Sport parents must have realistic expectations

News and social media are often buzzing with stories about sport parents.

Some recent headlines include“Sports parents behaving badly,”“Dads arrested after fighting at sports day,”“Boys’ game brings out parents’ worst”– just to name a few.

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We never see the ‘good parent’ story but I know there are many more good stories than the notorious ones we see.  It is my belief, from both being a parent and witnessing parents in sport, that they can be a key to sport enjoyment and, yes, to success.

A couple of months ago, Richmond Newsreporter Alan Campbell detailed some of these stories as well as some excellent material on how sport can often control parents.  His reference to Dr. Peter Crocker’s excellent work and in particular to focus on the effort, not the outcome, is one we should continually reinforce in organized sport.  In other words “it’s the process, not the product”.

Former NBA star Bob Bigelow, in a terrific book “Just Let Them Play” has the same message: Organized youth sport is just that – a sport that is organized for youth.  It is NOT an adult game that is imposed on youth.

We should not organize a youth game with adult rules and expectations and certainly should not confuse professional sport with youth sport.  Expectations should and must be different.  And, yes, in the early stages scoring, statistics, wins and losses, MVPs, travelling teams and other ancillaries to the game/sport are not important – not to the youth anyway!  There is nothing wrong with healthy competition – it just takes various forms as the youth mature.  Having fun and having success should always be key!

The most common question asked of our youth in sport should be “Did You Have Fun?”  The answer, most of the time, should be YES!

Dr. Martha Ewing of the Sport Institute in Michigan tells us that the two reasons why ‘children’ drop out of organized sport are: it was not fun and my friends dropped out.  She also tells us that most drop out between the ages of 11 and 13 for the same reasons.  It is not hard to infer that having fun and socializing with friends are keys to keeping our youth engaged in healthy sport activities.

Coaching is the key.  It is difficult to have organized sport without coaches.

As with every profession, there are great, good and not so good ones.  A coach whose claim to ability is that he/she played is not good enough.  Teaching and coaching are similar – we would not have a recent high school graduate be the sole teacher of our kids nor should we expect an ex-player with no coach training to be the sole  coach of our kids.  One of the best coaches I know never participated as an athlete in the sport he coaches but is fully certified Olympic coach! 

Parents are allowed, and encouraged, to ask the questions.

Training credentials?  National certification courses?  University courses in coaching?  Professional upgrading?  All very realistic parent questions.

Once satisfied then recognize that the coach is the coach!

There is a time and place for coach/parent conversations – not on the court, on the ice, on the deck or at all hours.  The coach will set those parameters – respect them but be involved in as supportive a way as possible.  The best communication process is a three way parent/athlete/coach triangle..

When asked their biggest problem in coaching – a great number of coaches will say “Parents.” As parents we should be the most important support he/she has!  Let the next headline be“Coach thanks parents for making a successful season!.”

Why did you put your son/daughter in sports?  Is it to make the Olympic team? Get a scholarship? Play in the pros.?

There are about 750 NHLers today out of hundreds of thousands boys playing hockey in this country.

There were 31 swimmers on the national team in London – out of over 100,000 who compete through clubs in Canada. There were 12 on the women’s Olympic basketball team – over 150,000 girls play basketball. Eighteen players on our bronze medal women’s soccer team – over 500,000 girls play youth soccer.

Goals and dreams are great – don’t destroy them – just keep them realistic.  Be a part of them.  Support them by supporting your athlete and his/her coach.  Play for the love of the sport and all the benefits it brings – not for some possible future placements.

Some suggestions for parents: No after practice/game interrogation.  Understand the rules of the sport – leave the officiating to trained officials – better still - become one!  Cheer on efforts BY ALL not just yours.   Learn about sport nutrition and hydration.  Learn about injuries – they are part of sport (unfortunately) but how to support the athlete though an injury is crucial.

Lastly – Have Fun!

Lawrie Johns is a longtime Richmond resident, a provincial sports administrator and a parent who helped raise two world class athletes.

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