My last kid, the erstwhile little guy, my 8th-grader, finished up his youth wrestling career this winter. Spring soccer will be done in a month. After about 20 years of coaching youth sports, I now look ahead into the great unknown.
I also, of course, look back. The kids? Many times, they got me through the week. Sure, some of them were challenges, but that was just part of it. The parents? Mostly good, many great. But some of the things I saw and experienced made me wonder if we should have parents embarking on the youth sports journey ask themselves this: Do I want to be This parent or That parent?
This parent recognizes most youth coaches are volunteers, and they in turn pitch in when they are able. That parent sits back, entitled, not lifting a finger to set up a field or move a mat or make a phone call to help the coaches and team.
This parent lets the coaches do the coaching. That parent hovers around practice, over/hyper-correcting and sometimes contradicting the coaches; in competitions, it’s even worse.
This parent helps their child respect the coach. That parent questions the coach’s decisions and, worse, competence, sometimes through the genre of the subversive-diatribe-car-ride. Kids can develop great relationships with committed coaches, even if the coach isn’t a guru at a given sport. Why undermine that?
This parent is a level-headed bystander at competitions. That parent goes berserk at “the game.” Wins are celebrated like the kid/team won the World Cup or Wimbledon. Losses are accompanied by cursing and sometimes portable chair tossing. I once had a parent ask me on a Wednesday if I was ready for the “big game” on Saturday — in seven-year-old 5 vs. 5 soccer.
This parent watches the game, not the refs. That parent screams at the refs. Enough said on this. The tradition of booing and criticizing the refs/officials befuddles and disgusts me. In my years of coaching youth sports, I’ve yet to encounter a biased ref. It’s always the same: the team that got the call thinks the call was right; the team that didn’t get the call thinks it’s wrong. When are we going to understand this?
This parent accepts losing. That parent is always blaming someone else for the loss, usually the ref, but sometimes the coach and, most disgracefully, the child’s teammates.
This parent leaves the sport on the field/on the mat/in the arena. That parent carries advice, criticism, or even excessive praise over to the car, dinner table, vacation, etc.
This parent realizes that in youth sports the stakes are low and there’s little consequence. That parent is not only too worried about “the game,” but they would cut your throat to get their kid on “the” team.
This parent plays their children in leagues with the focus on development and fun. That parent, lured by the increasing industry of people making money off the unrealistic dreams of the parents of eight-year-olds, “shops” their kid around, a mercenary approach leaving the kid without any sense of team, community, or shared spirit — three things, by the way, you could say are among the most important aspects of playing sports.
This parent encourages and supports their kid’s participation. That parent turns a youth sport into a death march, taking the “We don’t quit” philosophy to the extreme, and forcing kids — think of the wording here — to play a sport. Every season, parents should probably ask themselves a simple, calibrating question: “Do I enjoy this more than my kid?”
This parent’s kids will get a ton out of the experience of youth sports. That parent’s kids? Some will burn out. Some may succeed, but at what cost?
Sometimes a message is subtle, but here it’s not: Don’t be That parent.