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A parent's primary job ...

The vast majority of parents involved in youth sports try the best they know how to help their children. They want their kids to have fun, learn good character traits and have a positive experience when playing aKaren Coffin sport. In the last few years, sport parents have made the news for the wrong reasons: fighting with other parents, verbally and physically abusing officials, harassing coaches and putting too much pressure on their children.
These people are not the majority. They are ones who have lost perspective about what’s important. They’re teaching some very bad lessons, but the bottom line is that they are damaging their children. The “winning at all costs” mentality carries a very high cost indeed. It’s not the parent’s job to endorse that mentality; but to prevent it.

A parent’s primary job is to support their child. This responsibility has many facets and some are easier than others. Providing the support of basic physical needs, like feeding, doing laundry, making schedules and providing transportation is an ongoing commitment. It can drive parents nuts as home life can end up revolving around getting all these things done smoothly. They are actually the “easier” tasks because they can be put on a “to do” list. The frazzle factor is high, but the ones most affected are the parents.
The truly long-term responsibilities involve paying attention to what is happening to the player. One is to watch out for injuries. Pay attention to pain. Pain is different from the muscle soreness that often accompanies athletic participation. “Overuse” injuries are a big concern in kids. Playing one sport exclusively all year round is an invitation to an overuse injury. Performing a skill, like throwing a curve ball, before the elbow is developed fully, can do permanent damage. Not getting enough rest causes problems.
Parents have the main responsibility to teach and expect good behavior from their kids. Back up the coach, school or league if a behavior problem results in consequences for your child. It’s very hard to do and your first impulse may be to intervene on behalf of your child, questioning the rule, the infraction and the severity of the punishment. Be mindful of what lesson you are teaching by your reaction to the situation.
Leave the coaching to the coach! Yelling advice from the stands doesn’t help anybody. Helping your child practice does, as long as you aren’t contradicting what the coach teaches. Remember, the game is for the kids, not the adults. Criticizing coaches is the new national pastime, in my opinion. Please be careful not to destroy your child’s respect for their own coach.
Each child is different, and parents know their own child best. Watch for your player’s emotional health by noticing a change of any kind in their behavior, especially a negative change. Notice differences in sleep patterns or eating habits. Pay attention if a “talker” turns quiet. Expect tears when something goes bad. Deal with them gently. Frequent tears may mean something else.
Warning flags about emotional damage might be outbursts of anger while playing, resisting going to practice, unrelenting irritability, over-reaction to mistakes, constant complaining about coaches or teammates, and loss of commitment or effort. (Yes, I know this describes about all teenagers: a development time fraught with roller-coaster emotions, so it can be difficult to discern real problems, but pay attention.)
Communication and understanding are the keys if you are worried about your child’s emotional health. Talk to your child. Talk to other adults who can help if there is a bad situation that needs to be addressed. Generally, the culprit is too much pressure. It can come from many sources, coaches, other kids, media or even the player themselves.
Expectations equal pressure! A player worried about not living up to expectations feels pressure. Fear of failure and the repercussions are hard enough for an adult to deal with, let alone a child. The very best thing parents can do to help kids experience the enjoyment and personal growth that can come from playing sports, is to let them know, by your words and deeds, that you love them unconditionally.
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Thanks to Margy VanLerberghe, Ph.D., for consultation on this column. Karen Coffin, retired coach, is a member of the Port Clinton High School Athletic Hall of Fame. She’s a writer and a facilitator for Ohio Coaching Education classes. Contact her at coachcoffin @cros.net.

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