I’m the father of two girls, aged 14 and 11, and yes, my kids think I’m an obnoxious sports parent. Tennis, lacrosse, field hockey, basketball . . . you name it – I’ve embarrassed my kids by volunteering to coach them in it.
Until recently that embarrassment has been pretty undeserved (at least from my perspective). But as my girls have hit the preteen/teen years, and life has gotten more harried I’ve definitely seen a tendency for parents (including myself) to take their eye off the ball a little and forget how much they can do to help their kid’s coaches. We’re all super parents for our four-year old’s mosh pit – I mean soccer – team. Juice boxes and orange wedges are everywhere and all the parents dutifully invest in finely-pressed uniforms and sparkling equipment. It gets a little dicier when it’s 10 years later and you are on the third kid. So the arrival of warm weather sports seemed a good time to review what we all can do to make the season go smoother.
If you are already one of those tremendously organized parents, don’t roll your eyes too much at this list – there are few surprises. For the rest of us, think of this as a friendly reminder, and a primer for the newbies among us:
- Be prepared. All you need is something to drink (water is fine – they aren’t running a triathlon), the proper equipment, and appropriate clothing. Kids can’t perform if they are cold and wet or wearing shoes two sizes too small. For younger kids, double knot their cleats. Helping 15 youngsters retie their shoes can take up half a practice.
- Give ’em some space. Don’t feel the need to hang out for every practice. Or at least keep your distance. This is a chance for your kids to start to have some independence from you. They are going to get shoved when no coaches are looking. They are going to get skinned knees. Let them experience what it’s like to have to deal with that without you sailing across the field to save the day.
- Play catch with them. Most kids do not practice the basic skills between practices or games. It actually makes a big difference. It’s also when they tend to inadvertently let their guard down a bit and ramble on about what’s going on their lives. And wow, based on the conversations I overhear, it’s quite a different world that 11-14 year olds have to deal with these days.
- Set a goal or two at the beginning of the year, write it down on a card with your child, and revisit it at the end of the year.
- Leave the phones at home. While I know phones are critical for coordinating logistics, try to make the drive to and from practices and games a time to talk. They can live a couple hours without doodlejump, Instagram, or the 623 texts from Janet.
- Branch out. Find at least one sport/league where they won’t be playing with all their friends and have to meet and work their way in with a whole new group of friends.
- Be social. Encourage your kids to learn their teammates’ names, where they go to school, their siblings, etc. Teach them how to take the time to focus on someone else and listen.
- Be positive in the car after a game. Your reaction matters. Your child knows the balls he/she missed and that her across-the-field-in-front-of-her-own-goal crease pass was ill thought out. I’ve read hundreds of coaches and kids who have said, in hindsight, no matter how distant they act with you in the car kids are closely attuned at what you think of them. Have them associate the drive home with you as a pleasant stress-free zone where your only feedback is, “Man, I love going to your games.”
- Cheer for everyone on the team. Youth athletes like it when their parent cheers for them. They love it when another adult does.
- Keep it all in perspective. Think of any youth athletic career as a marathon. No one game or one drill is going to make or break the race. This season is only one mile of it.
- Sleepovers. I’m not saying don’t do them the night before a game, I’m just saying if you do, don’t be surprised if your son or daughter seems to be on about a three-second second delay during the game.
Support your coaches
- Hold comments to coaches until after the game/practice, and then only do it privately. Comments to coaches should not be conveyed the day of a game. Wait 24 hours – especially if it is a complaint. Hold comments to refs and opposing players and coaches until, like, forever. I have yet to witness the response be, “Yes, screaming maniacal parent – you are right. I see the error of our ways and bow to your superior intellect.” Usually what I witness is YouTube-worthy footage that goes viral.
- Volunteer to be the manager. Organize photo day signups. Coordinate the snack schedule. Take, and send out pictures. Collect the uniforms at the end of the year.
- Show up early (or at least on time) for drop-off and pickup. This is where kids seem to start to learn the importance of showing up on time – by emulating you.
- Parents should want to know everyone on the team’s name, as well. Create a roster with jersey numbers and give it out to all the parents so they can follow along during games. This network may come in handy in a couple of years when you are trying to triangulate keg party rumors.
- If your child will be absent, communicate it to the coach as soon as you can. Coaches spend a great deal of time preparing for games and practices based on numbers – help them plan.
Enjoy the season!
Andy Podolsky lives in Wilmington with his wife and two daughters and writes a regular column for Inside Lacrosse Women about coaching his daughters’ teams, where a version of this piece first ran.