One of the reasons that I am comfortable writing on—and hosting seminars—on the subject of youth sports is my own flawed experience as a sports “dad” for the past 25 years.
My mistakes in my interactions with my own children have been frequent, and I acknowledge those failures. My actions and words were sometimes less than what should have been, and on occasion I’ve even slipped into that murky area of being less than proud of my own public behaviour as a dad and an erstwhile recreational youth (in my case, baseball) coach.
I state this not with pride but rather with a great deal of genuine regret and humility. I have always tried to follow some important, timeless values that I hold in my heart and hoped to display to my own kids and any young people I coached. However, “human error” sometimes reared its head and I failed—in thought, words or action.
I hesitate to say I “learned” my lessons, because if I had, I would not still be flawed. But like many others, I constantly try to be better at it, and in recent years have shared my own experiences as part of attempting to help other parents and coaches along the way.
So, when I write about the way things “ought to be” in youth sports, I come from a place filled with my own mistakes.
I have also spent many hours over the past twenty years literally standing back, away from the ice, field and court, to observe the behaviour of coaches, fellow parents and sport administrators around me.
These countless experiences makes my recommendations and suggestions all the more concrete, practical and—hopefully—effective.
Here are five “little” things that can make a big difference for you as a parent:
1. As a parent-spectator, if you know you are prone to falling off the wagon (i.e. yelling at referees, players or other parents, for example) avoid temptation. Sit off to the side, away from others. If there are fellow parents who bring out the worst in you, don’t be unfriendly, but don’t engage them. If you do engage in conversation, do it with people you know who are positive and will help keep you on track.
2. Ask yourself: will I be OK later with what I’m saying or how I’m behaving right now? If my words/actions come back to me later, will I be able to justify or defend my behaviour to myself or to others?
3. If you are upset with or don’t agree with a coach’s decision (who’s starting, playing time, substitution and/or tactical choices) don’t confront the coach right after the game. Give yourself 24 hours to cool down. Generally, things feel better by then. If not, ask for a private meeting where you can discuss your concerns quietly.
4. Make the care ride home with your son or daughter enjoyable. Don’t start berating your son/daughter as soon as they get in the car. If you are annoyed by what happened at the game, discuss other things instead. Young players generally know how they played, and if they weren’t at their best, don’t need to be reminded by their mom or dad.
5. Let your child decide if they even want to talk about the game. If they don’t initiate a conversation about it, great. Focus on other things. If they do, let them speak and air their thoughts without judgment.