Youth Sports Parents Resolutions

We’re a couple of days into the new year, but we can still add a few resolutions to our list. You’ve probably already broken the one about eating healthier a time or two (I certainly have) so take a look at this blog post suggesting resolutions sports parents would be wise to make.

Sticking to these commitments shouldn’t be all that difficult for most youth sports parents, but they provide helpful reminders worth reviewing. Though we all know that these suggestions are the right things to do, sometimes we can drift into bad habits without realizing what we’re doing.

Take a moment and check out these resolutions and keep them in mind.

The Long-Term Benefits of Youth Sports

It can be a tricky proposition–weighing the benefits of playing youth sports. For those who are serious about the activity, both kids and parents, there’s a lot of investment involved. Investment of time and money.

Surely that’s why we all hear some parents talk about the “payoff.” Often they mean a college sports scholarship. And given the cost of a college education today, that payoff is significant. The parents might even have hopes of a professional sports career for their son or daughter.

But what if your child achieves neither the scholarship or the fat pro contract? Was the investment of time and money still worthwhile?

There are many ways of answering that question. Here’s a response from one of my favorite youth-sports writers, Janis Meredith. Her post appears on Coachup.com, but she also writes her own blog titled jbmthinks.com. Her views always are considered and smart and informed.

In this post, she points out the value of youth sports in building confidence and character, in learning how to play on a team, which requires a certain amount of selflessness and an understanding how to achieve shared goals through group cooperation.

I agree with her that these benefits are far more important and last far longer than game skills. Sometimes the true value of these benefits isn’t fully appreciated. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard all about how youth sports build character. We’ve heard it so much, in fact, that we sometimes forget what words like ‘builds character’ really mean. And how the lessons learned through youth sports can shape the rest of your son’s or daughter’s life.

I’ll stop there, before this post becomes too preachy. Check out Meredith’s post. And keep it mind when you’re adding up the costs of having your kids in youth sports. Even if their sports ‘career’ doesn’t last beyond high school, you’re likely to see the payoff on your investment for years to come.

How Hard Should You Push Your Athlete?

Are you watching the Olympics? I’m catching what I can. It’s the one time every four years when I watch sports that otherwise don’t hold much interest for me. And the TV producers always do a thorough job of digging up the personal stories of the athletes in order to boost the drama. Those stories sometimes involve parents who have made great sacrifices to support the careers of their kids, many of whom are still in their teens.

During the 2012s we hear the touching tale of gymnast Gabby Douglas staying touch with her father during his tour of military duty in Afghanistan. We hear that swimmer Missy Franklin wasn’t crazy about her dad promoting “Missy the Missile” as a nickname. And there’s even the ad nauseam speculation about runner Nick Symmonds’ relationship with Paris Hilton.

Rarely do we hear horror stories about parents pushing their kids too hard or about kids taking their commitment to the point of obsession, in part to please their parents. But a lot of us probably think those untold stories fuel the reality of what we’re watching. Competing at an Olympic level requires more than talent and a strong work ethic. Athletes need to be dedicated to the point at which most people would snap.

This well-reported article from the ABC News website sheds some light on this rarely mentioned aspect of The Games. One expert claims that three in 10 parents of Olympic athletes pushes too hard. Another offers this paraphrased observation: “No parent-child relationship is ever going to be completely ‘normal’ at this level of competition, according to Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University.” Later in the article he says, ”Even well-meaning parents can get really caught up in five-ring fever.”

Given the level of commitment and sacrifice (in both time and money) made by parents of world-class athletes, their tendency to push their kids is more understandable than it is for the typical youth sports parent. But, as the article says, parents need to keep the situation a healthy one. The parents’ desire for success needs to focus only on their child, not on their own personal disappointments in the past.

I wish there was more coverage about the complicated role parents play in supporting their kids who reach this level of competition. The media tends to prefer telling the easy stories, ones with straightforward conflicts that can be understood – and resolved – in a 30-second or one-minute clip. Parents of competitive athletes even at far lower levels no doubt could learn something from the real stories. Maybe they would help us resolve our own questions about how hard to push.

Photo Credit: skyearth / Shutterstock.com

Dedicated People Help Youth Sports Thrive

When I was growing up, we depended on Mrs. Weber to make sure the school sports program ran right. Without her, the program probably wouldn’t have run at all. From organizing and working the Boosters’ fundraising raffles to scheduling games and updating rosters, she was on it.

And there was Mr. Hudemann too, giving up nights and weekends to repair the fields and fences, volunteering to coach teams that lacked a parent willing to take the job. As kids, we pretty much took them for granted. As adults, we still tend to take these folks for granted.

Most schools probably have similar dedicated volunteers. Programs throughout the country depend on Mrs. Webers and Mr. Hudemanns to keep their youth programs functioning, people who dedicate their lives to the effort and, of course, are not compensated in any way. They do it because they feel organized sports are an important part of childhood.

Outside of the schools or organizations or small towns where they tirelessly work, these people remain unknown. Unfortunately, we hear instead about the coaches accused of sexual abuse and the ones who run off with the uniform and travel money. We hear about coaches who ignore signs of concussion and push the players back onto the field. We hear about the parents who behave badly on the sideline. If a youth sports video gets any attention on You Tube, you can bet it involves a post-game parental brawl.

But I’ll wager that these bad apples are far outnumbered by the ones whose names we don’t know but without whom their sports programs would stumble to a halt. A frustrating but apparently inevitable fact of life. Lately on my Google Alerts, however, I’ve enjoyed seeing stories about these good apples popping up. Just a few examples:

New Paltz is grateful for the time and energy that Willie Dixon has given to support the town’s youth sports programs. For 20 years he has been stepping up to coach various teams in football, basketball, volleyball, track, even drum line. He says he stresses the three Ds: discipline, determination and devotion. Given the amount of time he has volunteered to youth sports in the area, he clearly embodies those qualities himself.

A little to the north of Davis, in Tewksbury, MA, Ed Sullivan was a very familiar face in the town’s youth sports world. He was always there to give his time and support. Sadly, the link notes his passing at the age of 50. An area resident recalls, “Each Sunday morning I would go down to the field early to check the condition of it, and without fail there was Ed on his lawnmower cutting the grass…. None of what Ed did was asked of him.”

Across the country, in Canon City, Colorado, Pete Miller has been doing much the same thing, having spent 20 years coaching youth baseball, basketball and soccer. He started out, as many of us did, coaching his kids, in part because no one else stepped up to volunteer. But even after his kids outgrew youth sports, he kept volunteering to coach. When asked why he does it, he answers, “It’s more like, why wouldn’t I? If somebody asked and they need a hand or need some help, it’s the natural thing to do.”

No doubt there are hundreds – even thousands – more like Davis, Sullivan and Miller, people who give their time to youth sports and ask nothing in return. They give because they feel they’re helping kids become better people while providing kids the opportunity to have fun. I wish we heard more about these folks. They’re all over the country, making youth sports possible.

Should Every Player Get a Trophy?

Before we started talking about concussions and overuse injuries and pitch counts and any number of other ways youth sports were potentially dangerous for kids, we talked a lot about how, as parents and coaches, we’d gone soft.

Heck, every kid who tried out for a team made it, and at the end of the year each received a trophy or a ribbon or some other symbol of their having played the season. We were raising a generation of wussies! Where was the competition? Why were we teaching kids that all they had to do was show up? The reward they got at the end of the season essentially was meaningless because everybody got one, whether they led the team in hitting or they were the last kid off the bench.

So went the hue and cry. On the other side of the argument, some parents and coaches felt that youth sports are about building confidence in kids and teaching teamwork. They felt that if some kids won trophies and others didn’t, the latter would feel like failures. Rather than building each kid’s confidence and teaching them the importance of teamwork we would be doing the opposite. They wanted to avoid creating a hierarchy based on athletic ability. Any kid who wanted to play should be able to do it and all should be treated equally.

In recent years I’ve heard this once popular debate a whole lot less. We’ve pretty much accepted the latter view as far as de-emphasizing competition with teams. Meanwhile, travel teams and select leagues are pretty standard now, and serious athletes can play year around. The distinctions are pretty clear.

So I was surprised to hear the argument raised in this article from drstankovich.com. I tweeted a link to the article and a few tweeters shot back their opinions on the topic. Maybe the argument hasn’t been put to rest as much as we assumed.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? I’ve long advocated a balanced approach. At the end of the season, every kid who has stuck it out receives a ribbon or badge or trophy, whatever the league suggests. But then there are special awards for top hitter, top pitcher, top fielder, most improved, and so on. I usually throw in a few humorous ones too, which give us a fun way to celebrate the season and recall humorous moments.

In this way the top performers are acknowledged but no one leaves empty-handed. I think this approach is fairly common. Though it does single out the best players, by the end of the season it’s rarely a secret who are the best hitters and fielders and pitchers. No one should have their feelings hurt. And if it’s a close call on “best” at any one skill it’s easy to call it a tie or to make sure both players in contention are recognized.

I’ve never had a parent complain that their kid was overlooked. I believe in giving every kid plenty of playing time, and I believe in treating them all equally. All should feel they played an important role on the team. At the same time, giving a nod to the best players seems only fair, as they usually are the kids who are the most dedicated to the game.

Let us know your opinion on this subject. Because it involves kids’ emotions and feelings of confidence it’s worth discussing. And maybe always will be.

 

Doctor G on Youth Sports Parenting

Parents whose kids play sports face a lot of challenges beyond driving the gang to practice and trying to feed them healthy meals on the fly. The deeper emotional terrain can be slippery at times, and crossing it isn’t easy. Now and again, we fall down. But we have to get back up, hoping we learn as we go.

I try to find experts who can help, and today I spoke to Dr. Deborah Gilboa, who I met on Twitter, where she is @AskDocG. As a part-time family physician and mother of four who speaks and writes on a variety of parenting issues, she has a lot of valuable information and advice to give. You can find her online at askdoctorg.com.

I asked her what questions about sports she hears most often from parents. She says they frequently ask about how to handle their child’s desire to quit a sport – sometimes a new one and sometimes one the child has played for a few years and in which a certain amount of family time and money has been invested. The child also has invested a lot of time, and the parents feel he or she will regret quitting.

Her advice: 99 percent of the time they shouldn’t be allowed to quit. “If your kid is being emotionally harmed by the situation and it’s not getting any better, and if you’ve talked to your kid and talked to the coach, then it’s okay to quit.” If your child is just bored with the activity, however, then they need to play until the season ends.

“The bigger lesson here is to teach perseverance and teamwork,” Doctor G says. “You need to be really clear about why you’re telling them to stick with it. Most of our kids aren’t going to grow up to be Olympic athletes. The point of practice is to learn to practice. The point of contributing is to learn to contribute. When we want to get good at something we need to learn that sometimes it’s boring and repetitious. That’s a great life lesson.”

One topic I particularly wanted to discuss with her is the apparent rise in violence at youth sports games. Most of us have suffered the steady diet of videos and articles covering parents physically attacking each other. We’ve also read the exclamatory columns and blog posts decrying the situation. My question: is there really a situation? Or do we merely see more of these rare fights because they can be captured on smartphones and posted online within minutes?

“I actually think that has to do with the 24-hour news cycle,” Doctor G says. “This kind of behavior has been going on since the invention of youth sports. It hasn’t increased.” She adds that the videos only show the worst moments, which can distort our sense of the full story. “There’s no You Tube video of the heartfelt apology or handshake.”

If anything, she says, bad parental behavior has decreased, in part because as a culture we no longer accept it. ”We see parents and coaches behaving badly sometimes but being that crazy, out-of-control parent is like being a smoker. Some still do it, but they know enough to be embarrassed about it. I see that behavior more in moms than in dads. And they do it when they feel their kid has been hurt or marginalized.”

Three of her sons play soccer, and the leagues have instituted strict rules about what parents can say from the bleachers or sidelines, an approach that has become much more common in recent years throughout the country. Doctor G says parents are only allowed to cheer for the team name, not for a specific player. Only coaches are allowed to shout names of kids on the field. Those who break the rule are ejected.

“It’s made a huge difference,” she says. She admits she’d be tempted to call out to her sons, mostly to encourage them to try harder. “I want to pressure [them], and that’s not acceptable.”

Because of her own experiences as a mom, Doctor G understands what parents go through as they watch their kids play and feels the rules of behavior are helpful to all of us in limiting how we act. “Parents may be doing it out of love rather than reflected glory or unreasonableness,” she says. “When I give parenting talks, I see that almost every parent loves their kid and wants what’s best for them.  The behavior mostly comes from love.”

I wanted to ask many more questions, but we ran out of time. If you have questions for her, go to askdoctorg.com, and she’ll be happy to answer.

Concussion Trivia with Drew Brees

What if you were in New Orleans and you got into a taxi and the driver was Drew Brees? Pretty amazing, right? OK, more than amazing – absolutely impossible. But that’s the premise of this entertainingly educational four-minute video made by PACE (Protecting Athletes through Concussion Education) and Dick’s Sporting Goods, titled “Who Dat Cabbie?”

It’s an upbeat, well-produced video that brings the viewer into three taxi rides, with Brees at the wheel, as charming a cabbie as you’ll ever meet. Peyton Manning might have met his match as far as on-camera charisma. The hook of the story is that he gives all his passengers a quick quiz on the basics of concussions. Like most of us, they nail some of the questions, are stunned by the answers to others.

The video is part of a program that PACE and Dick’s have put together to make youth sports safer for kids. To accomplish that mission, parents and coaches need to know the facts, and for those of us a bit hesitant to dive into the details,  - how to diagnose a concussion, how to care for the player, and how to determine when the player can be allowed to play again – the video delivers the info in a simple, enjoyable manner.

The first step your players need to take: have all of them get an imPACT baseline test, and you can find out how to do that simply by clicking here. On that site (dsgpace.org) you also can find out a lot more concussion basics. And you can download a brochure explaining the test, a sideline assessment card, and a list of “best practices for concussions.”

Though athletes suffer concussions in many sports, they’re most prevalent in football, and with summer practices beginning in a couple of weeks, the time is right to find out as much as we can. The “Bench Concussions” program is a great undertaking, and from what I’ve seen it’s being marketed and administered in an impressively professional way. Click the links and find out more.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Do’s and a Don’t for Motivating Your Players

I had a terrific pitcher on one of my baseball teams who, on a good day, was pretty much unhittable. He was on the small side, a lefty, and didn’t have great velocity. But he had better control than any 12-year-old I’ve ever seen. And his ability to keep hitters off balance by changing speed and location was, at times, remarkable for a kid his age.

The challenge in coaching him was keeping him motivated, engaged, and emotionally balanced. Sometimes he showed up for practice or games and clearly was checked out. During the season I learned that he had a tough home life and that he wasn’t doing well in the classroom despite his obvious intelligence. He ran around with kids who were a few years older, kids who had behavior problems.

He wasn’t sullen or combative, but he was difficult to engage – a quiet kid who kept to himself and just didn’t seem to be having a lot of fun. He obviously was hurting at levels he didn’t want to reveal. Without overstepping my role as a coach, I tried a few times to reach him, without success.

On any team, you’re dealing with the emotions of a lot of different kids. Keeping them motivated and playing together, making them feel special, and helping them have fun can be a challenge, and there are no formulas that work with every kid every time.

But this article from the Positive Coaching Alliance, a wonderful organization that does a lot of good work for kids in youth sports, provides some very useful tips on what they call “filling the emotional tank.” Take a few minutes to check them out.

I found a couple of the tips to be particularly inventive, such as naming drills after players who do them well and naming new captains for every game. These strategies not only help develop team unity but also make all the players feel like they belong and like they’re contributing. A kid who feels confident plays better and has more fun playing. Check out the tips and tell us what you do to fill your players’ “emotional tank.”

A big DON’T is to lose patience with a kid who doesn’t respond to your strategies. Some players, as we all know, can be difficult. Like my crafty left-hander, they might be going through some upheaval in other areas of their lives. You need to make sure they don’t undermine team morale or your authority, so clear expectations must be given, but don’t write them off too quickly.

And don’t lose your temper. This week a girls basketball coach from Wisconsin lost control after a game, when he allegedly threw one of his players to the ground and punched her. According to this story on NBCsports.com, two players, one of whom was the coach’s daughter, got into a shouting match, and the coach interceded. He says he was attacked by the 17-year-old player and was only protecting himself.  Witnesses reportedly say otherwise.

He was arrested, and the courts will decide the legal consequences. For our purposes, it seems to be an example of a coach losing patience. A grown man does not physically assault his own player unless their relationship already is strained and has reached a boiling point, even if he’s attacked.

Keep the emotional tanks full by using positive, empowering strategies. If a player doesn’t respond and remains difficult, decide if you need to talk to the parents. There might be extenuating circumstances. Showing anger is only going to worsen the situation. Like teachers, coaches must realize they’re not going to reach every player. But by motivating the rest of the team, you just might motivate that player too.

 

 

 

Coaching Your Own Kids

Most of us, I’ll wager, began coaching youth sports because our kids were involved and the team needed parents to volunteer to coach the team. In fact, in all the years and all the sports my kids have played, there was only one team that wasn’t coached by a parent of a player. I coached both my sons in various sports and also watched from the bleachers sometimes too. No doubt a lot of readers have done the same.

So we’re familiar with the challenges of coaching our own kids. It’s one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences a parent can have, and if you haven’t had the pleasure, I recommend it. But it’s not without its difficulties.

No matter how hard you try, as a parent you can’t be completely objective about your own kid’s place on the team. It’s natural – even unavoidable – to pay closer attention to his or her performance. For me, the key always has been to keep those feelings to yourself. You cannot ‘show’ any kind of favoritism.

Because even if you don’t, you might have a few parents who believe that you are giving special treatment to your own kid. If you hear from them, be honest with yourself and review your actions. They might be right. On the other hand, if your soul-searching doesn’t reveal any biased actions, then ignore the comments. Some parents are predisposed to believe that any coach is playing favorites. The situation is tricky enough without taking on their personal issues.

I’ve certainly worked with coaches who are guilty of it. On the other hand, I’ve worked with a few coaches who swung their pendulum too far in the other direction. Fearing that they might appear to be biased they were more critical of their own kid than any other player on the team. In one case, it got to the point that I had to talk to the coach, telling him privately that he was frequently singling out his son for criticism. At first he denied it but then said he didn’t want to be accused of showing favoritism.

We need to strike – and maintain – a delicate balance. The most important key is communicating with your son or daughter. Even if you love sports and love coaching, the main reason you’re doing it is for them. That shared experience is the goal and the true value of your time together.

But it, too, can be emotionally complicated, which is why it’s important that there’s open communication. Just as you are subject to comments about showing favoritism, your son or daughter can be seen as “the coach’s kid.” Not always a fun role to play. It puts pressure on them to prove they deserve whatever they get – from playing time to position they play.

Through the years I’ve thought a lot about this tricky yet very fulfilling situation. Today I found this Associated Press article that offers some useful insights on the subject, and it’s well worth taking a few minutes to read it.

I’d love to hear your observations on your experiences coaching your son or daughter. It’s one of the special times in a parent’s life and in a kid’s life too. Not the easiest one by a long shot but one of the best.

Keeping Kids Cool During Summer Games

The weather experts tell us the worst of the heat wave is over. That’s good news. For now. The past few weeks have been brutal in most states, making summer sports events very uncomfortable. And, frankly, dangerous.

When kids are playing or practicing sports, they face risks such as dehydration and even heat stroke. This recent article from sciencedaily.com presents some of the particulars. It’s especially important for parents and coaches to know that kids are more susceptible to heat-related health concerns than adults.

An important point from the article: ”Kids’ bodies don’t acclimate to the heat as well adults. They don’t sweat as effectively. They absorb more heat since they have smaller bodies and a higher ratio of surface area to body mass,” said Jerold Stirling, chair of the department of pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and pediatrician at Loyola University Health System.

If you’re feeling more than uncomfortable watching from the bleachers or the sideline, you can bet the players are suffering even more. Their bodies aren’t able to combat the heat as well as yours can, so we need to be extra vigilant.

Hydration, of course, is crucial. As parents, we need to trust the coaches to be sure they’re insisting on breaks and are telling the kids to take frequent drinks. If that’s not happening, try to find a way to mention the need without being intrusive. Just as kids can forget to drink when focused on playing, coaches can too. Having cold towels the kids can use to cool down is also a smart approach.

During the worst of the heat wave, I heard about teams re-scheduling games for earlier in the day, when it’s cooler. An excellent idea. A pre-game chat about the heat with the opposing coaches is also a good idea, just to be sure everyone is aware of the need to take extra precautions.

With football and fall soccer practices ready to begin in a couple of weeks, we have to make sure the kids are safe. Kids playing in the heat of summer should not be a challenge to their fortitude. The days when coaches pushed their young players to endure the heat to the point of getting sick or passing out are over. It’s not a matter of bravado or toughness. Heat-related sickness is a serious matter. Find other ways to strengthen your players without putting them at risk.