by Tracey Roman
Re-Published with the Author’s Permission
As a young athlete I never understood why my parents spent majority of the innings I spent competing on the travel and high school softball circuit behind the outfield fence. I accused them of being anti-social and rude. Other parents hung out, had cook outs together, and seemingly more fun on the countless number of out of town weekend softball tournament trips. My parents wanted nothing to do with anything other than watching me compete. They would not engage in what has become sideline madness that plagues the youth sports scene.
Twenty plus years later, and with many years of competing, coaching, and instructing under my belt, I finally understand. Parents are crazy. They are sucking the fun and the many valuable lessons right out of the whole experience for their kids.
Who are these parents?
Red flag #1: They make excuses. If their kid does not play, it is always due to the fault of others. You will hear every excuse in the book. Kids not playing due to politics, mixed messages on instruction and what they have learned from different coaches, so and so’s parents are members of the booster club, the coach hates my kid, blah, blah, blah. The list goes on and on. There is zero accountability or responsibility placed on their kid for potential reasons they are not seeing game time.
Red flag #2: They rip apart other kids. They are quick to point out the flaws of other kids who see more playing time. They compare their kid to others and typically have well prepared arguments highlighting why their darling daughter is a better athlete and more deserving of playing time. An athlete’s teammates are very likely their friends as well. When a parent tries to make her daughter feel better by saying “I don’t know why Jenny always gets to play more innings than you, she makes a ton of errors ”, it is very uncomfortable for her child. You are talking behind the back of their friend and you are destroying the critical trust that teammates need in each other and their coach. Keep your thoughts to yourself.
Red flag #3: Sense of entitlement. These parents will e-mail, text, call, and corner coaches after games questioning playing time. They believe with every ounce of their being that little Susie should be in the game, specifically with a starting role. The rose colored glasses may as well be a blindfold. They do not care or often consider the humiliation they cause for their kid by approaching a coach in this way. Imagine your significant other contacting your boss when you have not received the raise or promotion they think you deserve. There is only one person who looks out for the team in its entirety. The coach. Parents only look out for their child. When parents question coaching decisions, player positions, playing time, tactics, and more, they undermine a coach’s authority, and the players respect for that coach. You teach your kids to question everything a coach tells them, and this makes them indecisive come game time. It also takes their focus off things they can control, like their attitude, their effort, and their focus, and turns it towards uncontrollable like coaching decisions. Yes, your child might have a coach that sees things differently than you do, but so what? If you really know that much more than the coach, you should coach. If you do not have the time or energy to do so, then be thankful someone does and support that person.
Red flag #4: They think dropping money on the sport through private lessons, sports conditioning and specialized training should guarantee playing time. Achieving a high level in sports is not an experience that can be bought. The aforementioned avenues can assist a player in skill development, but consistent results in game situations is the only currency most coaches use when drafting a lineup.
Red flag #5: They believe their kid has more talent or game knowledge than reality proves. Everyone else can see it, but they cannot. Often times these parents expect their kid to compete at a level that is not appropriate for their age or for the amount of time they have been playing the game. There is nothing wrong in owning the fact that your kid is a work in progress.
Red flag #6: They are more invested in the sport than the kid. They believe wholeheartedly that their darling daughter wants to be the best she can be in the sport yet she rarely shows interest in seeking opportunities to practice and improve without prompting from her parents. When kids love something, they will lead the charge. All kids need occasional prompting, but it is the exception to the rule, not the norm.
Red flag #7: They live vicariously through their kid, in a bad way. When the kid plays great, life is good. When they have a bad game, life is bad. These parents outwardly show disgust when their kid does not play well as if it is some sort of reflection on them. They shame their own kid by not talking to them after poor performances, or they will go through a play by play of every mistake during the dreaded car ride home, questioning her actions throughout the game. For the kid, it is a nightmare. Many kids come to believe love, support, and approval from their parents is conditional based on how they perform in a silly game. Parents, please let the conversation on ride home be dictated by your kids, and unless they bring it up, not be about the game.
Red flag #8: They expect instant results. Much of these expectations can be blamed on our culture. We live in a fast food world where true hard work is becoming obsolete. Becoming proficient in any skill requires thousands upon thousands of repetitions. Applying acquired skills in a game situation is another matter entirely. Learning to do both in harmony is an acquired skill that takes years of game experience, practice, and hard work. We expect twelve and under players to handle game pressure the same way we see college players handle it on television.
Red flag #9: They do not understand the reason their kid plays ball. Kids play sports for a multitude of reasons. Some play because they want to be the best. Others play simply to be a part of something and to have a certain identity within their peer group. Sadly, some play to please their parents. No matter what the motivation to start in the first place, the game becomes difficult when it is no longer fun. When kids worry about their parents opinion of them based on game performance, I can assure you that the game becomes more of a chore than a leisure activity. In my experience, when kids stop having fun, their level of success on the field decreases drastically.
Red flag #10: They claim they will never be “that parent”. If a parent says this phrase out loud, they have likely already arrived.
When done right, there are countless life lessons to be garnered through sports. One of the most vital lessons being stripped from youth sports is autonomy. Parents are micro-managing the lives of their children unnecessarily, destroying any opportunity for them to learn how to handle themselves on their own. Instead of mentoring kids how to approach a coach about playing time, parents attempt to negotiate for them. We miss opportunities to teach kids how to ask for constructive criticism, develop a plan of action, and set realistic goals to achieve new heights. We blame coaches who are often volunteers, instead of educating ourselves in the game. With the explosion of social media, there are a countless number of ways to learn new drills and position play. There are thousands of videos that can be viewed over and over again if the thirst for knowledge truly exists. Instead of complaining in the face of adversity, teach kids how to help themselves. They will be better in the game of softball but more importantly, in the game of life.
Parents are supposed to be champions for their kids. Kids look to parents for guidance, support, approval, and love. They also learn how to behave from their parents. Complaining is the easiest and most unproductive thing to do in the face of adversity. Choose to model positive behaviors. Encourage risk taking and find joy in the effort. Celebrate the competitor above the winner. Foster independence by allowing your athlete to take ownership. Be the fan your kid needs you to be.
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