Recently SportsSignup had the chance to interview Janis B. Meredith, the sports mom behind the widely read and respected sportsparenting blog JBMThinks. She’s been a sports mom for 20 years, and a coach’s wife for 28, and sees life from both sides of the bench. We hope all the sports moms and dads out there take something away from her advice.
What are some of your favorite things about being a sports mom?
I’ve been a sports mom for 20 years and my youngest is now playing college volleyball. What I’ve loved about it over the years is watching my kids succeed and have victories.
What are some of the hardest things about being a sports mom?
It’s hard to watch your kids go through struggles, feel down about themselves. It’s hard to watch them work hard and still not get in the game.
Having two daughters and a son all heavily involved in youth sports, would you say there is any real difference between raising a female athlete vs. a male athlete?
I don’t like to label kids one way or the other; but it seems like the girls dealt more with team drama, girls gettng along, etc. My girls were more emotional about conflicts and struggles. My son–‐–‐and this just may be his personality–‐–‐seemed more steady in his reactions to things. His teams didn’t seemed to have as much drama, although boys’ teams are not totally drama–‐free zones. My husband, who’s coached both boys and girls, sees a definite difference. He couldn’t treat the softball girls the same way he treated the football players. He felt girls were much more sensitive.
How important are the parents in a youth athlete’s career?
They are the most important influence. I believe that a child brings to the court or game what he learns in the home. For instance, if his parents are complaining about the coach and saying negative things about him, the child will carry that to the team and will most likely have a difficult time respecting the coach too.
Can you still be a great youth sports parent even if you know nothing about sports?
Of course! I knew nothing about volleyball before my daughters started playing, or soccer before my kids played. You will learn by watching the game and it’s okay to ask your kids questions about the game. It shows your interest and support.
How can a parent–‐coach find a good balance between their two sets of responsibilities?
This is a tough line to draw, but a parent who decides to coach his child’s team must be willing to do what’s best for the team, no matter if it means his child doesn’t get the playing time or the position he wants. He should talk to his child about this situation, telling him that his responsibility as a coach is to the team first. “I love you and love being your dad, but when I’m coaching, I have to coach other kids too and I am responsible for the whole team, not just you.” Something along those lines. It’s almost like he has to be willing to wear the coaching hat at practice and games, and as soon as it’s over, he can put his parent hat back on. Not easy for a child to grasp.
What mistakes do a lot of sports parents make and how can new sports parents avoid them?
Many parents try to fight their kids’ battles for them and they are not doing them any favors when they do. They also try to manipulate situations, always wanting to smooth the path for the kids. I understand wanting our kids to have good experiences and there’s nothing wrong with looking for good youth sports environments, but sometimes they go overboard, like looking for a team where their child will have no one to challenge him at his position. Life is just not like that, and we will help our kids be stronger if we stop trying to make things perfect for them all the time.
My daughter is a college volleyball player now and she is in a situation where she is fighting for every minute on the court. She transferred from a school where the program was easier and she would have been starting, to a school much more competitive. Part of me said, “no, stay where you know you’ll get lots of playing time.” But the other part said, “Janis, let her go; let her be challenged.” I see her challenge now and I know, without a doubt, that she is growing stronger as a person because of it. And quite honestly, after she graduates from college, when she applies for jobs or raises her children, it won’t make a bit of a difference how many minutes she played. But the strength she got from the challenge will make a difference in her life.
Making things easier for our kids isn’t always the best way to make them strong.
What do you think are some of the biggest issues facing youth sports today?
Safety has been front and center a lot. Concussions and sexual abuse, specifically. I think we must do whatever we can to make youth sports as safe a possible, while knowing that there is absolutely no way to totally control all the variables, especially when it comes to injury.
I also think that over controlling, obsessive, pushy parents are a huge issue. They are getting good coaches fired, filing lawsuits, and manipulating the system in hopes that their child will succeed, even get a chance to play in college.
What’s your best piece of advice for sports parents?
Learn how to bite your tongue. Around your kids, around the coaches, in the bleachers, around other parents. Let the kids play, let them struggle, let them fight, let them learn. Be supportive, stay positive and learn to let them go.