I am often asked my opinion on things that involve football. The questions range from how to find which player position best suits a child to who I think will win the Super Bowl, and pretty much everything in between. I have many thoughts on the game, on coaching, and on improving performance, so I am starting Passing Thoughts to share some of those thoughts. I welcome your comments and conversation. –KR

Friday, July 10, 2015

Things to Avoid as a Sports Parent

**This column also appeared in the Argus Leader on July 6, 2015.

Summer is the height of youth sports season with many families hitting the ballparks and fields to watch their favorite young athletes play.  We've all been at a youth sporting event where an overzealous parent made things difficult for other families or their own athlete. In an effort to avoid those moments, it is a good time to remind parents of some critical things to avoid as a sports parent:

Never Criticize.
As the biggest supporters of our young athletes, we all have answers and input to make the team better. It is extremely important that parents never criticize and critique the coach, officials, or teammates in front of young athletes. Criticizing can become contagious. Athletes see criticizing as an outlet for failure and respond by criticizing teammates, officials, and coaches. Young athletes need to learn that things will occur outside of their control, and they need to accept it and move on.

Never Bribe.
We want to help motivate our young athletes, and giving incentives or bribes seems like such an easy strategy. Using flashy uniforms or extrinsic secondary rewards to encourage kids to play and work hard can really come back to work against those well-meaning parents. Athletes will begin to only work for those incentives and develop unrealistic expectations of flashy and expensive gear for minimal performance. Any coach will tell you, the best motivation comes from within your athlete, so resist the temptation to motivate extrinsically.

Never question a coach at practice or in front of the kids.
There is a line here that parents need to respect. Asking questions of your coach is fine, and should be expected in all sports. It's choosing the wrong time and place for those questions that can cause
problems. Questioning a coach in front of the athletes at practice creates an atmosphere that quickly takes away respect for the coach, parent, and athlete. People view confrontation and instantly take
sides, and that will seriously undermine your team environment. Always remember to take time to reflect, and then if you still have questions, reach out to the coach at the appropriate time and place.

Never "coach" after the game.

I have frequently written about an eye opening article about the worst part of youth athletics: The car ride home. Parents try to be sensitive since they don't want to be "that parent" who will coach
from the sideline. Instead, they wait until they get into the car and begin giving what they believe is "superior guidance" to their young athletes. Kids want to enjoy and talk about the fun things from the
game. They want to hear that you loved watching them play, and you are proud of their efforts. They see their coach as the person who should be giving that "superior guidance," and mom or dad should be giving support. They need to know that you are their biggest fan, no matter what, so don't lose perspective on their needs.

Never teach them that winning is the most important thing.
In youth sports, parents who are focused exclusively on wins and losses can create an environment that takes away from FUN and equals FRUSTRATION. When parents get wrapped up in wins and losses, kids start to feel unbelievable pressure that causes frustration and can lead to displeasure with the sport altogether. Set realistic goals with your young athletes that are about individual performance and seeing improvement in themselves and their team, then be sure to help them work toward those goals. They learn far more about work ethic and long-term rewards from that approach than they do from watching the scoreboard.

It is difficult to always get it right as parents, so even when we fall short on these it is important to keep trying to do our best as role models and leaders for our kids. After all of these cautions and “nevers,” perhaps the most important of all is to never forget how important you are in your young athlete’s eyes...and never forget to enjoy their efforts and your time together

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