Saturday, August 10, 2013

Sports Parents Gone Wild!!

If you have a child in competitive sports, chances are you're a pretty competitive person yourself. Nothing wrong with that. It's one of the things that helps a person excel in this competitive world. But the leap from being an involved, competitive parent to becoming an involved, competitive jackass isn't a big one.  We all have occasional negative thoughts.  "Why is the coach doing this and not doing that?"  But it's not about what we think.  It's what we do.

I've seen all sides of it now.  Parenting, coaching, officiating, managing.  I've done it and loved almost all if it.  For those who've just entered the minor sports arena for the first time (and for the veterans who need a reminder) I've assembled a list of the worst mistakes sports parents make.

1) Not shutting up.

The golden rule for sports parents during games: cheer and support. Communicate nothing to the athletes except unconditional support.  If it’s not cheering, it’s hurting your team.

This one is so crucial we need to break it into four categories.

1a) Yelling at the ref.

Refs are going to make poor calls, especially inexperienced refs who are developing just like your kids. Verbal abuse will certainly influence them - but not in the way you’d like.  The next time there’s a close call, do you think the team that’s been abusing the ref is going to get that call? What kind of example are you setting? If your 8 year old is watching her 11 year old sister play, would you tolerate the 8 year old screaming at the referee? Of course not. You’d be embarrassed and immediately make her stop.

Consider the story of a group of soccer parents in Bethesda, Maryland. They were verbally abusive to a referee and were recently ordered by their league to stay away from the first two games of the season. A referee was brought in exclusively to ensure these parents stayed at least 100 yards from the field, where they needed binoculars to see their daughters play.

The ban stemmed from an earlier match where one parent yelled at the ref, and others piled on in an “aggressive” tone that culminated with one yelling at the referee’s daughter, “Your father should be fired.”  The story made national headlines.

If I were still refereeing (and I have no desire to return), I would give one warning to parents.  Then I would stop the game until the offending parent leaves.

99.9% of the time the referee is trying his/her best.  It's fun to win but, really, does the result of the game/match really matter so much that you'd rage at another person like that?  Would you do that anywhere else for any reason?  Just remember, that medal, plaque or trophy you wanted so badly will very shortly be forgotten, stuck in a closet gathering dust.

1b) Negative Feedback/Humiliation

I see parents and coaches doing this all the time.  It's the quickest way to get a child to dislike you and the sport.  It also kills their confidence.  Don't do it.  You wouldn't speak to a peer like that.  It's no good during the car ride home.  It's even worse when they're humiliated in front of their friends.

This whole sports experience is meant to build a child's development and confidence.  Confident kids become confident successful adults, who make great decisions.  Don't take that away because they didn't play a game well in their childhood.  If they make a mess of a play, it's not a reflection on you.

Be careful of the big laughs too. Let's say a child misses an easy goal on an empty net. A parent makes a joke like, "Hey Dave, that's how you used to play." The joke was only directed at Dave.  Dave is an adult who can take it.  However, the child only heard the big laughs right after his mistake and thinks all the adults are laughing at him.

1c) Coaching from the Stands/Sideline

I think some parents misunderstand this instruction.  They nod their head when the coach tells them not to coach from the sideline.  Then they yell, "Go get it! Don’t stop! Rush with it! Get back! Pass it! Shoot!"  Guess what?  THAT'S COACHING!!!

Say none of those things. You may think you're being supportive but you're not.  You're undermining your coach and confusing your child, who may be doing exactly what the coach told her to do.  You're also enraging the coach. If your child IS doing the wrong thing, let the coach correct it.

Cheer your head off.  Way to go!  Good job!  Good try!  Applaud when an injured player gets up. That'll do nicely.

1d)  Standing too close to parents on the other team

Inevitably, you will hear a yahoo parent from the other club ignoring the advice listed above.  My best advice is, stay as far away as possible so you can't even hear them.  Nothing makes your blood boil faster than an opposing team's parent who verbally attacks players or parents on your team.  This happened in Tweed at a Bantam C hockey game in March.  BANTAM C!

2) Not respecting the coach and his/her decisions.

This is especially important this time of year with emotions riding high at summer tryouts.  The first thing to keep in mind is that, while coaches have input, it's usually a team of evaluators that have decided on the roster.  It's definitely tough being cut.  You and your child aren't just being cut from the team, but from perceived circles of friends.  No one likes being excluded from anything.

The good news is, the next team down has great kids and parents too.  Remember most of these sports relationships are fleeting anyway.  Ask any parent whose child graduates from club sports.  How many sports parents that they saw almost every day do they actually stay in touch with now?  Not many.  The best friendships will endure no matter what.

But for now, you're upset.  Don’t email the coach or leave angry voice mails. You might say hurtful things you’d never say in person. Give it 24 hours then talk to the coach in person.

Once you respectfully chat face to face, you might understand. Even if you don't agree with it, you'll probably come away thinking, "Hmm, I hadn't thought of that.  I guess I sort of understand.  I guess he hasn't really got it in for my child after all." As with referees, verbal abuse of the coach will never improve your child's situation.  Be sure to ask what the child needs to work on for next year.

Once you're on your team, it's the same rule.  If you have a problem, cool off for a day then approach the coach in person.  Don't share your complaints with other parents. That just gets everyone worked up.  I've seen teams become so toxic like this.  One parent complains to another that the coach failed to do something.  By the time this info reaches the 12th parent on the team, the information has morphed into - "Hey, I heard the coach is a serial killer."

Obviously, if your coach's behaviour is truly over the line (sometimes coaches go wild too), you need to discuss this with the appropriate director of your association.

3) Never giving your child time away from the sport.

Many parents figure their kids need that extra edge so they keep them in it 12 months a year, even when the rest of their team shuts it down.  It's almost a crime against childhood.  The rink is a great place to be but it's difficult to fully experience their wonder years when they're never more than a few hours from their next ice time.  I hate seeing kids pulled away from the cottage, pool parties, or a 15-kid game of hide and seek, because they had a 6:30pm practice on July 7th.

Just think about how loudly you’d complain if your child’s elementary school cancelled summer break. You need to give your child some down time from their sport to recover, mentally and physically.  You hear stories of burnout all the time.

That said, I understand that AAA players cannot shut down for 5-6 months a year anymore and expect to stay on the top team.  I wish they could.  But a couple of months of down time won't hinder development.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

4) Never volunteering.

Are you the parent that never pitches in to help manage, fund raise, organize, book the hotels or be a general volunteer? Right. You don’t have time. Seems lame.  Guess what?  Those who are volunteering are also extremely busy. But they want to help make their child’s team experience a better one and stuff doesn't get done on its own. If you're the never volunteer parent, maybe take a second look at how you're perceived by others. If you never help out and you wonder why that other parent always seems a little cold toward you, you may have your answer.

5) Not letting anyone know you'll be absent.

Unless you give at least half a day's notice, it’s like giving no notice at all. Coaches are making plans for games or practices based on the number of kids they're expecting. You obviously don’t need their permission to miss – but it’s extremely helpful to give them as much notice as possible.

Speaking of absences (and this primarily affects summer sports), if you know your child will be on holiday for 8 weeks during the season, why did you have them tryout for a competitive team, displacing another child who really wanted to make and commit to the team?  Family time obviously and definitely comes first but it's a bit selfish to tryout for a team you don't have time for.

6) Taking things for granted

Please just revel in the joy of having a healthy, happy child who's playing a sport you both love.  It's magic.  Not all parents are so blessed.  Think of the parent of the child with a drug addiction.  Think of the parent whose disabled teenager has trouble feeding himself or going to the bathroom.  Think of the parent whose child died young.

Now, after thinking about that, how in the world can you be angry because it didn't go well at soccer tonight?  WHO BLEEPING CARES?  Embrace them and savour every moment.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with your statements.

Because of these "parents" I refuse to be a Head Coach. Whether it's Soccer or Hockey I only vonlunteer to be the assistant. This way the "Head Coach" deals with the "Head" acks. I do however help the head coach POLICE the parents and do provide when needed some direct feedback.

It's the crappy side of kids sports because it takes your focus away from the kids.

Great Blog....

Suggestions for your next Blog along the same line of thinking...

Parents and Hockey Tryouts.....

Jalen said...

Superb. Couldn't agree more.

- Jalen

Bill said...

Normally I save my correspondence with TGOR for some polite ribbing ... but this time ... Bravo Steve!!! Great post! I've been coaching for 10+ years and for the most part it has been absolutely great. Just as you touched on, it is amazing to me that even one parent can really start the ball rolling and can really change the 'atmosphere' of the team. Other parents feel it, the coaches do --- and even worse the kids can sense this type of crap. Again great job Steve!

Anonymous said...

when I was a teenager reffing house league hockey, I remember being yelled at, screamed at, and called every name in the book by parents. I looked up in the crowd, and there was my mom who had come to watch me ref. She was in tears listening to what house-league parents were calling a (her) teenager who was also there to develop a skill (just as their thier kids were). All parents should remember that in many cases, the refs are developing thier skills just as their kids are. But then again, if parents are willing and able to scream at thier own kids, I guess they wouldn't have a problem targeting someone elses.

Anonymous said...

Thank you; I have tried to avoid my son's U14 soccer games this summer because I find it so stressful sitting there listening to the parents; my husband included!! The trouble is, the parents who do this stuff usually don't recognize it in themselves!!!

Anonymous said...

This should be posted in every locker room or hallway at every arena! Great comments. My uncle came to watch my daughter play hockey one time and had to leave cause one parent would not stop yelling at his daughter and my uncle could not take it anymore!!!

The Donnamatrix said...

I agree with everything you wrote!
When I was manager for my son's hockey or soccer teams, I passed around our DVD copy of the CBC series: "The Tournament."
This show chronicalled the antics of hockey dad, Barry McConnell, who was under the delusion that his son would make the NHL by playing on the rival Panthers Houseleague "A" team.
It was a great way to break the ice, so to speak, with the parents, and at the same time, let them know that any obnoxious McConnell behaviour would not be tolerated!

The Donnamatrix

Brenden said...

Great Blog Steve.....

I've spent many many years in hockey rinks and Baseball diamonds.

I have done all aspects of voluteering... Coaching, Managing, Conveyning.

I could tell you story after story after story about horrible parents and ignorant coaches. one inparticular who held a grudge on the same parent from Novice house league all the way to the CJHL. I have witnessed coaches keep players because his father coaches soccer in the summer.... I would like to share three personal stories woth you.

As a "Room Manager" (coaching was taboo in initiation) in the Hockey Initiation program it was my job to run the bench and ensure that every player had a turn to be goalie. One day I was helping my son get ready for a game when the mother of the scheduled Goalie came up to me and told me that her son couldn't play goalie.... When I asked her why not Her response blew me away.... Her response was "Not many goalies make the NHL." I was floored!!!!! The only response I could come up with was "HE's SEVEN!!!!!"

Just an update.... This kid is playing OHL now. I just hate to think what else he had to give up to make it that far. (Birthday parties, Pizza, video games?)

Story two: I was at a girls hockey game in Hull. One of the refs was a girl who was maybe 14 years and obviously very green. Needless to say alot of bad calls were made... Of course there were a few parents screaming at this girl as she left the rink... But what disturbed me the most was that one of those parents was a senior ref in Orleans.... How disgusting is that?!?!?

Story Three:
I coached a mites (8-9 year olds) fastball team... I had my assistant coaches and a pitching coach. My philosophy was that this was a development and fun league. It was always Positive Reinforcement. I had strict rules with the kids and the parents when it came to bad mouthing any other player, Umps, coaches etc. In the end we had a pretty good team.

One game we had an inning that we allowed seven or eight runs in... As the kids came off the field (feeling pretty bad) I was encouraging them with the usual.. Good inning guys, Don't worry we'll get it back blah blah blah.. Then my assistant coach turned to me and said (infront of the players) "How can you call that a good inning? They were Horrible out there!" I disagreed and pointed out the good things the players did. When the players took the field again I pulled him aside and told him that he either stay positive or stay out of my dugout!

It's sad to say but it seems to me that most parents and coaches forget why we enroll our kids in sports. As a Coach I watched parents lecturing their kids on the way to the car about how bad their game was etc etc.... Do parents not realize that the kids know they played a bad game.... I just wish the parents would ask them if they had fun and then give them a life saver.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm chiming in a little late here Steve but thought you'd like to know your blog post encouraged me to get more involved with my sons' hockey teams.

I don't have a hockey background but have found a way to help out by running the clock and scoreboard. I have also made an effort to get to know all the parents and kids and to offer assistance with skate tying, ride sharing etc.

Sure there are lots of nightmare stories out there but posts like yours will do a lot to discourage inappropriate behaviour and encourage positive behaviour.

Thanks Steve!

Donnamatrix said...

Hi Steve,

The only thing parents should be saying to their sports kids:

Have fun OR I love to watch you play!