One of the scourges of modern youth sports is out-of-line parents. The headlines are full of incidents involving overzealous parents. Odds are, each of us can pinpoint an incident of ugly parent behavior at a sports event no matter how small a town we live in. It’s threatening the very existence of youth sports and, more importantly, taking the FUN out of the game.
But when is it okay to get involved as a parent?
“So what happens when you’re the parent that yells for your own son (good but not the star) to sit so that a few of the others on the team can get some playing time because you’re up by 10 to a way lesser team? ”
Somebody I respect greatly asked me the above question a few weeks ago. It’s a tough question to answer, but I’ll give it a try. I’ll try to answer from a coach’s perspective and try to wall off my parental perspective because Lord knows, I’ve screwed up many times on that side of this issue. I’ve been there. I’ve felt the parental frustration seep its way into my competitive fire in less than positive ways.
So, here’s my personal philosophy on sports parenting and complaints.
First and foremost, a parent should be their kid’s biggest fan, not be their sports agent. There are truly legitimate situations in which a parent should intervene on behalf of their sports child. Physical, mental, or emotional abuse from either other players or from coaches should be reported immediately. In these situations, the parent needs to be the bulldog, the protector, and jump in and refuse to back down until a resolution is achieved.
But sports parents, listen up…Depth chart and playing time and play calling probably do not fall into this category of necessary parental intervention.
I’ve always felt there are three things every parent needs to do before they get involved. They are not easy to do. A parent needs patience and the ability to wall off emotion in this context.
- Observe the situation from an honest viewpoint.
- Be honest. This can be soooo hard, especially if you have those visions of your kid being the best thing since sliced bread. Step back and take an honest look at where your kid’s talent falls in respect to the other kids.
- Allow your kid to handle the simple situations. Have them find out from the coach or other players where they sit and develop a plan to get better.
My playing time thoughts depend on the level of play. If it’s a varsity high school level of competition, I believe in playing as few, or as many, players as necessary for the situation. We want to be highly competitive at the varsity level. We also want to balance player/program development, situational skills we may need to groom for later use, and get game reps with new plays or skills.
The developmental level of competition, middle school, freshman, junior varsity is where I like to play everyone as equally as possible during a game. Sure, the goal is still to win the contest, but we need EVERYONE in the program learning how to do their job in order to achieve success as a team. The game situation is where we can identify individual or team areas for improvement while gaining experience. The future, both the near future or the far future, carries a higher priority at the developmental level than winning or losing. (The developmental level is where many parents allow the basic purpose to slip away and the emotions to pressurize.)
Finally, there is the private or club sports environment. This area has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. My only advice right now for parents in these situations is as follows:
If you, as a parent, are unhappy with a club situation, whether playing time, depth chart, game management or practice management, then I suggest talking with your kid about the situation. If it bothers your kid and/or the other kids on the team, then schedule a meeting with the coach.
Schedule this meeting at a neutral emotion time (NOT before, after, or during a game, a practice, or in a public setting.). Meet with the goal being to solve the problem, not create new problems.
If you are unhappy with the outcomes of this meeting, I suggest moving to a new situation for the next season.
If you are unhappy seek a viable alternative or take advantage of alternative solutions that are presented to you. Don’t spread your misery. Sports are too much fun to be blanketed in this negativity.
Sports can teach kids a lot about life. Allow them to learn. Allow them to develop. Allow them to understand being part of the whole is better than trying to be the whole part.
Give them the opportunity.