Just Let Them Play: ways for parents to be good sports

01 Jan 2008
Just Let Them Play: ways for parents to be good sports

A mother faced criminal charges of assault and battery for allegedly kicking and swearing at an 11-year-old boy who had been fighting with her son on a baseball field.
A soccer dad punched a 14-year-old in the face because he scuffled with his son over the ball.

A father, dressed in slacks and shirt, jumped into a swimming pool and started yelling at his son, who just lost a race at his swim meet.
An angry father struck his son's coach after the coach benched the boy.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. One of the sad realities of our times is the increasing level of “sports rage” exhibited by parents of children in sport. There is an alarming number of reports of parents threatening coaches, assaulting officials, hurting kids and attacking each other. Some youth sporting events now include a budget to hire security guards for games, in order to maintain spectator civility as well as safely escorting officials from games to their vehicles.

Only parents themselves can remedy this deplorable situation. In particular, people of faith have a unique opportunity to be healthy role models for others. Jesus Himself urged followers, saying “You are the light of the world ... let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds” (Matthew 5:14, 16.) Here are eight ways for parents to be good sports and just let their kids play.

1 Focus on your child's needs, not your own.

The Bible reminds us to “Honour one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). For parenting, that means placing your child's needs above your own.
Unfortunately, an amazing number of parents are living through their children.

They live for the glory a child's achievements in sports might bring them. They dream of producing the next sports superstar. Such parents can be recognised when they shout at their children during games, saying, “We're counting on you. Don't disappoint us!” These kinds of comments reveal the parents putting undue responsibility on their children to supply parental fulfilment in life.
Better comments, focusing on positives, are “Do your best,” “Be a team player,” “Be a good sport,” and “Show respect to players on other teams.”

2 Ask yourself this crucial question: “What do I want my child to get out of sport?”

This is a critical question, which must be answered carefully as it determines the way you support and encourage your child. As soon as they detect some sports skill in their child, too many parents answer that question by saying, “I want my child to pick up a sports scholarship.” Or, they may answer, “I want my child to go to the Olympics.” While both are lofty goals, they often reflect the wish of a parent more than the desire of the child.

A much better answer to that question is offered by Rick Wolff, author of Sports Parenting Edge. He writes: “How about setting some more basic, and more reachable, goals? Like hoping your child simply develops a lifelong love for athletic exercise that will keep them physically fit? And that they learn the lessons of hard work, discipline and sacrifice that are the foundation for living life beyond their sports years. And that they enjoy the overall experience of working hard with teammates and competing against their opponents.”

3 Cheer for every child playing in the game.

Don't merely cheer your own child. Offer praise and appreciation for all of the children, including those on the other team. That is one way to apply the exhortation of the Bible to “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Parents who place the focus entirely and obsessively on their own children send a clear signal that they don't care about the team or the event—just their child. After one soccer game in which his daughter's team lost, a father made a point to compliment the 12-year-old girl on the opposing team who made the winning goal, saying, “Congratulations on that goal. You really ran hard to make it. I enjoyed watching your success.” Hearing those words from the parent of a player on the opposing team added greater satisfaction to the young woman's achievement that day.

4 Know and respect the difference between encouraging and pushing.

Michael Simon, a sports psychologist and consultant to several professional sports teams, tells about his experience with a 12-year-old hockey goalie who experienced increased heart rate, butterflies and sweaty palms before games.

Recognising the symptoms as classic signs of anxiety, Dr Simon chatted with the father, who said, “I bought him a martial arts stretching machine.

While he stretches, I try to get him psyched up for the next game. We're trying to get a jump-start on a college scholarship.” The son's pregame jitters suddenly made sense to Dr Simon. “By pushing his son to become a superstar, the dad was causing him major stress,” he says.

Every parent must understand and respect the difference between encouraging and pushing. When kids are encouraged they develop confidence, enthusiasm and a positive attitude.
However, when kids are aggressively pushed by parents, they experience fear, anxiety, guilt, and resentment. (Are you a pushy parent, see the box right).

5 Be respectful and grateful to the officials.

If they're paid at all, the pay is very modest. Most officials do the task because they love the sport, and want to be part of making youth sports safe and enjoyable for kids. Whether your child's team won or lost, make a point of thanking the officials and expressing appreciation for their contribution.
Your kind words will offset the many disparaging comments directed at officials during and after games.

6 Talk to the parents of the other team.

Get to know them, remember their names and be friendly with them, whether your child's team wins or loses.
Keep in mind that they are not the enemy.

“Sometimes we get so caught up in an in-town rivalry or a big match against another school, we forget the other team is really just like our kids,” says sports psychologist Shane Murphy.
“Their parents care about their children just as much as we do. Showing our children that we interact with parents from the other team in a friendly manner sets a good example for them to congratulate or commiserate with the other team after every match.”

7 Attend practice sessions with your child.

Even though time is valuable, you as a parent ought to be at practices as well as games. There are several reasons for this. First, by being present at practice, you send a powerful message to your child that you value his or her hard work. Second, you're letting your child know you appreciate the process of athletic development, not just outcomes.

Third, being at practice provides you with opportunity to see and get to know the coach. At games, coaches are very busy and preoccupied with many last minute details. At practices, however, there is usually time before and after for friendly exchanges. Fourth, being at practice will give you a clearer idea if the program is being run in a proper and healthy way. You will be more aware and better informed.

8 Offer to help the coach.

The kind of parental involvement coaches love and appreciate comes from a parent who offers to pitch in and help relieve the coach. General offers of parental help can include: preparing a team roster and making copies for all the parents; sending out a weekly email reminder of practice times and locations; making phone calls when last-minute changes occur; planning end-of-season parties; shopping for replacement equipment; and fundraising.

In addition to helping the coach, parents who engage in this type of assistance say they themselves receive surprising benefits. One father, whose son played on a hockey team, recalls: “I knew nothing about hockey, so there was no way I could help with practices or coaching or anything like that.

However, I offered to be the team manager, which meant everything from phone calls, arranging car pools and writing up a little newsletter. After a few months, I realised this activity was a welcome break from my regular job, it got me closer to my son and his friends, and I found myself developing people skills I didn't know I had.”