Don’t be “that” Sport Parent
The sport parent. A seemingly innocuous term that often is synonymous with a vision of a screaming soccer mom or hockey dad delivering a spittle laced tirade at a referee who has missed a call or a coach who isn’t giving their child sufficient ice time or god forbid; a child who has failed to score on a breakaway.
As someone who (full disclosure) has worked in the amateur sport system for over 30 years and coached all ages from the 5 year old tee ballers to the varsity high school basketball level, I am imploring you to resist the inevitable temptation to be that crazy parent! I know how difficult that may be when you get caught up in your child’s sport activity…I may have crossed the line a time or two myself over the years…but I beg you to resist the urge to lose your mind on the sidelines! Should this happen, I can only hope that someone captures it on video and that get to see how completely crazy you will seem. In this age of rampant social media, you do not want to be one of 2017’s most viewed Youtube videos of Parents Gone Wild.
As a “retired sport parent”, whose kids are now young adults, and as someone who gets to coach without a vested interest in my own child, I’d like to offer up a few tips to new sport parents to ensure that you enjoy this new adventure…a top ten list if you will…ok so there are only seven here..math was never my strong suit!
There are countless academic studies and surveys that time and again find that the #1 reason that kids play sport is for fun. #2 is often listed as being with friends and learning new skills is up there as well. Winning is way, way down the list for kids and so it should be for you as a parent as well. The number one reason for quitting sport, again found in numerous studies, is that kids are no longer having fun. If you forget all the other tips on this list, please remember at least this one.
- Get Involved
You may not have the skills, nor the time to coach, but the sport system in this country absolutely relies on volunteers. Become a team manager, a scorekeeper, coordinate the snacks, build the team phone/email tree, prep the field for games, coordinate team parties, but please offer to be a part of the team in some way. As a long time coach, I can tell you that having parents involved makes life so much easier. Play catch with your kids, kick a ball around, go public skating. Those are memories you both will have for a lifetime and they will help to develop your child’s skills.
- Provide Positive Feedback
This one is very simple…if you aren’t the coach please don’t try and coach from the sidelines! You will only confuse your child and trust me, your advice is often counter productive to what the coach is trying to impart to young athletes. Things like “great play” or “nice try” or applause are always appreciated. It should go without saying that the same approach should apply to comments about officiating. Often that referee or umpire is a high school kid, who plays the game themselves and who are trying to earn some spending money and so telling them to “open your eyes” is not cool! Your child may be that referee in a few years time and imagine how you would feel about some wild eyed parent screaming obscenities at them. It is actually a sporting gesture to even cheer for a good play by the opposing team on occasion.
- Be a Good Listener
Listen to the parents around you at games and ask yourself if you want to be that obnoxious screamer. Listen to your kids post game/post practice instead of critiquing their performance. Listen to the coaches advice to their players during games and practices. Listen to the cheers. Listen to the sounds of sport…the crack of the bat, the squeaking shoes on the hardwood court, the whoosh of skate blades on a fresh sheet of ice. One of my favourite quotes is:” It is better to remain silent and be thought stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. “ Just listen!
- Your child is not going to play in the NHL/CFL/NBA/MLS
Statistically, less than 1% of kids who play minor hockey in this country will play in the NHL. The odds are similar, if not even less, in every other sport. Think back to tip #1…kids play for fun. You need to avoid living vicariously through your child’s sport career. Kids who are phenoms at 9 and 10 often are not the stars of the game at 16. There are just too many variables at play…growth spurts, decreased interest in the sport, injury…to think that your atom level hockey child is ever going to be on Hockey Night in Canada.
- Encourage Multiple Sport Participation
We have become a society that encourages sport specialization far too early in a child’s development. This has led to a plethora of sport related injuries that simply weren’t seen 20 years ago and a drop out rate among children that can be attributed in large part to our obsession with specializing too young. Some of the greatest athletes in the world attest to the importance of multi sport experiences. Wayne Gretzky was a superb lacrosse player, 70% of NFL players were multi sport athletes. Multi sport athletes have better fundamental movement skills and are more spatially aware than single sport athletes and most importantly, the burn out rate in multi sport athletes is much lower.
- Enjoy the Long Term Benefits
I have a group of guys with who I coached baseball with during our children’s little league days over 15 years go. We remain close friends and get together to talk baseball over a few beers and a good meal several times a year. I remain close friends with basketball teammates from university days 40 years later and even though we may only see one another every 10 years, we are still able to fall back into the rhythms of camaraderie like no time has passed. You will make good friends during your child’s sport lifespan and they will have friends for life and really, that is perhaps the greatest gift that sport can give us.
I hope you will find some of these notions useful, as your child experiences the joys of playing sport. The beauty of sport is perhaps best expressed in a quote from Nelson Mandela.
Sport has the power to change the world,” Mandela said. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.