A Responsible Sport Parent fills two key roles:
Education through sport can develop children of high character, who lead, persevere, overcome adversity and function as productive team members.
Sports provide the ideal 'virtual classroom' for teaching life lessons, when children have Responsible Sport Parents and Responsible Coaches. A 2001 research study entitled "The Development of Psychological Talent in U.S. Olympic Champions," found that Olympic Champions reported having parents and coaches who "provided considerable encouragement and support and reciprocal trust and respect."
"There isn't any other youth institution that equals sports as a setting in which to develop character. There just isn't. Sports are the perfect setting because character is tested all the time."- John Gardner, Presidential Medal of Freedom Winner & Founding Member of Positive Coaching Alliance's National Advisory Board
Driving to and from tournaments and practices, overexposure to sun, dehydration, exhaustion, faulty equipment, overuse injuries and those that result from accidents on the field, all present potential hazards. That's why the number one characteristic of a Responsible Sport Parent is ensuring your children's safety.
Check with your family doctor to assess your children's fitness before they begin any sport programs.
As you may have seen in the news recently, hydration is a big issue in sports. Teach your children the importance of hydration – send them to practice with water bottles, remind them to have water throughout the day, and greet them after practice with a nice cold bottle of water.
We all know nutrition is important. It becomes even more important for our youth athletes who are burning lots of calories during practice and games. Do your best to ensure your athlete is eating a balanced diet and touch base with your coach on special nutritional needs before practices and tournaments.
Make sure the equipment your children use for practice and tournaments is safe. Make sure your children wear adequate protective gear. Also, ensure that your children use equipment only for its intended purpose.
Partner with your children's coaches to ensure greater safety. For example, keep a first aid kit in your car to supplement the coach's first aid kit. Consider getting certified in first-aid and CPR and encourage other parents to do the same. You can never have enough qualified hands in case of an emergency. A first-aid kit and at least one adult trained and certified in first-aid and CPR should be present at all practices and games.
Conversation with your children about their youth sports experience is the single most important factor in their ability to take life lessons from sports.
Conversation After Practice
We will explore three principles that Responsible Sports Parents apply to those conversations:
Responsible Coaches also implement these principles. When you incorporate them into Responsible Sports Parenting, you are reinforcing the messages your children receive from their Responsible Coaches.
Although all three apply to talking with your children, we all know that we also must "walk the walk." For our guidance to be meaningful with our kids, they have to see us acting on our own advice.
What is the first question that people usually ask children when they see your child, for example, at the grocery store wearing their sports uniform? - "Did you win?"
Some of today's most successful athletes credit their success to their parents.
Instead of focusing exclusively on the scoreboard, Responsible Sport Parents can take a Mastery Approach to sports, where success is tied not just to wins and losses, but also to mastering physical and mental skills. That way, win or lose, children still can gain life lessons from sports.
There are three elements of The Mastery Approach (and there is an easy acronym – ELM – to help remember them) – Effort, Learning and Mistakes.
If we as parents, together with the team's coach can instill ELM in our kids – rather than focusing solely on the scoreboard – they will perform better on the mat and will more likely apply the ELM approach to school, family relationships and other important aspects of their lives.
We've all seen it: too much emphasis on winning increases players' anxiety. They end up expending their emotional energy worrying about whether they will win or lose. And that higher anxiety causes them to make more mistakes – they play tentatively and timidly.
Ultimately, anxiety undercuts self-confidence, which affects performance and takes the joy out of sports.
Why does the focus on the scoreboard increase anxiety? Because players can't always control the outcome on the scoreboard! And players become anxious about things that are important to them that they can't control. A win on the scoreboard depends a great deal on the quality of the opponent, which is outside of the control of the athlete or team. (It's also outside our control as parents!)
Sports psychology research shows that teams and athletes who take the ELM Mastery approach (giving 100% effort, constantly learning, and bouncing back from mistakes) consistently win more contests.
By moving our children's focus off the scoreboard results and on to their effort, our kids will be happier and more self-confident – and the wins will come.
Introducing your child to the ELM Mastery Approach can lead to rewarding conversation between you and your child as well as enhancing your child's sport experience. At the start of the season, let your children know that:
We all do it. Our kid's team scores, and all the parents in the stands start cheering. When the other team scores, of course we don't cheer. (Unfortunately too many of us have witnessed parents booing from the stands.) It's reflexive. It's how we are as fans at professional sports.
But as Responsible Sports Parents, we need to go beyond reflex to cheer for the things we want to see happen again. We call that Targeted Cheering. When we notice and reinforce desired behavior from our kids (and others on the team), we help ingrain into our kids those important life lessons we want them to get from their youth sports experience.
Before a tournament, remind yourself of the priorities you have set for what you and your children want out of sports. Consider keeping a "cheat sheet" in your pocket listing things you'll cheer for during the match, such as great effort or demonstrating good sportsmanship toward opponents.
To send your children messages about teamwork, cheer for their teammates by name. To teach sportsmanship, stretch outside of the box, and cheer great technique by the opponent. (Sure, it's tough sometimes to cheer for the other wrestler – but if they do a good job, isn't it just the right thing to do to celebrate it?)
In the ELM Tree of Mastery, mistakes are OK. One way to help reinforce this is through what the professionals call a Mistake Ritual -- something that reminds players to bounce back and focus on the next play.
You may have seen these Mistake Rituals and not even realized that's what they were. And some of the best coaches in sports today use them:
Establish a physical signal you can flash to your child from the sideline after a mistake, such as the "no sweat" motion of wiping your brow. Maybe even get all the parents together and agree on a team Mistake Ritual. (Responsible Coaches often have their own Mistake Rituals they use with their players.)
Whether you use the same signal as the rest of the team or your own private signal you establish with your children, it is important to let your children know that mistakes really are OK.
The "life lessons" portion of Responsible Sport Parenting starts with getting on the same page with our kids.
Ask your kids (and yourself) - Why do they want to participate? Once you consider these answers and recognize where you and your child agree and differ, you can establish common ground for conversations that will help you and your child get what you want from youth sports.
To start, let's talk about possible goals that you might have for your child. (And keep in mind, this is the beginning of a list – feel free to add others to the list.) Consider ranking them from 1-10 – what would be your top 3?
Now, consider asking this same question of your kids. What are their top 3? You might be surprised to see what they are thinking. Getting "level set" through this conversation helps both of you get on the same page. And in the end, that helps both of you get the most out of the youth sports experience.
The ranking exercise serves several purposes:
What also is interesting about this exercise is the diversity of responses – of our fellow parents as well as our kids. Why did you rank what you did as number one? And what did you think of your child's number one ranking?
We encourage you to have this dialog with your son or daughter and really begin to understand what your goals are and the goals of your child for their youth sports experience.
Once we recognize similarities and differences between our goals and our children's goals, we can better shape conversations with our children. As Responsible Sports Parents, we have to remind ourselves that our main goal is to help our children learn and apply life lessons.
As much as you, your children and their coaches want to win. -- only the players and coaches are ultimately responsible for winning. As fans and parents, our job is to make sure our children use their youth sports experience to grow into successful adults. If we become overly focused on winning, we are likely to miss opportunities to play this important role with our kids (and with other kids on the team).
There are no "right answers" and no one single way to approach tough situations in youth sports. But as you continue to read here, we hope you'll find tools and resources to help make conversations like these easier and more productive for both you and your child.
As Responsible Sport Parents, we try to keep our children's "Emotional Tanks" full.
Our partners at Positive Coaching Alliance explain that a person's "Emotional Tank" is like a car's gas tank. When it's full we can go anywhere we want; when it's empty we can't go at all.
Emotional Tanks are:
So, how do we as Responsible Sports Parents fill our children's Emotional Tanks? By striking the right balance between specific, truthful praise and specific, constructive criticism. Educational research indicates a "Magic Ratio" of 5:1, five praises to one criticism, which fosters the ideal learning environment.
Five to one. Think about it. We're so used to our work environments where we don't get five positive comments to one criticism – but our kids really do need this level of praise and reinforcement.
The key is avoiding empty, unearned praise. The praise must be truthful and specific (i.e., not just "Way to go," but, "Good work, I noticed you changed your level before you shot that double leg").
Be sure your non-verbal communication also maintains the "Magic Ratio." You fill Emotional Tanks when you listen, nod, clap, or smile. Tank drainers include ignoring, frowning, head-shaking, eye-rolling and yelling. If you happen to see a videotape of last week's match, are you embarrassed to see or hear yourself, or do you feel good about your actions on the sidelines?
"You're the kind of person who..." Statements
As parents, we have tremendous power to shape the way our children think about themselves. One way is through "You're the kind of person who..." statements.
Telling our kids "You're the kind of person who…," fills theirs head with a message that can stick for years. We can deliver messages that are empowering and help our children think of themselves as capable people with positive character traits.
For example: "The overthrow to first base was tough, but I'm proud that you're the kind of person who learns from the mistake and picks yourself right back up. You handled it perfectly and stayed positive the whole game."
This phrase also works outside of sports. If you want your children to love reading, find an opportunity to say, "I noticed you reading that book on falcons. It's great that you're the kind of person who just reads for sheer pleasure.
We know that as parents, we have to sometimes correct our kids to help them improve. But we can deliver this feedback with usable information that helps empower our children. For example, "You need to focus!" contains virtually no usable information, but "Remember that coach wants you to keep both feet on the ground on throw-ins" contains very usable information.
When it comes to sports, we as parents can fall into the trap of thinking that it is our job to talk and our children's job to listen. We need to remember it is also our job to listen and to create space for our children to talk. Here are some suggestions for talking sports with your kids.
Conversations don't have to be lengthy to be effective. If your children wants a brief discussion, defer to their wishes. If they feel like every discussion about sports is going to be long, they may begin to avoid them.
It's really too bad when that happens because an essential truth in the youth athlete-sports parent relationship is that kids like talking about sports so much, they'll even talk sports with us! (Unless we make it unpleasant for them to do so.)
Responsible Sports Parent Reactions
The Honoring the Game Code is simple, but powerful. The elements of the Code are: Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self (ROOTS for short!)
Honoring the Game is one of many opportunities where we as parents can lead by example. When our children notice that we keep our temper in check, for example when an official misses a call, they are more likely to check their own tempers.
Honoring the Game starts with our own self-control. Take a deep breath, remind yourself about the discipline to NOT react, remind yourself that your child is watching you. If you find yourself on the verge of losing control, turn away from the action, count to 20 (or 50!) and take a deep breath. We can do this!
(And by the way – later on, you can use the experience as a teachable moment with your children: "I was pretty upset with what happened, but I controlled myself so I wouldn't do anything that would dishonor the game. And that's an important lesson I want you to learn from sports -- how to develop your own self-control so you will always Honor the Game no matter what.")
Because today's youth sports environment can so often be volatile, and even violent, it is important to prevent any outraged coach, player or parent from boiling over.
Our goal as Responsible Sports Parents is to try to turn any event--positive or negative--into a teachable moment, including incidents in pro or college sports. Seek opportunities to reinforce the principles of Honoring the Game.
When an incident occurs, whether something covered in the media, or something you and your children experience during their own games, let your kids know what you think about it. Better yet, ask them to talk about it even before offering your opinion.
If our kids come to the conclusion that something is or isn't Honoring the Game and put it into their own words, they are more likely to retain what they have learned.
Tournament Day Tips
-Before the match
-During the match
-After the match
Responsible Conversation: Parent & Coach
Research shows when we as parents support our children's teachers, students learn more. This concept can be transferred to sports, where kids will have a better sports experience if we work in unison with the coach to create a positive youth sports environment.
Recognize the Coach's Commitment
Coaches commit many, many hours of preparation beyond the hours spent at practices and games. Recognize that they do not do it for the pay! Try to remember this whenever something goes awry during the season.
Make Early, Positive Contact with the Coach
As soon as you know who your child's coach is going to be, introduce yourself, let him or her know you want to help your child have the best possible experience, and offer to assist the coach in any way you are qualified. Meeting the coach early and establishing a positive relationship will make conversation easier if a problem arises during the season.
Fill the Coach's Emotional Tank
When coaches are doing something you like, let them know about it. Coaching is a stressful job, and most coaches only hear from parents when they have a complaint. A coach with a full Emotional Tank will do a better job.
Don't Instruct During a Match or Practice
Your child is trying to concentrate amid the chaotic action of a match and do what the coach asks. A parent yelling out instructions hardly ever helps. More often than not, it confuses the child, adds pressure and goes against the coaches' instruction, which undermines the player-coach relationship, the player-parent relationship and the parent-coach relationship.
Don't Put the wrestler in the Middle
When parents share their disapproval of a coach with their children, it puts the children in a bind. Divided loyalties hinder people. Conversely, when parents support a coach, it is easier for children to put forth maximum effort. If you think your child's coach is mishandling a situation, do not tell your child. Just take it up with the coach.
Observe a "Cooling Off" Period
Wait to talk to the coach about something you are upset about for at least 24 hours. Emotions can get so hot that it's much more productive to wait a day before contacting the coach. This also gives you time to consider exactly what to say.
Perhaps no aspect of youth sports is more perplexing to parents than how to deal with their children's coaches. As a Responsible Sports Parent, how can you tell if your child has a Responsible Coach? And how can parents talk with coaches to make sure children have the best possible sports experience?
Let's begin by explaining what a Responsible Coach is not. A Responsible Coach is not:
Responsible Coaching actually is more difficult, challenging and rewarding than coaching with a win-at-all-cost approach. In addition to learning all they can about their sport, honing their "x's and o's," and competing fiercely for wins, Responsible Coaches are also committed to:
Even if you are the first sports parent in the world to have a Responsible Coach in every sport, at every level, for all your children, you still will have potentially uncomfortable conversations with those coaches. As a Responsible Sports Parent you should be prepared to address all types of coaches.
Parent & Coach Intervention
Let's look at how to handle intervention, when you feel your child's coach needs to change in some way.
In the scenario of your daughter wanting to play striker for her soccer team, the first question to ask yourself: "Is this something that my daughter should do for herself?"
Empowering Your Child to Speak
There are several advantages to having your children, rather than you, speak directly to the coach. Many coaches are more open to suggestions from players than from parents. The biggest plus is that this can be an empowering experience for children, even if they don't get the change they want.
Mustering the courage to talk to the coach can be a great life lesson. Your children may gain important experiences about dealing with people above them in the power structure, at school or in future jobs, by talking with the coach on their own.
When You Need to Intervene
You would only have your children take up an issue with their coaches if you believe the coaches are basically well-meaning people trying to do the right thing. The sad truth is that some coaches do not always put their players' interests first.
If the coach is abusive to players, you must intervene. Youth sports has no place for a coach who verbally or physically intimidates athletes. You would never allow a teacher to bully or humiliate a student, and you must not allow it from a coach, even one who often gets a pass due to scoreboard success.
Unless your children are too young to understand what is going on, talk with them before acting to intervene. If a child is against the idea, but you believe the situation demands that you intervene, say, "I understand that you don't want me to talk with your coach, but I believe that this is so important that I have to do it."
Approaching the Coach
If you are angry about the situation, gain control of yourself and know exactly what you want to say. Pick a time and place where only the coach can hear you—not during a game or practice, and not where you might be overheard, which could make the coach more defensive.
You may need to write and even rehearse what you want to say until it sounds the way you want. Be prepared to support your assertions with specific examples. Then listen carefully to what the coach says in reply.
If the results are unsatisfactory, you may need to go higher up in the organization, and you should be open with the coach that this is your next step. Again, be clear about what you want to say when you meet the athletic director, principal, coaching director or league president.
Even though intervening feels uncomfortable, remember you are not just standing up for your child, but also for all of the other children that play on the team, or who might play for this coach in future seasons.