more games than ever before. They are also paying more money than ever before for their children to have a competitive youth sports experience. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to youth sport parents. Unfortunately, I have heard a number of coaches, including myself, say something along the lines of, “Coaching would be really easy and an absolute joy if we didn’t have to deal with the parents” or “Running a travel sports program would be the best job ever if we did not have to deal with the parents”. Obviously, this is not something that is directed to all parents. I have encountered hundreds of amazing families who are great sport parents. The great sport parents are not the ones who drive me to write about this topic.
Today, I want to discuss three simple things that could help you become a more effective parent when cheering on your son or daughter. Sometimes we have no intention of behaving in a way that is harmful to our child’s experience and might not even realize that we are doing so. Use the following tips as a way to self-reflect on how you act as a parent in a youth sports setting.
LET THE COACHES COACH
A parent’s job is not to coach their son/daughter from the bleachers. You would be amazed at the number of parents that cannot help but shout out coaching tips during games to their children. When you enroll your child into a sports program, you are committed to the program and its coaches for the duration of the season. If the coach is not up to par with your expectations, then find another program/coach once your commitment is up. There is nothing more frustrating for a coach to have a player looking to his parents in the middle of a game for their approval. Actually, what is more frustrating than that, is when a player’s parent is yelling coaching tips from the bleachers to their child in the middle of play. Many times, it is the same person doing both of these things. These in game coaching tips are almost always counterproductive from what the coach is actually teaching the team and are always a distraction to the player and his/her teammates. There is so much harm that is done in these moments and most parents simply do not realize that they are hurting their child’s experience and most of the time, their performance. I have seen a lot of bad coaches in my day and I can only imagine how frustrating it is for a parent to watch a poorly coached team go through a long season. If you are someone going through one of these types of seasons, my biggest piece of advice for you is to bite your tongue and let your child play the game they love without hearing you demoralize their coach after every single game. Let the coaches coach and use the experience, positive or negative, as a way to teach your child valuable life lessons.
We all know someone who always seems to be negative about almost everything in their life. These people are typically not a whole lot of fun to be around. It is no different for the sports parents in the bleachers. The environment and culture of a team is what ultimately makes for a memorable season or a season that you hope to forget. If you have a group of parents that are constantly yelling negative statements from the stands, the environment suffers for everyone around them. If you have a group of parents, who cheer in a positive manner and cheer for every kid on the team, you will find a very fun culture to be around. If we look at sports as a way to teach important life skills to children, knowing less than 1% will ever become a professional athlete, shouldn’t we want to cultivate a positive learning environment? It is important that we keep our perspective in check and create an atmosphere that encourages our children to work hard, accept failure, overcome adversity and learn to be a team player. A big part of this starts in the bleachers with the parents.
POST GAME CONVERSATION
One of the first things that many parents want to do as soon as their child’s game is over, is to analyze and breakdown the entire game with their child. Most young athletes usually do not care too much about whether they won or lost the game. They just want to have fun and play with their friends and hopefully grab some ice cream after the game. If we constantly analyze our child’s performance, the coach’s in game decisions and the performance of other players on the team, we are feeding our child’s mind with a lot of information that can tend to be negative. If you are one of these parents, just recognize the behavior. If your child is someone who wants to breakdown the game inning by inning, possession by possession, then by all means let them digest the game! I just recommend that you encourage and help steer their reflection to be in a positive light. For most athletes, the best thing a parent could do after a game is to tell their child that they are proud of them. Be proud of your child’s courage to compete, be proud of their work ethic, be proud of their selflessness, be proud of their determination and leave it at that. They will thank you later.
Sports have the ability to teach our youth a number of important lessons. Sports can help improve a child’s self-confidence, they can teach athletes about hard work, goal setting, teamwork, discipline and so much more. As parents, our goal should be to help create an environment for our children to flourish and strengthen these characteristics. By controlling some of the behaviors mentioned above, parents can truly help in providing a positive youth sports experience for their child.