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A Guide for Parents of Young Athletes

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By Cheryl McCormick, M.S.S., and Aaron Locks |

Most youth sport professionals have either heard of stories about difficult parents acting out during their child athletes sport competition, meanwhile many coaches in youth sports have witnessed it firsthand. Let’s face it, sports bring about competition not only for the athletes, but also the parents who support their athletes from the sidelines. However, we must consider the nature of sports are to bring about healthy sport competition, not the other way around.

Today, many sport professionals like Aaron Locks are working hard to find ways that can assist parents with understanding how to develop a healthy, working relationship with their child’s coaches. Poor behavior demonstrates unethical behavior, lack of moral support, possible burnout, conflicts among other parents, and can create tension among team players. By working with your athlete’s coach and supporting their efforts, parents can create a better learning opportunity, an enjoyable environment along with making the job of the coach much easier, which provides athletes with a better chance to have a positive experience.

This article is designed to guide parents in the process of helping coaches so the coach can assist in athlete success.  The following are key components that can ensure the coach, parent, and player can have the best possible sport experience.
 
Get to Know Your Coach

Parents, remember that your athlete’s coach has many players and parents to work with. We recommend that you connect with your athlete’s coach, in a positive and helpful manner prior to the beginning of the sport season. If you have time available, offer assistance to help the coach with simple tasks that can help clear their to-do lists, so they have more time to work with the athletes. By doing this allows the coach to know that you are engaged and interested in helping. This process is a key component in developing the coach to parent relationship. Getting to know the coach before the sport season starts, in a non-confrontational manner, you can help establish a healthy and supportive platform that can set the tone for all other parents. This process helps to encourage other parents to provide help when needed, have open communication, and be supportive of the coach and team athletes.


Be Grateful and Encouraging

Parents, remember that your athlete’s coach has made a season commitment to teach your athlete, by leading the team in practice and in Games. This is not an easy job. It takes many hours of preparation, above what is witnessed at practice and at Games, to lead the team to victory. Most coaches are doing it for the love of the Game or simply because no one else is willing to coach. We highly suggest that parents encourage athletes to show appreciation to their coach by saying “thanks coach for working with me” (or something like this) after every practice and Game. The praise helps the coach feel good about their efforts and helps athletes be thankful for the efforts of the coach. Parents should do more than just cheer for their athlete, yet encourage the entire team to play well, and learn the other players names and yell out their name in a positive manner as well. All kids like to be recognized for the good things they do! Remember, lead by example. This process will encourage other parents to follow along and encourage team players to do the same. This process helps develop, team-cohesion.
 
Parent Coaching from the Sidelines During Sports Practice and Competition

Let’s think about this. Coaches work hard with the little time they have with athletes, to teach athletes how to properly play the Game. Along with this, they are demonstrating new drills and skills development among their athletes. This means that the several hours spent on teaching, must be implemented during competition days. When parents try and alter this process (at home practice and during Game Day) it disrupts the teaching process in which coaches spend many hours delivering.

The truth is several athletes have a difficult time maintaining 100% focus on the Game and remembering what their coach has taught them. If parents are yelling out instructions, even if positive, it can be very distracting and confusing for the athlete(s). If you have ideas for the coach, we suggest that you provide the information to the coach at an appropriate time. Game day is not the best time to change up a trained routine. Parents can help their athletes coach by staying positive by cheering from the side lines, yell out encouragement to every athlete, but be mindful of trying to coach or influencing athletes’ decision-making during competition days.

Sports allows athletes to excel by learning through their own mistakes and learning how to read difficult or challenging situations during sports competition, thus guiding athletes to make positive changes in their sport performance. By interrupting the coaches process, can disrupt an athlete’s overall success in sport.

Dealing with the Stress of Competition

Remember that a coach and athlete’s goal is to win and be successful in a sport season, and this pressure holds several demands to make this possible. The last thing any coach or athlete needs is more pressure from parents. Remember to support the coach and athletes’ whether they are winning or losing. Another key concept to losing is the message it delivers to a team of athletes. Losing allows athletes to work harder by correcting their mistakes. A loss is a good thing for athletes to endure. This process develops character, motivation and determination, self-discipline, passion, and much more. The words conveyed from parents after a loss is much more powerful than after a win. This is due to athletes already feeling disappointed in their performance outcome. Athletes who are hard on oneself, do not need to hear more negative.

Parents should allow their athlete to process their loss, while communicating appreciation for the athletes’ dedicated efforts. We highly recommend that parents do not bring the corrections of errors or the loss home. This means that, when an athlete walks off the playing field, gets into the car to go home, conversation should not highlight on the sport competition. This process is the coach’s job- to discuss what went wrong, and how training will correct mistakes made in competition for future Games. Remember, communicating that you see the coach and athletes’ efforts is the right kind of encouragement that parents should provide a sports team. By focusing on the effort rather than the result, parents will see the stress of competition subside tremendously.


When Parents Do Not Agree with a Coach

Well, let’s start off by saying that at some point, a parent is likely to disagree with their athlete’s coach. However, by voicing or discussing dissatisfaction of a coach in front of an athlete, parents are directly undermining the coach and the athlete. Understand that athletes want to believe in their coach. Athletes look up to their coach in many ways. When parents disrupt that image or process, it can become very difficult for athletes to learn or trust anything that the coach says or does at practice and in competition. Parents who grow frustrated or disagree with the coach, find the proper time to contact them and discuss the situation, while keeping the conversation away from ears and eyes of all the players. Parents should not put athletes in the middle of choosing between parent’s views and the views of their coach. Remember, an athlete who witnesses that the coach has the support of mom and dad will likely put their entire energy and focus on the lessons the coach is teaching.

Show Respect for the Game, the Coach, and the Opponents

Remember that this is a Game. It is a great learning opportunity for parents and athletes and should be structured around healthy competition and fun! As a parent witnessing other parents who are not respectful to athletes, officials, or coaches, be cautious and be careful. Although some parents might feel comfortable confronting an upset parent, we ask that parents leave it up to the coach. When parents get involved in disagreements of other parents, it does not always go as planned. This process can disrupt the entire sports competition, cause problems among team players, and embarrass the athlete of the parent. Remember, lead by example- Sports should provide a healthy engaging environment, and the ability for athletes to follow in the footsteps of their parents. This process teaches athletes ethical and moral values, positivity, team-cohesion, respect, and much more!

Remember, youth sports should be about having fun and engaging in healthy competition. Youth athletes can take away many learning experiences and life-long skills from their engagement in team and individual sports. As sport professionals, we want to see parents on board, working closely and supporting their child’s coach, and in turn, coaches will enjoy every aspect of what each sport season has to offer the athletes, coaches, and parents. Let’s work to bring the fun back into youth sports, for everyone!

Cheryl McCormick, M.S.S. the owner and founder of Gravitational Performance and School of Sports Science and is also a doctoral student at the United States Sports Academy. Her former years as an athlete has guided her interests into education in sports and passion for research as a sports scientist, content developer, educator, and director of coaching education- working in sports medicine, sports nutrition, and sports psychology. Currently, Cheryl is a board member of the NC State Advisory for the NSCA. She can be reached at gravitationalperformance@gmail.com.

Aaron Locks is the CEO of  National Academy of Athletics. He is also an author, a coach, an inspirational speaker, leader in the sports community, and entrepreneur. Aaron also has over 3 decades in sports management. Aaron Locks can be reached at info@naofa.us.

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