The Blame Game
If you have spent a lot of time as a youth sport parent during the past year (as I have), you probably feel a bit battered and bruised right now. It seems that everyone is ready to blame "out-of-control parents" for all the ills of youth sports. We are the crazy ones screaming on the sidelines, abusing the kids, yelling at the officials, and displaying poor sportsmanship. What's a parent to do?
One piece of advice that is handed out regularly to parents is to "set a good example" for our children. And most parents I know DO try to be positive and to encourage to our children as they climb the competitive sports ladder. But I have discovered that in order to have a positive influence on those around us, including children and other parents, we need to do more than just clap and cheer for our kids.
Here are five things you can do that will really show your children (and other parents) what being "a good sport" is really all about:
Cheer for all the children, even those on the other team
This may seem a bit radical, but I have seen what a surprising difference it can make on the sidelines and in the stands when parents make an effort to applaud a good effort or a fine play - no matter whom makes it. If you focus obsessively on your own child at a sporting event you are giving a clear signal that you don't really care about the team or the event - you just care about your son or daughter. By contrast, parents who shout and cheer for all the children set a great example for the kids, by sending the message that youth sports are about giving one's best effort and enjoying the game, not about winning and losing.
Thank the officials
If you find a few moments to compliment the officials for their hard work after a game (especially if your child's team loses) you will be rewarded with the pleasure of seeing a surprised smile in return. Youth sport officials tell me that such positive feedback, rare as it often is, goes a long way in motivating them to stick with their volunteer work and keeps them going through the bad times. All too often the only words a volunteer official hears (and remember, these are often young people themselves), are harsh words of criticism such as "you blew the call," "get some glasses," or even "you're ruining the game ump." Make sure that the officials for your child's game always hear at least one parent thanking them after every game: you! If you keep it up, your example is sure to spread to other parents on your team.
Talk to parents of the other team: they're not the enemy
Last year I attended a state championship baseball playoff game for under-11 boys. The winner would advance to the league's state final. After regulation play, the game was tied. The tension in the stands among the parents kept rising as each extra inning passed. Mothers would cover their eyes as their sons came to the plate, or hold hands tightly with the parents sitting next to them. Finally, in the bottom of the 10th, the home team broke through and scored the decisive run.
There was more relief than jubilation from the parents of the winning team. Naturally, the parents of the other team sat in stunned silence. Then, one of the parents on the winning side went over to the parents of the losing team and began shaking hands with them, telling them what an exceptional and competitive game their sons had played. I watched closely and noticed smiles break out on the faces of these parents, saw their shoulders lift and their energy return at this simple gesture from a member of "the enemy."
Sometimes we get so caught up in an in-town rivalry, or a big match against another school, that we forget that the other team is really just like our kids. Their parents care about their children just as much as we do. Showing our children that we can interact with parents from the other team in a friendly manner sets a good example for them to congratulate or commiserate with the other team after every match.