Kid’s Sports and Parents

Frank recently wrote about the joy of a last second victory in his son’s high school soccer game.  I applaud Frank all parents who show support for something important to their child. And victories, especially last second ones, are certainly “more fun” than losing.  Sports provide a unique opportunity for parents to show support that are not available in all areas, especially academics. (I have had this fantasy of being in the classroom while my son is taking an exam and leading cheers. Go D. Think. Think. Think. Goooo Brain!)

I believe that sports can play an important role in a child’s life. It can teach teamwork, hard work, respect for others- even opponents, discipline and many more positive qualities. However, it can also be a hugely ugly experience when parents do not know how to behave. When parents are too invested in their child’s sports activities it is rarely good for their child. I do not care what the reason may be. Some parents are living their dreams through their children, others see everything their child does as a reflection on them, and some just can’t distinguish between the cut throat competition in the adult worlds they live in and healthy competition at a child’s level.

My son has played organized sports since he was 4. For many years he did not play team sports at all without there being a referee/umpire to resolve disputes and parents on the sideline watching and shouting. It was rare that parental shouting is limited to general shouts of encouragement. Far too often the parents are yelling because their child is not doing what he/she is supposed to, at least in the parent’s mind, or worse shouting instructions– go left, no right, kick the ball, what the hell are you doing, pay attention.

Often after the game the feedback to the child comes in one of two extremes: here of the list of things that you should have done differently or wow you were wonderful. Even the latter feedback has its drawbacks. It can place importance on sports that often goes beyond what encouragement the child receives for his/her other interests.

Let me share a few examples. My wife coached my son’s soccer team from the ages of 6-10. At these ages all kids of all skill levels are encouraged to participate. The primary focus is on skill development with a side of fun thrown in. The idea is build a love of the game. One year the coaches had to ask a father to leave and threatened to ban him for the season because he was verbally abusive to his son. This was a shy awkward child that over the course of the season, while never becoming a star learned to have fun playing. BTW, the father was thrown out of A PRACTICE. Not even a game.

On the other end, once my son started playing travel soccer, we would see teams decked out in very expensive matching outfits. Often parents would line up, form a bridge and cheer as their kids ran through the bridge at the beginning of the game. I am sure that these parents saw themselves as supportive as opposed to my view–way over the top. It was typically parents from teams like this who would be shouting out for their kid to hurt the other team. Several teams were clearly coached to get away with as much illegal pushing, grabbing and kicking as possible. I am still talking about 11-14 year olds.

I wish that I could say I was always one of the good parents. Always? Not a chance. I did try to limit shouting to encouragement during the game and have D let me know what he thought of the game and his play before I said anything.

The eye opening moment came for me at the beginning of freshman baseball. The high school coach showed two videos. The first were examples of parents over the edge but in a way that one could feel that some parent somewhere could act this way. My favorite was a mom exhorting her 4 year old daughter on how to win at pin-the-tail on the donkey at a birthday party. It ends with the angry and frustrated mom slamming the door on her way out and telling her daughter to find her own ride home.

The second video is by a man who has coached from Jr. High through college. He has many messages but the main one is to release your child to the sport. Let your child make the experience theirs, not yours. 

I cannot describe in words the impact of both these videos. I just wish they were required viewing for all parents with children in sports and for all coaches. There is so much good that can come from participating in sports. Let’s allow our children to get the best of the experience.


About 48facets
What you read is what you get.

One Response to Kid’s Sports and Parents

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