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.