Three Tried and True Tips for Sports Parents
There is not much that I enjoy more than watching my three children have fun and play hard on the court or field. There is so much that kids can learn by participating in youth sports, beyond the obvious benefits of physical activity. Recent pieces on NPR and from the CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlight new research that reinforces the important role that youth sports can play in the healthy development of kids.
But there are also plenty of stories out there about the unpleasant tales of youth sports. From parents who assault the officials or coaches involved in their local or regional programs because they didn’t agree with a call or strategy, to the too-early specialization in a single sport, there is certainly room for improvement.
I’ve been an athlete, a volunteer coach, a paid coach, a volunteer sports league administrator, a volunteer travel basketball club founder, a regional school district board member, and a sports mom. Heck, I was even a Gatorade Mom a few years back!
Here are three of my top tips to keep in mind if you’re interested in being a successful sports parent:
- Play with your kids. You don’t have to be awesome — you just have to be present. Especially when they are younger, the kids are going to remember that you played catch in the backyard with them, not that you can’t throw a curve ball. If you don’t know the rules, or don’t have a clue about the stuff that you can be working on…check in with the coaches, watch videos or search websites for drills, chat with other parents on the sidelines. There are tons of ways to learn more, especially if you don’t consider yourself “sporty”. If you want them to have fun while playing sports, you should also try to have fun.
- If you have not been selected as the coach of the team, don’t try to coach your player (or anyone else’s) during games. It’s often very confusing for kids to try and do the things their coach is asking them to do while also trying to do what their parent is yelling for them to do from the sidelines. Please don’t misunderstand — there IS a place for being a supportive parent on and off the court, field, or rink. But complaining about the decisions of coaches related to playing time or strategy, the calls of the refs, and especially about the performance of other players should be avoided. There was an article called “What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent — and What Makes a Great One” that reminds us that the thing that kids love to hear from their parents after a game is so simple a phrase — “I love to watch you play.” Your child will suspect you don’t mean it when you say those six words after they heard you yelling from the sidelines the whole game for them to take more shots or play better defense.
- Help out. Not everyone can commit to be a volunteer youth sports coach, or has the personality to enjoy coaching. But there are ways that everyone can be involved. There are plenty of one-time-only tasks you could help with if a larger time commitment just won’t work right now. Does your club or league have a board? If so, they could probably use some help lining the fields or with fundraising efforts. Coaches enjoy more able bodies to help run stations at practice and keep kids moving at all times — bring your sneakers and let the coach know you’ve got an hour to spare. If you have thick skin and a heap of patience, let your league know that you’d be willing to officiate a game! Are you on email all the time and enjoy connecting with other parents? Volunteer to help with team communications and make phone calls or text messages to other parents when a snow day means no practice or a thunderstorm delays the soccer game. Coaches and league administrators usually don’t have the chance to take many photos throughout the season, so it’s a real pleasure to get photos from parents and fans to post on the team website and share with sponsors. If you are unable to find time to help, consider donating snacks for the concession stand or money to the scholarship fund. All of these little things add up!
These three tips are things that I try to keep in mind in my own life as a sports parent. What works for you? I’d love to hear your advice.