To all the parents obsessed with children's sports:
Yep, to all those parents on the sidelines (and on the phone with the coach) . . . it's time to grow up.
I get it. Sports are amazing and they give our children opportunities to learn and grow and it's so amazing to watch them do that. For those of us who played sports as kids - it also has a way of waking up that kid inside who would love to be out there playing (but doesn't want their ACL ripped up or their back thrown out).
But something bad seems to happen to some of us out there on the sidelines. I don't know if it's that inner child yearning to play (i.e. living out our own hopes and dreams through our kids), our own egos we're throwing on the field, or the fact that we are trying to control our kid's worlds and experiences -- but whatever it is -- it's the least constructive, most embarrassing part of having a child that plays sports.
I think we can all agree that most parents just want what's best for their child. We want our kids to be seen, loved, and to watch them enjoy happiness and success in their lives. But some of us are over invested in the outcomes on the field and the tantrums that accompany are nauseating to say the least.
I'm convinced there's a better way to do all of this.
Raising a Child Athlete
Here's what the coach wants you to know:
The Long Game vs. The Short Game
The Long Game = Positive Parental Involvement in Sports
When you are playing the long game in parenting and raising kids who might be playing sports you are focused on the long term wins. The long game is all about the experiences and characteristics you hope your child will take into adulthood.
One thing I love about sports is that it can impart some great values to them. The playing field is just that -- another way to play out some of life's big lessons and challenges. Sports help our kids practice at life and hopefully when all is said and done their experiences will leave them both physically and mentally stronger.
When you are playing the long game in parenting and sports, you are really looking at the kind of person you want your child to be on and off the field, not just the athlete and the accolades.
I want to raise a kid who can:
- Advocate for themselves (to both their peers and their coaches)
- Move through obstacles even when it might be hard work
- Learn to get along with different personalities and understand diverse perspectives
- Work hard on and off the field
- Understand both the spirit of competition and the spirit of sportsmanship
That means that I have to:
- Empower my child to use their words. I can help them figure out their thoughts and feelings and point them to the right people to help them work on solutions
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- Not try to remove every obstacle from them, but to let them work and struggle a little (or a lot) to develop and improve
- Help them understand other perspectives and personalities so that they can communicate with their teammates and coaches better
- Focus on improvement, self reflection, commitment and persistence to build a work ethic that will last them through the season and through adulthood too
- Validate their desire to win and achieve and build depth of character by encouraging them to do so with grace and kindness in the way they treat people. (This includes valuing failure and knowing when to quit)
In short, I've got to coach them up, hand them the ball, and take my place on the sidelines.
The Short Game = Negative Parental Involvement in Sports
When you are playing the short game in parenting and raising kids who play sports you are more concerned with the short term wins than the long term gains.
A parent playing the short game might:
- Harass the coach about playing time and their child's role and importance
- Clear the path for their children, removing as many of the uncomfortable experiences as they can
- Put their own perspectives and opinions above other parents, coaches and players
- Not challenge their child to look inward and to take feedback as opposed to looking for ways to improve or strengthen their work ethic
- Focus on winning and achievement without backing their child up with deeper, more meaningful values that impact the way they treat people on and off the field
That leaves you with a child who:
- Struggles to advocate for themself and communicate with their piers and authority figures
- Gets deterred easily by obstacles and looks for constant direction and assistance from their parents
- Is self absorbed and lacks the ability to relate in a meaningful way to those around them
- Looks to others for their flaws and shortcomings instead of looking for their role and their opportunities to improve
- Focuses on winning as the most important thing regardless of the cost
I don't think any of us consciously want to raise that kid. I just don't think we're taking enough time to reflect on what our actions, and the role we are playing in their sports and other goals and pursuits is actually teaching them.
Parents playing the short game and concerned with short term impact.
Let's Talk About Calling the Coach
Should parents call the high school coach?
Here's what the coach wants you to know:
I encourage parents to contact me if it's about the development or well-being of their son. If it's about playing time, it's not appropriate to call the coach. I'm often called after hours to discuss playing time. My time with my family is my time.
I also tell parents that if they wish to discuss playing time, bring their son, along with his gear. The discussion will determine if he takes the gear home or if I'll hold on to it. I have had a couple of discussions about playing time with the son present. Most of the time that will help their parents see the proper perspective.
Sidenote: It's never okay to text during a game or to confront a coach right after a game.
- Aaron Whitehead, Olympus High School
Is it bad for parents to call a college coach?
Depends on what you are calling for. Here's what Morgan Scalley, a University of Utah defensive coordinator had to say:
I will not take calls from parents about playing time. You want to call and talk to us about your son's academics? Great. You want to call and talk to us about his social life and how he's handling home sickness? I'll talk to you any day of the week. My phone is open, my door is open, come talk to me in person - that's great. Just don't talk to me about playing time.
- Morgan Scalley, University of Utah Football
Parents and Sports
What's your approach with your kids and the sports they play? Tell us in the comments!