September 24, 2009

Cut the Chaos: Sports Parenting

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When my now 13-year-old son was much younger, he played in the YMCA basketball league. My husband was coaching, and I was an enthusiastic sideline regular. Maybe too enthusiastic, it turns out.

After one game in which my son had not played up to my standards, I asked my husband exasperatedly, “What was the matter with him? Why didn’t he pick up his man?” My husband answered calmly, “Because he’s eight.” In that moment, I became Reformed Sports Mom.

Since my reformation, I’ve spent hundreds of hours on the sidelines. I’ve been team mom, snack mom, photo-day mom, banner mom and fund-raising mom. I get sports; it’s about winning and losing. But it’s also about playing the game with honor — and that goes for parents too.

Do remember that these are kids, not professional athletes. Every player out there is a child: your daughter, her teammates and the opposition. They’ll win, they’ll lose, and they’ll cry or goof around. It’s a long road from T-ball to the NCAA. (And no, your baby won’t fall behind athletically if you don’t hire a private coach for her at age six, no matter what your crazy sports-parent neighbor claims.)

Don’t coach from the sidelines. If you are not wearing the goofy golf shirt that says “coach,” then it is not your place to instruct your child from the sidelines. Period. If your kids are constantly looking to you on the sidelines, chances are they’re not paying attention to the game. Plus, they’ll never learn to listen to their own instincts if you keep telling them what to do.

Do respect the coaches and the referees. At the youth sports level below junior high, most coaches and refs are volunteers. Some are great; some are not. But they are all devoting hours to training, coaching and calling games while wearing really bad outfits. Show up for practices and games on time and keep negative comments to yourself. And, please, think about how you’d look in kneesocks before you question a ref’s call.

Don’t celebrate excessively. It can be incredibly exciting when your team scores in the final seconds. But when your team wins, somebody else’s team loses. A little cheering is fine, but wild whooping and thunder sticks (yes, I’ve seen them at youth sports, folks) is too much. When your child is on the losing side, you’ll appreciate the restraint.

Do remember the solo athlete. It’s tough to be the goalie, pitcher or field-goal kicker. If your team benefits from a goalie’s mistake or a pitcher’s walk, keep your cheering to a minimum.

Don’t sign your kids up for multiple teams in the same season. Yes, I know that your kid is special, but there is no way a 10-year-old can manage two sports equitably. (Or manage them at all! Talk about chaos!) If you are hoping that sports will enhance your child’s life by teaching him teamwork and sacrifice, allowing him to play two sports simultaneously does exactly the opposite. It puts your child above the team, which is the wrong lesson.

Do have fun. Youth sports can be a great experience for kids and parents: new friends, new skills, lots of snacks. Remember what you are there for, though — a healthy outlet for youthful energy. Get yourself a floppy hat, some sunscreen and a cold iced tea. Find a positive cheer (”Go Blue!“) and always clap for both teams at the end of the game.

--from Lian Dolan, for Making Life Better

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