Battling sports parents who are thrown out of the game make for good newspaper headlines, but the vast majority of parents play by the rules. It's a good thing, too: For very young athletes, parental efforts are often the glue that holds the team sports experience together.
Russ Patterson has coached young soccer players for Seattle's Laurelhurst-View Ridge-Ravenna league for five years. Parents, he says, can really help both coach and players by volunteering to organize snack schedules, player rosters, trophy purchases and end-of-season parties. And for the 6-10 crowd, ensuring that their sports shoelaces are double-tied is crucial. Loose laces are dangerous and can keep the coach on his knees (literally) re-tying shoe after shoe.
Alex Shaffer, 12, has played baseball, soccer and basketball on North Seattle teams since he was 5. He suggests that parents encourage their kids to talk directly with the coach. Kids need to experience the player/coach relationship for themselves, not always with a parental go-between.
Lake City Soccer Thunderhawks coach Al Bender finds that while winning matters even to the youngest players, parents can help kids keep it in perspective. "The younger they are, the more they want to have fun -- as they get older, teach them that winning can be a reward for hard work. But kids can learn as much from losing as they can from winning."
- Think through your own feelings about your childhood team sports experiences before diving in as a parent. Your issues may be wildly different from those of your children.
- Ask around about various leagues and choose one that seems to match your child's style and/or skill level.
- Encourage young kids who are just beginning. Skill levels usually improve dramatically in the second year.
- Arrive on time for practices, and teach kids that being on a team is a commitment.
- Enthusiastically attend all games, but leave coaching to the coach and calls to the referee or umpire.
- Make sure your player is well fed, rested and hydrated.
- Praise effort, not just outcome.
- Help kids learn the importance of being a good loser.
- Watch the game, don't just chat.
- Learn the game if you don't already know it, but don't let a lack of expertise stop you from volunteering to help the coach if the need arises.
- Don't belittle players, coaches, officials or the parents of the opposing team. Everyone knows this, but incidents have been known to occur. So don't.
- Thank your coach. The hours of thought and time he or she puts into coaching are directly benefiting your child and your community.
In youth sports, as in so many paths we follow with our children, we have the chance to be our child's best role model. Learning good sportsmanship early and practicing it often will give kids something they can use both on and off the field -- lifelong.
More Resources for Parents of Young Athletes :
Darrell Erickson, Molding Young Athletes: How Parents and Coaches Can Positively Influence Kids In Sports (Oregon, Wisconsin: Purington Press, 2004)
Jim Thompson, Positive Coaching: Building Character and Self-Esteem Through Sports (Portola Valley, CA: Warde Publishers, 1995)
Little League Baseball Parent Orientation Program This free online presentation is helpful for parents whose kids play any sport.
Paula Becker is a Seattle freelance writer and mother of three.