**This is the fourth of a series of posts (1st, 2nd, 3rd) that will focus on parenting in high school athletics; in fact, I’m going to use all of my July posts to focus on this topic. I’ve promised throughout July that I’d empathize with the parents eventually; well, here it is!
I will be the first to admit that I’m hard on sports parents as a whole, and it’s an unfair stereotype. The VAST majority of parents I’ve been around are either extremely supportive of our programs and personnel or are at least accepting enough of what we’re doing to silently support their children. Unfortunately, those are not the parents that occupy the majority of my days. My days are filled with the smallest percentage of parents: the ones who feel it’s their duty to constantly interject their opinions, advice, concerns, etc. With that in mind, I’m about to make a crazy statement:
Dear Parents, I completely understand.
Not that I agree with the constant interruption into the growth of the kids, but I understand why parents act the way they do. In fact, I believe that we in athletics are largely responsible for it. I’m going to focus on three problems of being a sports parent that I believe have been created by those of us within athletics.
1. Parents level of involvement in their kids’ programs. Think about this: in an attempt to provide our kids the best opportunities at being competitive in high school, we’ve dropped organized athletics all the way down to 3 year olds in some cases. Since those programs are open to everybody, there tend to be a lot of participants. With a lot of participants, there is a need for a lot of coaches, game workers, officials, etc. In order to secure all of those workers, we ask parents to volunteer their time. Except we aren’t asking, we’re begging. We beg knowledgeable parents to coach; we beg knowledgeable parents to officiate; we beg all parents to work concessions, to help fund raise, to help travel, etc. etc. etc. We beg parents to do all of these things that are vital to the running of our programs from the time their kids are 3 until they are 14…when we tell parents to back off and let us run our teams without their help. When you stop to think about it, that expectation is crazy. We want parents to help run every aspect of everything, then we ask them to step away without any type of cooling down period. The unfortunate part of this cycle is that it will continue like this for as long as youth sports are offered to elementary age kids at the club level.
2. Keeping up with the Joneses. Think about the evolution of summer camps. They started as an opportunity for college coaches to get talented, motivated high school athletes on to their campuses. Once parents and kids realized that some athletes were improving at these camps, more kids started showing up. Then, high school coaches realized how many of their kids were going to summer camps, so they started their own camps at home. Once those were started, it became really difficult for parents to not send their kids to the local camp that “everybody” else was going to. Then, once “everybody” was going to the local camps, it became difficult for parents to not send the kids to the college camps. And on and on and on. Once all of the kids were attending camps, the parents of those original talented, motivated athletes realized that their kids weren’t getting the additional challenge and coaching that used to come through camps, so they started traveling teams. Guess what happened then? Bingo…the same thing that happened with camps. In theory, this cycle is easy to stop. If your kid is only playing to have fun with their friends, then stop sending them to all of these camps and travel teams…which is really easy to say; however, you still have to deal with –
3. Lost Opportunities. Of course parents are going to send their kids to all of this stuff because we’ve created a culture of fear that Johnny or Susie will get left behind by their peers if we don’t jump on every single available opportunity to improve. And nobody wants to be the parent who is stunting the growth of his/her own child, so we continue to send the kids to all of this stuff. (Since this stuff is so time consuming in the off season, kids then use it as an excuse to drop out of other sports. Sports specialization will be the focus of a future post, though.) As a parent myself, I completely understand that feeling. When it comes to sports, though, I always point out that the genetic code a kid was given will have much, much, MUCH more to do with his/her level of athletic success than any summer camp.
So how do we solve it? My short answer: I don’t know. Unfortunately, there will always be extra opportunities available, and there will always be pressure from somewhere to use those extra opportunities. The only way the cycle gets broken is for parents and kids to simply stop doing the sports things that the kids don’t find fun. If only 3% of high school athletes go on to play college sports with a scholarship, shouldn’t 97% of them be focused entirely on enjoying their time? Moms and dads need to have honest conversations with their kids. If the kid is genuinely enjoying the extra participation, then keep sending him/her to camps. If the kid feels like he/she is being forced, get back to the basics of allowing him/her to simply have fun playing.
I know that coaches won’t like hearing that because it would cut into their camp participation! So it goes…I think we have many coaches who need to be brought back to the basics, also. That said, tell me what I’m missing in all of this, parents. Is it really this simple or not?