By Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D.
Watching kids play sports is pure pleasure for most parents. The moms and dads shuttle their young athletes to practices and games hassle-free, with little or no accompanying drama. But we’ve all heard or read about the antics of a small minority of jerks.
After a hockey practice, a coach was beaten to death by a father who was upset about rough play in a scrimmage. The assailant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
A soccer mom angered over being accidentally dropped from the team e-mail list was arrested for slamming a metal folding chair across the face of her daughter’s coach. The woman was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment.
At a youth football game, a player’s father brandished a .357 magnum during a dispute over his son’s playing time.
What’s the good news? These kinds of incidents are not the norm. In fact the majority of parents are able to channel their genuine concerns and good intentions in a way that heightens the value of their children’s sport experiences. To facilitate this, the following guidelines were covered in my PrimeAthlete article titled “Youth Sports 101” (August 26, 2015):
1. Set a good example of an active person.
2. Let kids participate in determining when they are ready for sports.
3. Give priority to your child’s own interests.
4. Don’t use sports as a baby-sitter.
5. Emphasize the process of enjoyment rather than the product of winning.
6. Emphasize striving to improve skills rather than comparing oneself with others.
7. Don’t live your dreams through your children.
In addition to the above, some other guiding principles are offered to increase the chances of producing favorable results.
8. Give kids an opportunity for early success.
Properly-structured learning experiences are designed to ensure some degree of initial success. And when children perform sport skills correctly, they should be given ample amounts of verbal praise and/or nonverbal forms of reinforcement―a smile, a pat on the back, a high-five. In other words, catch the young athlete doing something right. In addition, liberally reinforce effort and achievement. Remember, whether kids show it or not, the positive things you say and do stick with them.
9. Establish and maintain open lines of communication.
Tell your children what you expect—things like giving maximum effort, listening to their coach, having fun—and ask what they are thinking. Make it very clear you want to know how they feel about what’s happening in practices and games. This type of two-way communication is essential.
10. Evaluate your child’s coach.
Parents should talk to the coach, regularly go to games, and occasionally attend a practice. Additionally, they should ask themselves the following questions:
Are the young athletes treated with respect?
Are they being taught?
Are they given a chance to perform?
Are they made to feel what they’re doing is a fun activity?
If not, it may be necessary to find another team for your child.
11. Think safety first.
Everyone involved in youth sports should constantly seek practical ways to minimize the risk of injury. Here are some safety tips:
Have a preseason medical checkup, which can detect medical problems early and prevent new ones.
Be in the proper physical condition before playing a sport.
Learn the rules and the importance of following them.
Wear the appropriate clothing for the activity.
Have all the necessary protective equipment, and make sure it fits correctly.
Make sure the facilities and playing surfaces are safe.
Always warm up before playing and cool down afterward.
12. Be alert for signs of pain or injury.
Kids might not say they are hurt because they believe it will disappoint parents and/or coaches. Consequently, adults must look for the symptoms of injuries common to the sport. Early detection is important. At the first sign of pain, get the young athlete out of the action, and get pain checked out. Additionally, an injured athlete should not return to play until the symptoms of injury have completely disappeared. Continued participation may make the injury worse and may place the athlete at a high risk for another injury.
13. Lighten-up and have FUN!
Youth sport authorities unanimously agree that one of the most important objectives for youngsters is to have fun. But athletes shouldn’t be the sole beneficiaries of the joy of sports. Rather, significant adults―parents, coaches, administrators, and officials―should derive enjoyment from their involvement. Fun is a contagious entity that transforms youth sports into a growth-promoting experience for everyone.
Do you want to learn more about parenting young athletes?
The Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports is a research-based video that emphasizes skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun.
To access the video, go to the Youth Enrichment in Sports website
Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., is a sport psychologist at the University of Washington. His research focuses on the psychological effects of competition on children and adolescents. Dr. Smoll has conducted more than 550 coaching clinics and workshops for parents of young athletes.