Sports

SIDELINES: Parents, please don't be 'that' parent at your kid's game

Watching your kids play sports is awesome. It’s just so pure.

I’m reminded of that every time I attend one of my kids’ games.

My dad came and watched my son play a baseball game earlier this week. He asked me if I remembered all the times he threw me batting practice and how my mom would stand out in the field and shag all the balls I hit.

The answer was simple: “Yes, I remember that. How could I forget?”

During my career, I played thousands of basketball, football and soccer games, and was even lucky enough to play baseball at Gonzaga.

But the home runs and strikeouts aren’t even close to the best memories I have playing sports. What I remember most are seeing my parents at every single game I played, all the rides home and sitting around the dinner table talking with my mom and dad about how things went.

I also never remember my parents embarrassing me once with an outburst during one of those thousands of games. Never once.

But I guess my experience is far from the norm. I’m starting to figure that out as my kids get older and I watch more and more parents acting like complete jackasses while watching their kids play.

I’ve seen it all. Parents yelling at volunteer umpires and referees, parents yelling at their kids, and parents degrading players on the other team are just a few of the atrocities that have led me to sit far away from other parents during games.

I can now understand why 75 percent of kids who play organized sports quit by age 13. Sure, there are plenty of kids who just aren’t good enough or don’t really have fun playing sports. But there are also some kids who could be solid athletes who quit because their parents are just too much to deal with.

According to an article published by a pair of longtime youth coaches, Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC, there are five signs of an ideal sports parent, along with five signs of a nightmare sports parent.

The duo has spoken to more than a million athletes, coaches and parents over the last 12 years at colleges, high schools and youth leagues around the country. They are actually based in Camano Island.

Their conclusions, after all the research, condensed the characteristics of the ideal sports parent to the following:

• 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.

• Model appropriate behavior: When a parent projects poise, control and confidence, the young athlete is likely to do the same.

• 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. Taboo topics include 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. 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. Above all, be positive. Be your child’s biggest fan.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the five signs of a nightmare sports parent, which is a way bigger problem nowadays.

• Overemphasizing sports at the expense of sportsmanship: Parents who are demonstrative in showing displeasure during a contest are sending the wrong message.

• Having different goals than your child: Kids generally want to have fun, enjoy time with their friends, improve their skills and win. Parents who want their kids  to “get a scholarship” or “make the all-star team” probably need to adjust their goals.

• 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.

• 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 instructions 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.

I just want to personally thank all the parents who are doing things right. Sports are supposed to be fun and teach life lessons, and it’s actually easier to be the ideal sports parent than the nightmare.

Just sit back and enjoy the pureness of watching your kids play sports. It doesn’t last forever.

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