With spring and summer leagues now opening, coaches, association and league leaders often look to share suggestions for parents attending sports practices to help create a better practice environment. The challenge is sharing sports parenting tips in a supportive way and not in an accusatory tone, which may inflame non-offending parents. To help busy sports leaders we have gleaned sports parenting tips from experts and resources across the web and offer these 6 key suggestions for parents attending sports practices. If you have more sports parenting ideas and tips, we'd love to hear your comments and suggestions!
When to share parenting directives?
It's best to share your parenting instructions and directives at the beginning of the season, rather than waiting for a trigger issue. In this way you set the tone from the start and are being proactive vs reactive. Some associations and clubs go so far as to ask parents to sign a parenting pledge. Anti-bullying pledges in K-12 schools have been shown to produce good results, so having parents sign a pledge or recognize receipt of parenting behavior points is not a bad idea.
For additional management techniques, download our free e-book: Effective Management Strategies for Youth Sports Leaders.
6 Key Suggestions for Parents at Practice.
Be present, but not overbearing. It is important for parents to attend both practices and games, however it is not mandatory for a parent to attend all practices and all games. Attending some practices is important as it shows your child that you are interested in their development, not just how they do in a game. Also, performing in front of parents can be stressful, so by not attending every event gives your child breathing space and the ability to perform independently. So, mix up your attendance by skipping a game in favor of a practice now and then. The quality time in the car there and back or at the park is priceless.
Be on time and be prepared. Practice time is scarce to begin with, so to maximize your child's training experience have them there on time and prepared. If you can't drive them make sure they have alternate transportation (see: Socialize with Other Parents below). Make sure your child has their equipment, appropriate practice clothing, personal water, a small snack, and any forms or materials that the coach may have asked to bring from last practice.
Help when asked, and ask to help when appropriate. Some teams have just a single coach and they often need help running practice: manning drill stations, set up, tear down, refreshments, etc. Some coaches are very vocal about asking for help, while other suffer silently with far too much on their plate. If you are the volunteering sort, ask the coach at the beginning of the season if they would like your help with any aspect of running practice. When a coach asks for help, step up. As a former girls softball coach I know how useful it is to have a parent pitch in. Manning a soft-toss station or help moving equipment is a great stress reliever for the coach.
Socialize with other parents. Parents are the backbone of a team. If the parents are unified the team is more unified. Practices are a great way to spend quality time getting to know other parents. My wife and I have made life long friends through our daughters's softball teams and it starts with a simple hello. Knowing the other parents and guardians helps with transportation, volunteering, fundraising and a whole host of other benefits. Practice is one of the best times to get to know other parents, so take advantage of it.
Don't criticize the coach or your child during practice (or during games!). Your role as parent is to provide a supportive environment for your child. Criticizing the coach or your child is a huge negative. It's not only poor etiquette, it is demoralizing and demeaning. If you have something to say to the coach, set up a private time or place. And coaches, this goes for you too...if you must have a difficult talk with a parent, don't do it in front of other parents.
Most sports are games of failure, so there will be plenty of mistakes, misses, drops, falls and flops. Youth sports was not meant to be a 10-year college tryout, so keep your cool and let the kids have fun. Recognize and applaud their effort more than their performance. In an article in the Currier-Journal, Vanessa Shannon, director of mental performance for North Sports Health, offered this advice: "Don't save your child from failure. Failure in life, young life, is ultimately what builds grittiness and what allows us to overcome adversity later in life." Failure decreases with effort and practice, so encourage a player's effort rather than their performance or talent.
Listen. Pay attention to coach's instructions to the team and your player(s). You may need to help reinforce those instructions at home or may need to act on them. Coach may suggest simple drills that can be done at home and its important for you to understand what is being asked of your child so that you can help or arrange things so that the drills can be done i.e. clearing out a space in the basement. Coach may be asking for volunteers or giving out details for a game, tournament or travel. Listen for things the coach is telling the team because some of that may require your involvement.
These tips sound simple, but it is often the simple things in life that are overlooked. As parents, take time to enjoy your child's practice and use that time to build better relationships with your child, other parents and the coach.