How Not To Be ‘That’ Sports Parent
Posted by Dean Holden at December 1st, 2015
by KJ Dell’Antonia, 5 March 2015
Credit KJ Dell’Antonia
There really is a right way and a wrong way to watch a child’s sporting events. Whether it’s soccer, hockey, baseball or dressage, the best parent-spectator is the one whose biggest concern is his child. Not whether his child’s team wins. Not his child’s performance on the ice or the field. Not his child’s playing time, his child’s penalties, his child’s coaches or his child’s teammates. Just the child. The one out there playing a game and (one hopes) having fun.
It’s pretty obvious that no one wants to be the dad who broke the glass at his daughter’s hockey game. But that dad probably didn’t know he was “that dad” until he saw the glass on the ice. When the competition is fierce, it’s easy to get carried away. Here are six ways to make sure the next viral “crazy sports parent” video isn’t of you:
Stand back. You can’t break the glass if you’re not standing close to it. If you have a tendency to get carried away, put yourself at the back of the crowd, not in front. As a bonus, this keeps a child from checking in with you (or on you) during the game. A child who is making eye contact with you and not her opponents is a child who is more concerned about your reaction to her play than the play itself. That’s a sign that you should step back — and maybe let your child car-pool to a few games without you.
Don’t over-invest. It’s possible for a child to lose every game, all season, and still have a great time — unless she thinks her parents are disappointed. That same child, older, may take losses less easily, but it’s a whole lot easier to get over a loss, or a missed goal, or a flubbed play, if it isn’t accompanied by the sense that she let her parents down.
If your passion is really a mission to get your child a college scholarship, consider a rethink. “If you want to get a scholarship for your kids, you’re better off investing in a biology tutor than a quarterback coach,” says Mark Hyman, an assistant professor at George Washington University who has written books on youth sports. “The percentage of high school kids who go on to play in college is extremely small. In most sports it’s under 5 percent. And the number for kids getting school aid is even smaller — it’s 3 percent.”
Don’t coach. Unless you are the coach — in which case, speaking as a parent who has coached, thank you — don’t coach the players. No running up and down the soccer sidelines, hunkering in near a base or whispering over a shoulder in the dugout. All of those things fall into the category of what the very smart sports parent Janis Meredith calls “five behaviors that are sure to annoy your child’s coach.” Even your shouts of “Get back! Get back!” may not be consistent with what the coach has told the players, and if you don’t think that’s good coaching, well, around here at least they always need volunteers for younger ages.
Don’t yell at your child. Or anyone else’s. It should go without saying that yelling criticism at your child during the game won’t help either her performance or your relationship, but it doesn’t. These are kids. Yours, and those of the people around you. Yelling the kinds of things you might yell at the television screen during a pro game just isn’t acceptable. The child who made the “TERRIBLE PLAY!” is the beloved daughter of the person in front of you; the one who missed the catch belongs to the person behind you, and that one who didn’t “WATCH THE BALL” is yours, and your words just made her heart sink a little inside that uniform.
Don’t yell at the referee. Referees! They’re evil, partisan know-nothing hacks out to get your team. Or maybe they’re parents who love the game, making some much-needed extra money on the weekend, or teenagers who are taking their first paying job very seriously or just ordinary humans who were looking the wrong way or saw things differently than you did. Even if they make the wrong call, making a loud fuss won’t help. In a worst-case scenario it could get you removed from the game. Best case? Maybe you feel better after venting, but in my experience, that’s really not the way venting works.
Ditch the vuvuzela. Unless your child is a time-traveling soccer star in the 2011 World Cup, the vuvuzela is at best a distraction and at worst an embarrassment. The same goes for the air horn and the cow bell (and if you’re actually using them as distractions against the other team, shame on you). Cheer for your child and her team, but, except under unusual circumstances — a state tournament, perhaps, or a child’s first game back after a big injury — if you’re turning heads, tone it down. And if there are people sneaking up behind you to take a picture or a video, it’s time to go out for a breath of fresh air.
What should you do to be a good sports parent? Try clapping. Maybe cheering. After a win, say “good game!” with a hug. After a loss? Same thing, slightly different hug. Have great ideas about how the game should be played? Find a team of your own, or get out and enact them in the yard (without the kind of commentary that starts “now, in yesterday’s game, you should have …”) And keep it in perspective. My son has broken his leg playing hockey; once that happens in your family, you realize that any game that ends with all the children still out there and still healthy is a good one.
Want to be a great sports parent? Love your child. And, if it comes naturally to you, the sport. In that order, every minute, of every game.