How to avoid being a “straight jacket” sports parent

Kids share with me all the time stories of overbearing parents who take the fun out of sports. I also recently read an article with tips for youth sports spectators, and it inspired me to write some of my own thoughts on the topic of sports parents.

Watching one of my sons play high school hockey was excruciating because I felt his coach wasn’t playing the right lineup. He kept playing some knuckleheads who were talented triple A players but who had no interest in being good teammates or representing their school with honor. I so wanted to say something to the coach, but luckily caution prevailed. Years later my son thanked me for allowing him to handle his dearth of ice time by himself because it gave him so much confidence to know he could handle his own affairs.

I cringe each time I hear parents bad-mouthing their daughter’s coaches because I know it puts their child in a tough predicament when they are facing said coach. Even if they agree with their parent, they are expected to follow the coach’s rules and instruction. Their parents may also vent their frustrations at the coach from the sidelines at games, which often embarrasses the kid. I’ll never forget the look of humiliation on the face of one of my hockey players when his drunk dad tried to crawl over the glass to yell at me because he thought his son deserved more ice time.

Prior to high school, most youth coaches are volunteers and doing it out of the goodness of their hearts and because of their love of the sport. If parents think they could do better, sign up next season and see how easy it is to herd a group of 8-year-old kids into a well-oiled machine.

Our family, my wife and I and kids included, decided to only allow each child one sport a season. We wanted to have some down time and family time, and did not want to be at the mercy of sports teams dictating our time together. My hockey son was so upset with us one year when we wouldn’t allow him to play spring hockey because he was already playing baseball. We kept to our commitment, and years later he was grateful that he had played more than one sport growing up. It allowed him to have a blast at college playing numerous intermural sports, and he never got burned out.

Lastly, having a job results in so many great life lessons. Too many parents discourage jobs because they want their kids to focus on their activities, even when their child goes off to college. Getting a taste of being out in the real-world interfacing with the public and earning your own money are worthwhile rewards for having time to work, well worth sacrificing 12 months a year club sports teams.

Athletic teams are a breeding ground for important life lessons. Don’t ruin it by being “one of those parents” who is disrespectful and critical to coaches, opposing parents and players, their own child’s teammates, or worse yet, their own child. Your children want you in the stands for encouragement and as a way to show you care. Keep your eye on those two balls and you’ll stay on track.

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