Hey, you. Unreasonably Intense Sports Parent.
Knock it off, OK? That’d be great.
Oh, I get it. Trust me. That’s your kid out there. She’s got game, too.
You just want her to excel (and have fun).
You just want her to win (and have fun).
She should also DOMINATE THOSE OTHER PUNKS LIKE JORDAN on EHLO (and have fun) AND WHAT DO YOU MEAN “OUT,” REF? ARE YOU FREAKING BLIND? IDIOT!
I get it, though. I have kids, too. My older son played non-competitive YMCA soccer from age 4 until 9 when he turned to baseball – the sport of my youth.
I want him to excel, to win, to have fun.
So, yeah, I’m a sports parent. I yell, too. I’m into it. No matter the score, no matter if he’s pitching or batting or playing the field, I watch with an alert and practiced eye and mentally record the advice I’ll give him later when we’re out in the backyard playing catch.
And I yell. Boy, do I yell.
“Stay in the box, buddy!”
“It’s in the dirt! Cover the plate! COVER THE PLATE!”
“It’s OK! You’ll get ‘em next time!”
He hears me. Everybody hears me. I’m yelling, loudly, so of course, everybody hears me.
That is, everybody hears me when THEY’RE not yelling, too.
Because that’s what a sports parent does, right? We yell encouragement and advice and even the occasional admonition.
Researchers to the youth sports parent: Chill out!
Here’s the thing, though. Two recent studies – one from Ithaca College, the other from the Boston-based youth coaching consortium, CoachUp – revealed, in part, what common sense should tell us, anyway: When it comes to youth sports, parents just need to chill.
What does that mean?
It means placing an overt and unyielding expectation of victory on a kid is a bad idea. Stop emphasizing performance and outcome ahead of social interaction. Don’t act like a jackass by berating coaches and officials.
It does not mean we shouldn’t place any expectations whatsoever on our kids.
I submit that parents should set reasonable expectations regarding a child’s participation in youth sports. Those expectations should be explained clearly, and parents should be sure their kid understands exactly how to live up to those expectations.
For example, the expectations I place on my son for baseball are these:
- I expect him to have fun.
- I expect him to treat his teammates and his opponents with respect.
- I expect him to learn how to catch, throw, run, slide and swing a bat well enough that he won’t get hurt during the course of a game.
- I expect him to pay attention to his coaches during practice, and he’ll listen to me when we’re playing catch in the backyard.
- I expect him to learn the rules of the game, and remember what he is supposed to be doing at all times on the baseball field. If he doesn’t know or remember, I expect him to ask his coaches or more-experienced teammates.
- I expect him to finish his homework before weekday practices and weeknight games.
These expectations are not negotiable. Nor are they unreasonable. Nor do I go berserk and scream and yell until I’m purple if he doesn’t quite live up to one or more of those expectations. I readily acknowledge that trying to live up to all of those – including the part about having fun – might present a challenge for my son. So be it. Growth happens when we confront our anxieties. We either overcome it or succumb to it. Either way, we learn.
Expectations go both ways. My son should expect me, as a sports parent:
- To be enthusiastic, but respectful, during games.
- To give encouragement where needed and to show empathy when things go poorly.
- To know when to step aside, when to shut up, and when to let him fail.
- To allow him to figure out the best way to respond to that failure, but to be there to remind him that there is another at-bat, another inning, another game, another season ahead.
- To be there for him and be happy for him and to hug him after the game – win or lose.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I want my son to excel at sports. Would I love one day to sit in the stands and watch my son throw a no-hitter, or drive in the winning run on a bigger stage? You bet.
I also want him to make a perfect score on the SAT, never get anything worse than an A on his report card, learn to play the violin like Itzhak Perlman, blaze trails like Susan B. Anthony and President Obama, discover creative ways to transform the world like Steve Jobs, stand up for what’s right in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity like Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai, and be as kind and generous as his mother.
So, sit down, Unreasonably Intense Sports Parent. Have a seat next to me. I’m right here with you. Let’s talk about our hopes and dreams and, yes, our expectations for our kids. Let’s have some fun.