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How to Be a Successful/Supportive Sports Parent
By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D.

If you have been a sports parent for a while you have undoubtedly attended more than one "Parent Meeting" where the coach collects fees, hands out the game schedule, asks for parent volunteers and gives the infamous "Do No Harm From the Sidelines" advice. Essentially the coach asks that parents not yell their child's name during play, or coach from the sidelines, or make derogatory comments about the teams, the referees or the coaches. Even though it may seem pretty clear about what the coach is driving at, inevitably parents ask each other "does this mean I can't cheer for my child or her team?" You coaches may not realize that parents are confused by your well intentioned advice, but the reason is pretty obvious. Think about it. It would be poor coaching (and pretty poor parenting for that matter) to only tell your players what they are doing wrong. In addition to learning from their mistakes, players (and their parent supporters) need to know what they are doing well, or what will work better.

There are two major ideas to consider if you are to be a truly awesome sports parent. First, because you love your child/athlete and want the very best for him or her, you really need to pay attention to who your child is so that you can support what works for him or her. Second, although sports are stimulating and should be fun, they also demand an emotional response, so it is important for parents to develop a healthy EQ (Emotional Quotient) and to pass the lessons onto your child/athlete. If you can master these two concepts and put them into everyday practice, you will become an exemplary sports parent and your child will have a terrific role model, not just for sportsmanship but for life in general.

I have two children who are as different as night and day when it comes to interest in sports. One loves team play, the challenges of performing at her best, and the comaraderie of her teammates. The other child finds team sports too stimulating and prefers challenges that are intrinsic such as swimming and weight training. What is your child like? Does your child play soccer because he loves to be with his friends? Does he play because he gets a charge out of competing? Or does he play because he loves the personal challenge to excel regardless of competition?

Knowing who your child is helps you to place him or her in the right sport with a compatible coach. Although my soccer daughter loves the game, she loves being on the field with her friends more. So it is important in our family to find a coach and other team families who encourage this aspect of the game. For example once I had to remove my child from a team because her coach felt it inappropriate that friendship was one of her sports goals. Rather he felt she should put competition ahead of friendship! According to Jim Sundberg, former professional baseball player and founder of Sports Training Systems, kids report that the most enjoyable aspect of playing sports is relationships. Makes sense to me.

If you have really taken the time to get to know your child and are supportive of the sport that best suits him or her, regardless of your sports interest, you are well on your way to establishing a healthy Emotional Quotient (EQ). Sports should be fun, first and foremost. If you keep this in mind, the whole family can enjoy your child's sport and create fond memories. Keeping the sport fun sends a more important message to your child than the emphasis on winning. Keeping the family and fun in sports teaches the importance of fitness and fun for a lifetime.

There are three questions to ask yourself to determine if you have a healthy EQ when it comes to your child's athletic career.

    Are winning and losing more important than fun for you and your child? If so, you can expect increasing pressure in your home that could eventually cause problems for your child, yourself or both. With the fun gone and competition the only goal, some kids choose to drop out.

  2. Is pursuing this sport your dream or your child's? If your child loves the game and is designed for his or her sport, and he or she enjoys pleasing you, not a problem. But if your child is pleasing you because you have unresolved feelings of inadequacy, then both of you lose the opportunity to grow. You may find your child pulling away from you or giving up the game in order to find independence.

  3. Is your job as a parent to guide or to mould your child/athlete? Any parent who has more than one child, or who is an adoptive parent knows that their child came into this world with his or her own personality and talents. Parents really have little to do with who their child is. Your job on the other hand is to help the child discover who he or she is by providing opportunities and experiences that develop their talents.

The next time your child's coach gives the "Do No Harm" lecture, recognize the deeper intention behind the words. Actually the coach is encouraging you the parent to get to know your child better and to improve your EQ, so that you, your child and entire family can learn about the fun and benefits of a lifetime of shared sports. So feel free to cheer for your child and his or her team. Cheer for the other team too. It never hurts to offer congratulations to any player for a job well done. Wear "Soccer Mom" tee shirts and bring pom poms to the game. Practice with your child in the backyard. Put soccer balls on her birthday cake. Your child's coach will teach your child/athlete about the sport, but only you can be their role model for life.

Copyright 2000 Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S., is a licensed psychologist with over twenty-five years of experience as a marriage & family therapist. Visit her website for more of her practical self-help advice and to sign up for her monthly newsletter.

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