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Youth Sports Parents – The Golden Rules

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All too often we hear not only of coaches who are way too intensified for the level of coaching they are doing, but also we inevitably hear of youth sports parents who are out of control. For true youth athletic development, we would like a nice balance of positive behavior on both the coaching and youth sports parenting side.

Developing the youth athlete is much more than simply getting the kids the proper instruction they need. It is more than providing them the resources they require to help get their physical talents reaching out to their full potential. We also need to provide the necessary tools emotionally for kids to not only succeed in youth sports, but also to enjoy them. They work hand-in-hand. The more you enjoy something the more you are apt to do it and try and get better at it, right?

First and foremost, when talking about ways we as parents can best be supportive of our kids in sports, I think of the Beatles tune “Let it Be.” Why? Because that is what we need to do for our youth sports coaches – Let Them Be. Let them be coaches and do what they are capable of doing. Hovering over coaches at practice and games, consistently tossing our comments in whenever he or she turns around is akin to having someone constantly poke you in the back. It’s annoying, intrusive and rude. Stop and let them do the coaching the way they know how. Back off some. That doesn’t mean not paying attention and not making coaches accountable. It seemly means that they are doing the coaching, not you. Let them do it.

I see some parents pacing the sidelines as if they were coaching the Super Bowl, cringing with every move the coach would make, and perhaps even throwing in a couple of choice comments. I coached an all-star baseball team one season. I had a habit of hanging out in the on-deck circle, which was outside of the dugout but almost part of the dugout area, while the game was going on in front of me. I was ‘exposed’, if you will, to the crowd. One player’s dad was in the crowd letting me know that his son (when he wasn’t playing) should be in the game. His son was a center fielder. If a play was in the direction of where his son would be playing and wasn’t made by the player we had out there at the time, I would hear it. The boy’s parent was quick to let me and everyone else know that his son would have had that ball if he was in the game. That kind of parent behavior is distracting, and makes the child uncomfortable as well as probably all of the other folks in the stands.

Let the coach do the coaching. As a parent, what you can do, and what I have encouraged parents to do when I coach, is to work with the child on his or her own. I will use baseball as an example. Play catch with the child. Hit them some grounders or fly balls to practice their fielding. Take them to the batting cages to work more on their hitting. In other words, get them more practice time outside of the regular practice.

Secondly, I would encourage all parents to not bring a stop watch, or pen and paper to a game. What am I talking about here? I have seen too many of us (yes, even though I’ve coached, I’m a parent, as well) keep detailed accounts of how much playing time our child is getting as compared to other kids. Holy smokes, a couple of times I thought that I would hire a couple of them to keep track of my financial stuff seeing how detailed they were. I have seen some of my family members do the same. Not only will you drive yourself nuts but you are going to inevitably say something after the game in the presence of your child. Your child probably has not paid attention as closely as you have and would not normally be aware of it. Now you have, so you have probably thrown this bit of emotional baggage onto him or her.

Let them play. Don’t worry about the playing time. You will enjoy watching the game a lot more and your young sports athlete will have one less thing they have to worry about when playing. Now, if you feel that playing time is so obviously egregiously out of whack, then it might be time to simply set up a time to talk with coach one on one.

Umpires, referees, line judges, you name it, are targets of parental frustration, as well. As with the coaches, leave the reffing to the referee. Sure, they’re going to make a bad call, maybe even at a critical part of the game. They are human. Get over it. Your child needs to be able to see that sometimes life doesn’t play ‘fair’ and you get a bad break. They need to be able to see how they can react to that in a positive manner. Seeing you go off on an umpire because of a bad call sets a lousy example. It also sets up a convenient crutch. That can sometimes be an excuse used as to why a team lost a game. I have heard that explanation more times that I care to, unfortunately. “We would have won, but the ref was so bad… blah… blah… blah.” It’s a nice scapegoat to have, and certainly an unhealthy practice.

Enjoy your child participating in youth sports activities by being as supportive and encouraging as you can, both at practice and games, as well when at home. Leave the coaching and refereeing to the appropriate folks and your child will benefit and so will you, seeing that your future Hall-of-Famer is enjoying the experience.

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