Source: NSCAA Journal, Written by Brienne Sembrat
Whoa, where did this behavior come from? No, not my children’s behavior…MY behavior.
As a parent on the sideline, I am catching myself lately acting in a way counterproductive to the "beautiful game" of soccer. I was not always this way. Strange alien sports parenting behavior is occurring in a slow insidious fashion in my life, silent enough to escape the ever watchful eye of my conscience. A very good friend just today gave me a small pamphlet of tips for parents of youth athletes that called me back to where I should be. I must have been so ready for it because the message came loud and clear and was like a lightning bolt to my brain and my soul. And then came another interesting concurrent reaction – I relaxed. I want this for you too my fellow sports parents, so please read on. I care about families and I care about kids trying to develop under too much pressure and micromanagement, my own children included.
I love the game of soccer. No, let’s go further. I love sports and athletic endeavor. Great moments in sports give me chills. Sports can teach us so much about life, if we go about it correctly. As a coach, I tend to be a quieter coach, do my teaching in practice and halftime, and let the game be the teacher while play is going on. I try very hard to not be the coach that is yelling at the top of their lungs all the time. Before kids I coached at all levels including Club, High School and College and I really latched onto and tried to assimilate the "positive coaching" philosophy into my instruction. I got better at it as I got older. I think we would all support this philosophy. And also before kids, I swore I would never be a parent who yelled from the stands or sidelines and would never put undue pressure or be overly critical post-game of my children. SO WHAT HAPPENED????
Watching from the side of the field or pool or gym (because this is applicable to most sports), I have recently found myself being way too vocal. Even if I am spouting purely instructional phrases, it serves no positive purpose. So why I am doing it? Am I projecting my own success or failure onto them? Am I trying to prove that I know the game? Is my own self-image not a healthy one? Do I see every move they make as a reflection of me? Because chances are, with the seemingly willy-nilly nature of genetics, my progeny’s DNA could more resemble some great great ancestor than myself, and I am pretty sure my relatives who have passed on do not care about whether my son kept his feet planted on a throw in.
When kids are playing sports they are focused and "in a zone." To quote from this great little pamphlet, "..the best way to (distract) them is to make comments from the stands. Parents need to be quiet and let them play." Children will perform much better and, most importantly, learn from the game itself if they do not hear us. Can you imagine trying to play a game when the coach is instructing from one side and a bunch of parents are yelling instructions or worse from the other? Many mistakes will be made by players, coaches and referees, but we must just let it go! Even if an injustice occurs as the result…AND THIS IS IMPORTANT…everyone will survive and life will go on. I tried being a referee for a while in my youth and quite frankly I was probably not the best 16 year old referee, but last I knew nobody expired on my watch. So let’s get some perspective. Some of you may already be the silent observers. Some of you may be where I find myself today. But together, we can all help to reverse a negative trend in youth sports.
Many kids actually play better when parents are not even there. When negative pressure goes down often the performance goes up. Truly, I now believe that my saying almost anything from the sideline except for the occasional "good job" and "yeah Wildcats" undermines the coaches and takes away from the game itself to act as teacher. In soccer there is really no "play calling." Players make their own decisions on the field based on what they observe and what they have learned. Even with very young children, the relative silence and autonomy of the game can allow the player to see and think and react...to figure it out. This is critical in soccer. Truly, soccer is supposed to be a quiet game from the sidelines, with good, assertive, meaningful communication coming from among the players on the field and some instruction coming from the coaches to a limited extent during the game.
I am paraphrasing but here are some other "most important" items from this parental tip pamphlet regarding children and success in sports:
1. Love the game itself and learning it
2. reward, model and value EFFORT
3. value the role of play - playing unstructured (soccer) sometimes just for fun is critical (backyard ball)
4. mistakes are OK - they are great teachers
5. BE QUIET AND LET THEM PLAY
6. Live with the officials calls - don't let your kids hear you criticizing the ref
7. If you feel you have to comment on the game - give it 24 hours (so you can cool down)
These are just some tidbits that we all know to some degree, but I so appreciated being reminded at this point in time and in an organized, coherent fashion. In fact, heck, I would like to be given this pamphlet once a year on about the 25th of August. Can we fit that in the budget?
Fall brings a lot of activity, commitments and stress for families. Letting go a bit and having the sport be for the child and not for us and realizing that we do not need to jump on every moment as a critical teaching moment, especially when we are not coaching, can really take pressure off everyone. Don’t take on what you think your child is feeling and resist the urge to analyze mistakes after every game. Be there for them when they need to talk but just let them play during the game, and if you are there to watch, just enjoy the watching. As the pamphlet notes, (I LOVE this) the best thing you can say to them after the game is simply "I really enjoyed watching you play today." That it my new mantra so I’ll repeat it, “I really enjoyed watching you play today.” Just keeping it simple removes the need to say “good game” when maybe they did not have a good game. Kids know when you are being untruthful. They know if they played well. It removes the habit of automatic commentary, good or bad, post-game. It is a neutral but honest and loving response. Indeed, if they are out there giving a great effort, if they are participating and playing with sportsmanship and in the spirit of the game, whatever game it may be, we can enjoy watching them play, whether they played great or not.
So here is the bottom line the way I see it. First, if you can, figure out why you are acting a bit crazy with your kids when it comes to sports. Second, bring a chair if there are no stands and just relax. Third, watch the game and get your spouse or friend to practice the one-eyebrow-raised-“really, was that necessary?”-look for those occasions when you revert to former behavior. I make my husband practice “the look” every night. I am being proactive. And finally, take a moment to breathe and realize how good it feels to not have to yell, or feel the pressure of the game and the minutiae of every play. Leave it all to the players and the coaches because the party is for them, not for us. We just need to get them to the party dressed appropriately (if they are too young to do this themselves) and having assured the celebration is appropriately chaperoned. Of course, if there are tears, hugs are great too. But I am constantly trying to remind myself that if I make a big deal out of something that in the larger scope of life is small potatoes, then my kids will too. If we are not vigilant of our own behavior, sports and outcomes and performance can become HUGE, pressure builds, and the importance of effort and enjoyment are minimalized. Ultimately, kids will quit if they are overwhelmed and feeling too much pressure.
If we in Lebo could create a positive parental peer pressure against yelling, play calling, eye rolling, and generally anything but a bit of cheering from the sides of the athletic venue, wouldn’t that be terrific for our kids? And what if we followed some of the other tips listed in this pamphlet? The ramifications could be amazing for our sports culture. Everyone would benefit – the children most of all, the parents, the coaches, the administrators, the referees…everyone!!!!
The pamphlet that drove me to sanity is called “PASSPORT; A parent's guide to help your child be successful in sports, and in life.” It is written by Gary Avischious and is available on the internet. No, I do not know Gary and will benefit not a whit monetarily from the sale of this literature.
What do you think? Can we be the quietly supportive parents? I’ll go first. But seriously, next week could you try too? Because in total truth, it’s no good for our kids.