A letter to my former self as a new sports parent:
One day you’re going to get in the car with your kid’s water bottle that he left at home for the last time, that sour shoulder pads and cleat smell coming from the back seat, and the little chunks of dirt that have been knocked loose from muddy cleats all over the once new floor mats. You’re going to climb the stadium stairs one last time, listen to his name announced, watch him take the field and shoot a glance up your way and a little wave. You’re going to hear the last whistle, watch the last half time talk, the last hand shake, eat your last stadium hot dog, shade out that last bright sun beam blocking your view, and then you are going to get in the car and you won’t ever be back again.
Today may be the first time he sits in your lap as you lace up his cleats and then walks onto that field, and he may be terrible, he may be fantastic, he will likely have moments of both, but when it’s all over he’s still that piece of you that you love no matter what.
All I care about now at the end of this journey, is that he had fun, that he has memories that he cherishes rather than ones he hopes to forget. His playing time, lack of college offers that he never cared about or wanted anyway, coaches’ philosophies, club teams, stats – none of it mattered. Not one bit. Don’t waste time keeping up with the joneses of sports parents, just love every.single.second.
When he is small, sports will seem like such a milestone and you will be in a hurry to get him into as much as you can. If he shows promise you may start looking ahead, thinking you are depriving him if you don’t get him the training he deserves. Be ready, because the second it starts the comparison and expectations are instantly out of reach. Don’t miss the fun, don’t miss the laughs, don’t miss the chance to reassure when the tears come, hug him tight, hand him an ice pack when he gets hurt and then send him back out there. And when he wants a break, when he says he misses his friends, respect that request.
Don’t worry about what the coaches are doing, how the team is playing, who should be playing, if they are learning as fast as other teams, if they are a super star, or if they are winning. Just look at them – are they happy? Are they growing and learning and reaching and stepping outside of their comfort zone? Because at the end of their sports experience that’s all that matters. You won’t care about anything else when it’s over.
There are so many things outside of sports that he loves to do, that he is so amazing at. There are so many opportunities that are going to get missed if he is training all the time. He doesn’t want to play in college, that was my destiny, not his. But the things he learned playing sports he will use every day when he leaves for college next year.
Don’t let him forget that he has other talents, to explore as much as possible, to focus on the things he loves but to also constantly try something different just for the experience. Don’t let his self worth become directly tied to his athletic abilities. Don’t let your relationship become coach and player instead of parent and child.
Soak in every moment of every game, absorb the cheers, the goof ups, the missteps, the sometimes less than perfect effort, the sometimes mind blowing plays, the team events, the mud, the smell, the tears, the joy, because one day its going to be over.
You’re going to miss the smell that you think you hate on that drive home from practice, you’re going to miss the constant shuttling to and from practice, volunteer responsibilities and team events, you’re going to miss all the time you spent worrying about team stuff instead of just relaxing and watching him love the game, you’re going to remember those band-aid moments, emergency room visits, got cut from the team and then, years later, the being made captain moments. Hold on tight, and remember why he is playing, never miss an opportunity to experience the complete and total joy you get from just getting to watch him play, because it doesn’t last, and it doesn’t come back.
Kate Leavell is a high school varsity and youth girls' lacrosse coach in Atlanta. A US Lacrosse Coaches Education Program trainer, she is the author of the Coaches Emergency Practice Guide. Read more of her thoughts at kateleavell.com
What is in the water in Baltimore? Lacrosse magic! People used to ask the same thing about fast growing Minnesota lacrosse in the hot bed of Eden Prairie before the surrounding areas caught up. Surely they have some secret the rest of us don't. Maybe if we just push the kids a little harder, start them a little earlier, maybe we can catch up....
Let's look a little deeper into the real reason these hot beds exist- some of them are not even places where the sport has been around all that long. There's more to it than location.
1. Volume. It's simple math- if you have 200 kids to choose from then you have a greater chance of finding natural born athletes.
2. Competition. This goes back to volume, supply and demand. More kids, more competition, more drive to get better and be in the top of a very large pile.
3. Fundamentals as priority focus above and beyond all else and through any means that get the kids excited to work on them. (There's no place like a hot bed to see the most amazing stick tricks!)
Wait a minute- how are they getting the volume when our town is struggling to field a team with kids remotely in the same age group? What's the secret?! Let's take a look at our marketing...
I remember moving to Minnesota and wondering- in a state just getting lacrosse started, how Eden Prairie was churning out division 1 athletes consistently. The answer was found in their youth program. The activities were fun, geared towards what little kids like to do, and filled with a great mix of enthusiastic coaches and young enthusiastic high school players and the little girls ate up every second. People would drive an hour to attend their camps and clinics. Lacrosse became the go to sport for little girls in their area and the volume built them a deep bench of talent.
Milton high school, another hot bed but this time in Atlanta, has made the same approach to building a feeder with easy to recognize success. They built a youth program that made lacrosse easily the most fun option for young girls and grew to outstanding numbers. Their program is filled with fun, learning, and captures exactly what girls are looking for in an athletic, social, and competitive setting. They focus on growing self esteem with tons of high fives and encouraging knowledgable staff.
Are we learning from these programs approach to growth? Are we looking to provide what kids are looking for in their athletic experience or are we forcing our own ideals of what it should look like at them and then shaking our head at the low numbers? Kids have a lot of choices these days in activities, how can we market our sport to offer what families want? For some reason we think more tournaments, more travel, more tough love, more playing up or more wins are the answer.
Take a look at the top reasons people sign up for sports to see if your program has set these as priorities or side notes..
2. Make friends
3. Self-esteem and confidence building
4. Physical /athletic development
5. Learning skills of sport
How does your program rank on the the marketability scale? If little kids walked by your practice and games - will they beg mom and dad to sign them up or wrinkle their nose and say no thanks. If your players had a bring a friend night at practice and you ran your regular plan, how many of them would return as players the next season? How visible is the fun your program provides, how committed is it to providing a good EXPERIENCE for kids and families before all else. Or as my kids would say- a good experience for all is bae...
What Makes A Nightmare Sports Parent -- And What Makes A Great O
What Makes A Nightmare Sports Parent -- And What Makes A Great One
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 8:20 pm
Written by: Steve Henson
Hundreds of college athletes were asked to think back: "What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?" Their overwhelming response: "The ride home from games with my parents." The informal survey lasted three decades, initiated by two former longtime coaches who over time became staunch advocates for the player, for the adolescent, for the child. Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC are devoted to helping adults avoid becoming a nightmare sports parent, speaking at colleges, high schools and youth leagues to more than a million athletes, coaches and parents in the last 12 years. Those same college athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame.
Their overwhelming response: "I love to watch you play."
There it is, from the mouths of babes who grew up to become college and professional athletes. Whether your child is just beginning T-ball or is a travel-team soccer all-star or survived the cuts for the high school varsity, parents take heed. The vast majority of dads and moms that make rides home from games miserable for their children do so inadvertently. They aren't stereotypical horrendous sports parents, the ones who scream at referees, loudly second-guess coaches or berate their children. They are well-intentioned folks who can't help but initiate conversation about the contest before the sweat has dried on their child's uniform.
In the moments after a game, win or lose, kids desire distance. They make a rapid transition from athlete back to child. And they’d prefer if parents transitioned from spectator – or in many instances from coach – back to mom and dad. ASAP.
Brown (pictured below at podium), a high school and youth coach near Seattle for more than 30 years, says his research shows young athletes especially enjoy having their grandparents watch them perform.
"Overall, grandparents are more content than parents to simply enjoy watching the child participate," he says. "Kids recognize that." A grandparent is more likely to offer a smile and a hug, say "I love watching you play," and leave it at that.
Meanwhile a parent might blurt out … “Why did you swing at that high pitch when we talked about laying off it?" "Stay focused even when you are on the bench.” "You didn’t hustle back to your position on defense.” "You would have won if the ref would have called that obvious foul.” "Your coach didn't have the best team on the field when it mattered most.”
And on and on.
Sure, an element of truth might be evident in the remarks. But the young athlete doesn’t want to hear it immediately after the game. Not from a parent. Comments that undermine teammates, the coach or even officials run counter to everything the young player is taught. And instructional feedback was likely already mentioned by the coach.
"Let your child bring the game to you if they want to,” Brown says.
Brown and Miller, a longtime coach and college administrator, don't consider themselves experts, but instead use their platform to convey to parents what three generations of young athletes have told them.
"Everything we teach came from me asking players questions," Brown says. "When you have a trusting relationship with kids, you get honest answers. When you listen to young people speak from their heart, they offer a perspective that really resonates.”
So what’s the takeaway for parents?
"Sports is one of few places in a child's life where a parent can say, 'This is your thing,’ ” Miller says. "Athletics is one of the best ways for young people to take risks and deal with failure because the consequences aren’t fatal, they aren’t permanent. We’re talking about a game. So they usually don’t want or need a parent to rescue them when something goes wrong.
"Once you as a parent are assured the team is a safe environment, release your child to the coach and to the game. That way all successes are theirs, all failures are theirs."
And discussion on the ride home can be about a song on the radio or where to stop for a bite to eat. By the time you pull into the driveway, the relationship ought to have transformed from keenly interested spectator and athlete back to parent and child:
"We loved watching you play. … Now, how about that homework?" FIVE SIGNS OF A NIGHTMARE SPORTS PARENT
Nearly 75 percent of kids who play organized sports quit by age 13. Some find that their skill level hits a plateau and the game is no longer fun. Others simply discover other interests. But too many promising young athletes turn away from sports because their parents become insufferable.
Even professional athletes can behave inappropriately when it comes to their children. David Beckham was recently ejected from a youth soccer field for questioning an official. New Orleans radio host Bobby Hebert, a former NFL quarterback, publicly dressed down LSU football coach Les Miles after Alabama defeated LSU in the BCS title game last month. Hebert was hardly unbiased: His son had recently lost his starting position at LSU.
Mom or dad, so loving and rational at home, can transform into an ogre at a game. A lot of kids internally reach the conclusion that if they quit the sport, maybe they'll get their dad or mom back.
As a sports parent, this is what you don't want to become. This is what you want to avoid:
• Overemphasizing sports at the expense of sportsmanship: The best athletes keep their emotions in check and perform at an even keel, win or lose. Parents demonstrative in showing displeasure during a contest are sending the wrong message. Encouragement is crucial -- especially when things aren’t going well on the field.
• Having different goals than your child: Brown and Miller suggest jotting down a list of what you want for your child during their sport season. Your son or daughter can do the same. Vastly different lists are a red flag. Kids generally want to have fun, enjoy time with their friends, improve their skills and win. Parents who write down “getting a scholarship” or “making the All-Star team” probably need to adjust their goals. “Athletes say their parents believe their role on the team is larger than what the athlete knows it to be,” Miller says.
• Treating your child differently after a loss than a win: Almost all parents love their children the same regardless of the outcome of a game. Yet often their behavior conveys something else. "Many young athletes indicate that conversations with their parents after a game somehow make them feel as if their value as a person was tied to playing time or winning,” Brown says.
• Undermining the coach: Young athletes need a single instructional voice during games. That voice has to be the coach. Kids who listen to their parents yelling instruction from the stands or even glancing at their parents for approval from the field are distracted and can't perform at a peak level. Second-guessing the coach on the ride home is just as insidious.
• Living your own athletic dream through your child: A sure sign is the parent taking credit when the child has done well. “We worked on that shot for weeks in the driveway,” or “You did it just like I showed you” Another symptom is when the outcome of a game means more to a parent than to the child. If you as a parent are still depressed by a loss when the child is already off playing with friends, remind yourself that it’s not your career and you have zero control over the outcome. FIVE SIGNS OF AN IDEAL SPORTS PARENT
Let’s hear it for the parents who do it right. In many respects, Brown and Miller say, it’s easier to be an ideal sports parent than a nightmare. “It takes less effort,” Miller says. “Sit back and enjoy.” Here’s what to do:
• Cheer everybody on the team, not just your child: Parents should attend as many games as possible and be supportive, yet allow young athletes to find their own solutions. Don’t feel the need to come to their rescue at every crisis. Continue to make positive comments even when the team is struggling.
• Model appropriate behavior: Contrary to the old saying, children do as you do, not as you say. When a parent projects poise, control and confidence, the young athlete is likely to do the same. And when a parent doesn’t dwell on a tough loss, the young athlete will be enormously appreciative.
• Know what is suitable to discuss with the coach: The mental and physical treatment of your child is absolutely appropriate. So is seeking advice on ways to help your child improve. And if you are concerned about your child’s behavior in the team setting, bring that up with the coach. Taboo topics: Playing time, team strategy, and discussing team members other than your child.
• Know your role: Everyone at a game is either a player, a coach, an official or a spectator. “It’s wise to choose only one of those roles at a time,” Brown says. “Some adults have the false impression that by being in a crowd, they become anonymous. People behaving poorly cannot hide.” Here’s a clue: If your child seems embarrassed by you, clean up your act.
• Be a good listener and a great encourager: When your child is ready to talk about a game or has a question about the sport, be all ears. Then provide answers while being mindful of avoiding becoming a nightmare sports parent. Above all, be positive. Be your child's biggest fan. "Good athletes learn better when they seek their own answers," Brown says.
And, of course, don’t be sparing with those magic words: "I love watching you play."