Congratulations! Your child has made the decision to join a sport or competitive activity. They had friends at school doing it and thought they would give it a try. Your daughter saw Gabby Douglas in the Olympics and now she wants to try gymnastics. You took your son to a baseball game and now he wants to be the next Evan Longoria (a shout out to my Tampa Bay Rays). Your child goes on a school field trip to the theater and now they want to be an actor. It’s important that our children participate in activities and even more important they explore the possibilities of their athleticism, creativity, and determination. We as parents want to see our children discover hidden passions and we will do whatever is in our power to make that happen for them. So we sign them up. We pay the fees and buy uniforms and equipment. We buy bats and ballet shoes, soccer balls and swim goggles.
In the midst of it all, during the visions of hope and glory, we as parents forget sometimes to ask ourselves a few questions. How much money do I have to spend on this activity? How much time do I have for practice, games, competitions, and after event gatherings? Does my child have the same goals as I do? Do I have the same goals as the coach? Am I using this activity as an after school babysitter or do I truly want my child to learn a skill and learn it well? How do I feel about competition? How will I feel if my child is not the best and in fact, is maybe the least talented on the team? Am I ready to watch as my child struggles with new skills, exercises, demands, and losing? Am I willing to step away and let my child fail and succeed without any interference from me? Am I willing to support the coach in their decisions that will give my child the life skills necessary to survive in a world filled with high expectations, competitive environments, and disappointments? Do I understand that learning life longs skills that will allow my child to thrive in a global marketplace requires discipline and a tough skin that is best learned starting at the age of 6 on the ball fields of little league, in towns barely recognizable by Google Maps?
I am a parent of a 10 year old. I’m also considered a “coach” in the world of marching band and color guard. I am competitive, demanding, and I set expectations high for the performers I instruct. I deplore apathy, laziness, and children that come to my rehearsal unprepared and unwilling to get better. I want to win. I realize that we most likely won’t always win, but my goal is to coach young people who strive to be the best. I teach them to lose with dignity and win silently and as a humble competitor. I have a 10 year old who is a second year gymnast. At a most recent practice the coach corrected him and in turn he talked back. The coach told him to run three laps around the floor. After he ran his lap he walked over to me pouting and looking for mom to support him and hold him up. The mom inside of me wanted to protect him from any pain. The coach inside of me knew what needed to be done. It was the coach that won over the mom as I said, “Josh, you will get no sympathy from me. You were wrong. Now get back and do what the coach asks you to do. Oh…and apologize for talking back. ” He slinked away with his head down and bottom lip dragging the ground. He learned several lessons in this one practice that hopefully will stay with him for life and if he doesn’t, the lesson will keep playing itself out until he finally does. This is life.
Lesson 1: Mom will not rescue you from your actions.
Lesson 2: There is no tolerance in this family for disrespect.
Lesson 3: You are not always right.
Lesson 4: Coaches and teachers serve a purpose in your learning and you can only learn by listening with an open mind.
It was hard as a parent to not rescue him. I wanted to put my arms around him and tell him it will be ok. “He’s only 10 right? He’s too young to be disciplined in sports. It’s supposed to be all about fun.” Wrong! Supporting the coach was the best thing I could have ever done for him. It showed him how important these lessons are, even if he doesn’t understand them yet.
So how can parents support their coaches regardless of the sport or activity? I have found that it doesn’t matter if it’s traditional sports such as baseball, soccer or swimming or non traditional activities such as competitive marching band, colorguard, cheerleading, dance, or drama. It’s all the same, because the coaches or teachers of those activities have one goal and that is to make the team as successful as possible, while trying to teach each child valuable life skills they will carry with them for life.
- Know that every coach has a multitude of tasks that may or may not involve scheduling, budgeting, parental engagement, fundraising, facility maintenance, and player/performer issues. Through all of that, they still have to coach a team to victory, which involves skill building, fundamentals, drills, conditioning, choreography, performer psychology, and team building.
- Know that no coach, coaches a team in the hopes of being in last place, but the reality is that someone has to be in last place. This lesson in and of itself is the point behind resiliency. Children must be taught to be resilient. Nothing teaches resiliency faster than losing a competition and then coming back the next day willing to fight once more to achieve your goal. Coaches don’t coach to lose. They coach to win. Oftentimes, winning is not an option based on factors beyond the coaches control such as talent of the players, loss of facilities, and finances. However, good coaches will coach through adversity and good parents will work with their coach to help their children understand that adversity.
- Know that most of their time is volunteer time and what you see on the field is barely half of what goes on behind the scenes. Out of all my years coaching colorguard, I have failed miserably at getting parents to understand that what goes on after practice is more time consuming than practice itself and the time spent making their child great is a full time job on top of a full time job. Empathy and sometimes a nice Starbucks at practice goes a long way with your under paid and often volunteer coaches.
- Know that for every problem your child has, there are a dozen other children with something that’s just as important. Coaches field calls, emails, and texts daily about the players they coach. “My child is sick.” “I can’t come to practice today. I have a test.” “I have to quit, my grades are suffering.” “My child isn’t playing enough.” “Why isn’t my child the star?”
- Get past the “favoritism” issue. Most coaches of any worth don’t really have time to consider favorites and they don’t want to sacrifice the team just so a favorite can play in the most important position or as in colorguard…get the solo, when they clearly don’t have the talent to do so. Your coach loves the kids they put their energy into and they want all of them to succeed. All children have strengths and weaknesses. The best coaches will understand that and coach to individual levels, while merging the individual strengths into one great team. As a coach and a parent, I realize how much parents want their kid to succeed and I know that as a parent, we simply want our kids to feel good about themselves. We all want our children to stand at the top of the pyramid, because that’s the role of a parent. However, only one person can stand on top of the pyramid, but we all know that it’s those on the bottom of the pyramid that really matter, because without those on the bottom of the pyramid, the pyramid falls.
- Support the coaches in their efforts to discipline your children. Discipline in competitive activities should be a given as players/performers test the boundaries of discipline. Discipline is important if the team is going to succeed. Children have to be on time to practice. They need to go home and personally hone their skills. They need to support their teammates. They need to communicate with their coach when they have a problem. They need to not turn to excuses when they make a mistake. They need to show good sportsmanship. Failure to take responsibility for their actions should involve a disciplinary measure such as extra conditioning, being held out of playing a game, or in the most extreme…removal from the team. Failure to support the coach in times of discipline will cripple you child for life. FOR LIFE! They must learn that there are expectations in this world and failure to rise to the expectations has consequences.
- Volunteer. They need your help. They need help collecting money, contacting other parents, planning trips, working concession stands, and driving children to and from practice and competitions. If you can’t volunteer due to your own issues with time, it’s important to find other ways to support those that are volunteering.
- Don’t be an armchair assistant coach. “Why did he put that kid on second base?” “When I was on the swim team we never did it that way.” “They practice too much.” They don’t practice enough.” The coach is too hard.” ” The coach is too soft.” Sports and activities develop and grow. As we learn more about the human body and mind, the more we learn about what works and what doesn’t work. Trust your coach to be up to date on current methods of coaching in their field. On a side note, ask your coaches what training they have received. As a parent it is in your right.
- Know that some coaches just aren’t very good. That’s a fact. Not every coach has a strong background in the sport they’re coaching. Some don’t understand youth development. There are some that have zero abilities at managing parents and some that simply don’t know how to draw up a budget and stick to it. Some have egos that cripple the team. It’s inevitable that at some point in your child’s extra-curricular exploration that they will end up with that one coach who simply isn’t very good. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options when this occurs. You can’t just change high schools to join a different marching band. Little leagues don’t exactly let you jump from team to team until you find the best. So what do you do? Outside of outright abuse or unethical practices, the best thing you can do is stick it out until your commitment on the team is over and teach your child that in life, sometimes you lose and sometimes you are on a losing team and going down with the ship while you hold your teammates up, is one of the most noble actions you can take in this world. It’s in times like that when leaders are born.
- Don’t let your child quit and leave the team hanging! It is without a doubt one of the worst things you can do. Quitting because it’s hard or time consuming is unacceptable when a team is depending on your child to play a part in a play or a position on the team. You should ask questions before the activity starts about time commitment, financial responsibilities, and intensity of practices. In colorguard, if a performer quits mid-season it spirals the program out of control while the instructors try to figure out how to change choreography and drill. When we let our kids quit for no reason other than their own fear of hard work, then what are we here as parents to do? If they can quit when baseball becomes demanding, then what else in life will they give up on? What commitments will they fail to live up to? Quit baseball today and tomorrow it could be high school, college, jobs, marriages, children, and finances.
- Know what success means. The definition of success lies solely within your child. Some children are successful if they can simply get on a stage and sing a song without throwing up. Some children hit the ball for the first time in 5 games and others gage success based on the progress they have made since last season. It is their success and a good coach will help your child define success for them and then define success for the team. Stay away from this process. They see what we as parents are incapable of. We see our children through a parental filter and sometimes that filter is flat out wrong. Our filter carries with it our own successes and failures and can cloud our judgment.
Author: Shelba Waldron
Shelba is a coaching and program consultant for youth programs and youth development expert. To contact her please email her at [email protected] or visit the services page at http://forwardyouthconsulting.com/services/