Dear Over The Top Sports Parent,
Listen, I have been involved in the sports world, and just when I think I have seen it all, some whack job proves me wrong. I am as competitive as the next person, and when I say I HATE to lose, understand that I hate to lose more than I love to win. I grew up in a household where if we were not at practice, we had a game, if there were no games, we were watching some athletic event on television. My parents grew up as athletes, and that is how I and my two younger sisters were raised. I am also aware that things happen in the heat of the moment in competition and things are interpreted in ways that are not always meant. That being said, as a current college athlete, I can say that I’ve been around youth and high schools sports long enough to see that some parents can be absolutely toxic, ruining not only team chemistry, but their own athlete. I started playing “Tykes” soccer in 2000, the first organized team I participated on. I have watched over the last 16 years as youth sports have turned into what I would consider one of the biggest jokes in America.
Know your role.
There is a reason your seat is in the bleachers and not on the bench. You are not the coach. You have not been with the team day in and day out at practice. Unlike the coach, you have not combed through hours and hours of film. You are a parent. Stop screaming at your son or daughter to “take it to the hole” or “throw it home” leave it to the coach to tell them what to do. Your job is to show up and support, that’s it. Congratulate your athlete on their successes and offer a hug after disappointments. You don’t want to be that parent that the whole team can hear from the stands, that’s just embarrassing for everyone involved.
In elementary school, my dad took me to our local high school’s basketball game. I watched as the varsity team was warming up and I looked over to my right and one of the girls on the junior varsity team who had just finished playing was pinned up against the wall by her father screaming in her face. This is never acceptable. Who in their right mind thinks this is what a 15-year-old girl needs? I have had experience playing under coaches that yell and scream. Thankfully, I know when I get in the car after the game I will not be hearing more of that from my parents. Personally, I have played with so many teammates who talk about how they have been “ripped a new one” by mom or dad after the games and it hurts my heart. This sort of can be rolled into the “knowing your role” section, let the coaches do the yelling and your job should be the supporting. Encourage your child instead of pestering. I have watched so many young athletes quit sports that they love because mom and dad were too over the top and it wasn’t fun anymore.
Stop Driving A Wedge.
Honestly, and I mean this in the nicest way possible but, shut your mouth!! Opening up your mouth and spewing your venom is doing no good for anyone. What you don’t understand is your words have an impact. The more you tell your athlete at the dinner table, how horrible his/her coach is, before you know it, they will start to believe it. If mom and dad say it, then it MUST be true. WRONG. I don’t care if you think this coach cannot walk and chew gum at the same time, keep it to yourself. Children are so impressionable, and most think their parents’ opinions are gold. Once you have driven that wedge between your athlete and their coach, it’s hard to repair. Your young athlete is going to lose trust in their coach’s ability to lead, they will start to question everything they say and in turn, it will assure that not everyone is on the same page.
Keep other players out of your vocabulary.
Not only can you drive a wedge between a player and a coach, you can also help to ruin team chemistry. Stop telling your athlete that he/she is “better than #34” or the “#5 needs to pass the ball more” or that “you’re a better hitter than him/her.” Again, the more these young impressionable athletes hear this, the more they believe in it. Once they believe they are better than “insert name here” than they will start to not pass to them or support them. Once this happens, the team starts to pull apart and you, my friend are the cause. In case you forgot you are the adult, act like it! Remember these are KIDS, that you are harassing and verbally abusing, they have feelings too. Talking poorly about other players on your own athlete’s team does nothing to increase your own child’s abilities, it just makes you look like a loser.
It’s okay if your athlete isn’t the best.
Heaven forbid not everyone is the best at everything they do. It’s okay that there is someone better than your athlete. Inspire your athlete to work hard and improve their game so they can hopefully be one day just as good. I see so many people tear down a team’s “best player” out of jealousy. It’s disgusting, again here is a huge reminder that these are kids! Your kid will not be great at everything they do and if they can be a role player on their team, teach them how to be one. It’s okay to not be the star. These are great life lessons for young athletes to learn. Don’t hate on someone else because they “play too hard” or “see too much playing time.”
Stop embarrassing yourself.
Every time you groan when one of your athlete’s teammates throws the ball away and you know your child could have made that pass, you are embarrassing yourself. Screaming at the top of your lungs telling the players what to do, you are embarrassing yourself. Stomping out of the gym when your child gets pulled out of the game, you are embarrassing yourself. It’s got to stop. Sit quietly and keep your remarks to yourself. Clap when your team scores, and keep silent when they mess up, and please for the love of God stop embarrassing yourself and your child.
As a parent your job is to pick up your son or daughter from practice, feed your hungry athlete, make sure they make it to the bus on time, show up to games and just support the team. I’ve seen too many teams and even athletes ruined by parents who get way too into this. Encourage your son or daughter and keep their teammate's names out of your mouth unless you have something positive to say. Also, remember you’re not the coach, there is a reason you’re on the other side of the gym. Keep your “expertise” to yourself. Stop being a cancer to the team, your athlete looks up to you and believes in everything you say whole heartedly. I am a competitive person, and man I love to win, but youth and high school sports offer so much more than winning and losing. It teaches lessons in adversity, friendship and perseverance, all in which I believe the youth of America could afford to learn a little about.
In my household we have three rules when it comes to sports, Work Hard, Try Your Best and most importantly Have Fun. We always say, if you can say yes to these things it’s a good day.
People complain about our generation being spoiled and entitled. Have you looked at who has raised us? You people will weasel your way into the coach’s back pockets and act like high school sports should be participatory. Stop telling your kid that they are the best when they are not. Stop tearing down the star player out of pure jealousy. Stop making your athlete question their coach. Stop acting irrationally and please oh please stop embarrassing yourself. You might ruin team chemistry and even worse you might ruin your son or daughter. My hope with this letter that many sports parents have the capability (and the brain cells) to be able to take a step back and look at their behavior in a critical manner and change for the benefit of our children.
A Girl Who Is Worried About The Future of Youth Sports