Being a sports parent is great. And while some aspects are maybe less fun that others (like 5 AM rink call times), watching your kids fall in love with a sport, make new friends, learn new skills, and have a blast is something every parent should get to experience. But when you ask coaches and officials what the biggest downside to their job is, most are going to say it’s the parents. Sports parents can make or break a season, and we can also make or break our children’s attitude towards sports in general. With so many kids quitting youth sports by the time they are 13 it has to make you wonder—could the coaches be right? Are sports parents actually making youth sports worse?
There are certainly a multitude of reasons why so many kids give up on sports, and even if parents aren’t the main reason here are 5 things we can do to make certain youth sports are a great experience for everyone.
1. Let the coach do their job.
There are going to be plenty of times in your child’s athletic career when you don’t agree with the coach. Maybe you think your child deserves more playing time, should get to play a specific position, or you don’t agree with the way they run their practices. Unless you’re suffering under a truly terrible coach (which is always possible) try to let the coach do their job and don’t coach from the sidelines. It puts your child in an uncomfortable spot because who are they supposed to listen to? If you really want to get involved volunteer as an assistant coach and work with the head coach to change things you feel could be improved that would make the whole season better for everyone.
2. Remember this is still a game.
Healthy competition is great, and based on several of the discussions we’ve had here on Outside the Lines it seems like most sports parents feel the same way. The problem is when winning becomes the only thing that matters and sports parents sacrifice the fun spirit of youth sports in order to win at all costs. Remember, at the end of the day this is still a game and most kids are playing because they want to hang out with their friends and have a good time. Winning is always nice but don’t let that overshadow the other benefits youth sports has to offer like teaching leadership, sportsmanship, teamwork, and the value of hard work.
3. Do not try to relive your own athletic career through your child’s.
You may have been a superstar youth athlete back in the day but we have to remember that our kids are not just mini versions of us! They are their own people with their own likes and dislikes, goals, and dreams. You might have loved baseball but maybe your son is more interested in tennis or swimming. Or maybe they don’t want to play on a super high-powered travel team and would rather just get involved in an intramural league. Or maybe they don’t particularly like sports and would rather get involved in band. The point is we can encourage our kids to play sports (and let’s be honest, we’re the ones that signed them up in the first place!) but at a certain point we should make sure our kids are playing youth sports because they want to, not just because we want them to want to.
4. Be supportive.
You don’t have to sugarcoat everything, but you don’t have to point out every single mistake either. Constructive criticism is just that…constructive (i.e. helpful.) It doesn’t help a youth athlete to tell them what they did wrong (you were up to bat 4 times and didn’t even get on once!) without suggesting how they could improve (you were just a little late on the swing. A second faster and you would have had it.) Also be sure you don’t just point out what they did wrong, but also applaud what they did right. A few words of encouragement are often all it takes to help a child recover from a loss and inspire them to get back onto the field.
5. Support the team every chance you get.
Of course you are going to cheer and applaud every time your own child makes a great play, but don’t forget there are a dozen other kids that deserve cheers too! Great spectators (and that’s what we are sports parents!) cheer for everyone because your child is part of a team, and that team deserves our support.