Sports Parenting – Part 4

**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?

4 Responses

  1. Ken

    I wandered over from, and thought I’d throw out an observation RE #1:

    There’s one specific situation that’s particularly tough on some parents: they played a sport in high school, may or may not have been a star, and then after some down time they have a child hit 5 or 6 and they start coaching that child’s team. They’re sensitive to the fact they have little to no coaching experience, so they go to workshops in the off season, work with more experience coaches in the area, and take up coaching as a hobby. When the child reaches high school, that parent might have 8 or 9 years of coaching experience, and while in some cases they may have a over-inflated view of their child’s abilities, in others they have a pretty clear view of what it takes to get their kid to perform at his or her best…and in many communities they may know or have coached a good many of their child’s teammates growing up.

    Cut to fall of 9th grade, and they hand their child over to a Freshman/JV coaching staff, some of whom in the most extreme case may be local jr. college students who themselves are 2-3 years removed from high school, who are in their first or second year of coaching. They give the parents the standard “thanks, but we’ll take it from here” brush off, and things are set up to go sideways pretty easily.

    I think some coaches need to come to terms with the fact that there’s a new generation of parents who aren’t just meddling, asking for their kid to get more playing time or recognition.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I’ll play “devil’s advocate” for this one with my AD hat on –
      More often than not, we’re hiring those college kids to coach our middle school or freshmen teams either because we don’t have any other applicants or because we’re grooming our own young teachers/coaches for the future. We very, very rarely see the parents who coached their kids throughout youth clubs express any interest in coaching our school teams. I could tell you why I personally think that is, but that might be an opinion for another post at another time.
      That said, it’s a difficult position for our young coaches to be in. Should we encourage them to accept the input from the “knowledgeable” parents but not the others? Should we tell them to accept input from all parents then use their own judgement who is knowledgeable and who isn’t? Where do we draw the line on knowledgeable? Is the parent who coached for 8 years and went to coaching clinics more knowledgeable than the parent who coached for 15 years but didn’t go to clinics? You see what I’m getting at?
      One final observation from my perspective – I often have the biggest problem with parental meddling from the parents like what you’re describing. Those are the parents who may have some knowledge and background in the sport, definitely have some knowledge and background of the kids, choose to not coach for the school team, then criticize and complain when things aren’t done how they’d do it.

      1. Ken

        I definitely see what you’re getting at, and appreciate where you’re coming from. If somebody ever figures out how to fit all the parts together in a way that makes everybody happy, and all the kids as successful as they can be, I hope they share it with the rest of us.

        It also strikes me that when it comes to parent/youth coach feedback, everything’s probably pretty heavily controlled by the Dunning-Kruger effect:

        1. highschoolsportsstuff

          We probably all have a little Dunning-Kruger in us!
          And, you’re correct…if I ever think of a workable solution, I’ll be selling books and doing speaking appearance for cash instead of blogging for free!

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