Youth sports aren’t just for kids anymore

[x_text]As the holiday season passes. Diligent parents continue to bus their children across the country to holiday tournaments, games, and practices. A thankless job all parents embrace the moment they complete registration at the beginning of each season.

Times have changed. A generation of parents spent countless hours on the sidelines or in the stands but somewhere along the line we have strayed from the path. Standard business hours have grown longer, commute times continue to consume more and more hours within a day, and social time is nearly non-existent. Society as a whole has placed more emphasis on financial growth and prosperity. The declining value of time is leading to increased levels of stress and unhealthy lifestyles.

Through my time coaching youth I have witnessed a growing phenomenon among the parents on each team that reflect the opposite reasons parents place their children into sport in the first place. Let’s review a couple of the reason’s parents place their kids into sport:

1) Active Healthy Lifestyle
2) Opportunity to gain valuable life lessons
3) Chance at Scholarships (Often a pipe dream)
4) Chance at Professional Career (Almost always a pipe dream)
5) Friendship

The latter being a key point of discussion here for parents. Over time, and often without cognitive recognition, parents become as much a part of the ‘Team’ or ‘Family’ as the children themselves. As youth sport costs continue to increase and sports travel continues to exceed that of the business segment teams will continue to increase distance traveled within a competitive season. Parents in turn will continue to spend more and more time interacting with each other both on the sidelines, in transit, or in common space at the team hotels.

In a world where social media and time constraints continue to widen the gap between traditional socialites and tech driven millennials youth sports still provides the much needed opportunity for parents to create, nurture, and expand their social circles. For many it may be the first time they have done so since their college years.

Youth sports has remained relatively unchanged for decades. The exception being that all levels of ability travel to out of town tournaments for varying reasons i.e., exposure, unique opportunity, unique/varying competition, etc… This means more teams, tournaments, and hotel stays. However, elite teams still hold try outs and players still get cut to ensure children engage in fair levels of competition. Outside of the aforementioned volume influxes what has really changed in youth sports? Is it the kids? No, kids will be kids. They will still enjoy the competition, the friendship, and the orange slices between games. Parents have gotten in the way of both themselves and their children and most have failed to notice.

Sports are a great social platform for children and the same can be said for adults. Similar to the interactions in youth parents can form cliques or group together with like minded people. As positive as these groups can be negativity is almost always at the forefront. “Why does the coach keep putting Timmy out there?” “Phil and Jackie really need to get Rodney into personal training” or “Coach has no idea what he is doing out there”. These negative thoughts are toxic and spread quickly throughout a team. First through the parents before the negativity seeps into the minds of children and eventually can be seen in their performance.

As a coach I preach a reactive approach. Take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them. However, when it comes to parents a proactive approach fits the bill. If you want your child to be a leader you must first lead yourself. Take a stand and set a good example among the parents. Change the hockey mom stereotype or the expectations surrounding the conventional baseball dad. Think and speak positively. The people that surround you will be soon to follow. Start by trying to avoid creating negativity around the team by taking any of these 5 easy steps:

Put your cell phone away

You are there to enjoy the game(s). Leave work at work for the day, night, weekend or even the hour and a half your child is on the field if you can’t let it go. Work will be there when you get back into the office and long after your children are done with youth sports. Too many children in today’s world are not at the top of the priority list.

Sit with the other parents

Sitting out in outfield or at the other end of the arena singles you out as a grumpy misfit or the dad who can’t hold their tongue. By grouping yourself into this category you also provide a distraction for your child as she/he will always know where to find you. Instead enjoy the company of the other parents and find out what is going on in their life. Bring coffee and strike up conversations with other parents from your team.

Cheer for another child

Everyone favors their own child in some way, shape, or form. It is perfectly okay to do so. Its human nature to want the best for your offspring but how many games have you been to where someone cheers for your child? I’m guessing not many and the most common thing heard at any games you attend is “SHOOT” or “PASS IT”. Real riveting stuff that almost always motivates children and is the key to any championship team. All joking aside youth sport needs more parents who cheer for the success of the masses. A group of kids playing as a team will always beat a group of kids playing for themselves. It is the job of the coach to preach teamwork but if the parents do not preach the same lessons the message will fall on deaf ears. A pattern that will only stunt personal and professional growth later in life.

Trust the coach

Coaching is a thankless job. Most coaches are volunteers and give up their time out of the goodness of their heart. Is there some sour apples that tarnish the reputation of coaches around the world? Of course there is but give your coach the benefit of the doubt that he has the best interest of every kid on his/her team. In most situation he/she is trying to heard sheep and is not a cunning strategist seen on TV.

Don’t be naive

There is a good chance your child isn’t as good as you think. Push your child to reach their potential. Don’t create negativity on the team and with other parents by placing your child’s perceived ability above their potential.

Maybe its the Canadian in me (Sorry) but sports have become far too dependent on accolades, decals, and trophies. The focus needs to turn back to what it was built on: Friendship, Leadership, Selflessness, and Family.

The next time you are at a sporting event for your children pull up a lawn chair (and cooler where permitted) and enjoy your children first and foremost, but don’t forget to stay positive and socialize before we all forget how to. Don’t forget to be thankful for all of the great memories on the road, in hotels, and at games. Your kids won’t and neither should you.[/x_text]