Editor’s note: Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Justis Creative Communications.
My 9-year-old grandson just finished his most competitive sports season.
He was “recruited” to play on an AAU basketball team after he was seen at a camp hosted by the local college men’s team.
AAU basketball, even for third-graders, is more intense and serious than city recreation programs. Practices are more organized, prices rise and some travel is necessary. My grandson’s team was mostly successful in the win-loss column, finishing second in the state tournament.
He loved it.
I loved it, too. But as an advocate for youth sports, supporting Positive Coaching Alliance and its goal of making “Better Athletes, Better People,” I was uncomfortable with some of what I saw from my vantage point in the bleachers.
Moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, simmer down.
The most flagrant no-no I witnessed was a parent yelling coaching directions at their child on the court. A close second was the screaming of negative remarks directed at their child — too many “don’t do this” or “do this” instead of “nice try.”
What if the advice was different from what the coach had told the players to do?
I found it amazing there weren’t more kids in tears out of embarrassment and frustration.
The most important reasons kids play competitive sports is to have fun and to play with their friends. This holds true for the talented and less talented. Parents need to remember participating in sports provides life lessons such as fairness, sportsmanship, self-discipline and the building of relationships.
Ted Spiker, interim chair of the department of journalism at the University of Florida, is the author of “DOWN SIZE: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success.” He wrote about ways parents can game-plan to improve the youth sports environment in an article for Time Ideas. His bio notes he scored a total of two points during his entire eighth grade basketball season.
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l Cheer for the play that helps the play. He said it’s natural to celebrate the goal, TD or game-saving catch. He urges more accolades for the player who does the hard work before the play. “Send an ‘attaboy’ or ‘attagirl’ to the kids who does one tiny thing — as part of a chain of events — that helped make the big play happen ... life is about collaborating with a team ...”
l Dial down the emotion. “... many youth coaches make a mistake by having a rah-rah-get-riled-up persona during the game ... athletes (especially younger ones) perform better in a less emotionally charged atmosphere ... cheer and praise with enthusiasm, but with a tone of voice that exudes calmness ... Watch with compassion, not judgment.”
l What does your child really want? “... kids don’t want a constant yammering of tips and tricks from you ... kids prefer our role on the support staff: We’re chauffeurs, cheerleaders (within reason), peanut-butter-sandwich-makers, ice-pack fetchers, bag-smell-taker-outers.” May not be glamorous, but that is our role.
l Be unsocial: Spiker said if you are prone to outbursts, and how many of us are not, watch the game away from all the other parents since the “pack mentality contributes to a pile-on-the-ref sideline.” My son-in-law is great at this. He’s always off by himself where he can mutter to himself.
l Play with, not talk to. “If you want to connect with your kid over sports and offer your wisdom about improvement, your contribution shouldn’t come anywhere near game time.” This is not new. No one is saying don’t offer encouragement, but be the friend, not the coach.
l Respect the hierarchy. “If you want to question the coach, offer advice constructively on nongame days and not in public. Want a say in how things are done? Volunteer.”
l Offer questions, not analysis. “After a game, resist the urge to explain ways your child could improve ... If your kids want a breakdown analysis of how they played, they’ll ask you for it.” They probably won’t, however.
Maybe we should just ask our kids what they want from us?
Proactive Coaching Newsletter No. 15 provided common sense from the kids themselves who were interviewed after their high school athletics careers were over. This is what they said they liked about having their parents present at events.
• Cheering for everyone on the team.
• Supporting them win or lose.
• Not getting on the refs, players or coaches.
• Supporting when not getting much playing time.
• Cheering at appropriate times in a civilized manner.
• Remembering that everyone is trying their best.
• Giving them room to grow while staying by their side to help them grow up.
• What made them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable?
• Arguing with the ref.
• Trying to coach the coach.
• Discouraging comments delivered to players.
• Yelling at them when they are trying to concentrate.
• Yelling advice makes them play worse.
• When parents boo.
• “My job is to listen to the coach, not my parents”.
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• ”Let me be who I am, let me enjoy myself out on the court and don’t try to improve my game with your negativity.”
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