Bethlehem Press

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

This is only the beginning

Thursday, December 6, 2018 by The Press in Sports

I admit, I’ve only dipped my toes in the water when it comes to youth sports.

My twin 7-year-olds have been playing sports since they were 4-years-old. Sports is already a huge part of their lives. Our living room is more a combination soccer, football and hockey arena than it is a living area. In fact, this is the first Christmas where there really aren’t any toys on their list, it’s all sports related items.

Recently, while watching 69 News one morning, I saw Dr. Jarrod Spencer, founder and president of Mind of the Athlete, a sports psychology company in Bethlehem, take part in a conversation about youth sports. And, I was taken back a little when he said - frankly - that parents have wrecked youth sports in America.

I’ve read many of the extreme horror stories over the years about parents at youth sports events, and the fights they get into, and I’ve always thought the same thing.

But, it’s not just the extreme cases of parents throwing fists with one another or attacking refs or insulting young kids from the opposing team. It’s the little things that can add up, and, probably a lot of parents - myself included - don’t realize.

For the most part, my youth sports experiences have been pretty good - so far. I’ve always been on the sidelines or have volunteered to help coach most of the teams they’ve been a part of. But I sure have seen the signs with regard to what Spencer talked about on television, and then points out again in the article by Katie McDonald (see above left).

Even before I started my kids in sports, I told myself I never wanted to be a parent who lives through his kids’ sports success, due to my own failures in athletics.

That doesn’t always seem to be the case with others, though. More times than not, it’s the parents who care the most about wins and losses. I’ve seen some pretty crazy celebrations and reactions by fans and coaches of kids who are 5-7-years-old.

I once had what appeared to be a grandparent yell “delay of game!” at me as we tried to line up 6-year-olds for a play in flag football.

Like Spencer said, every parent has a story about a lopsided loss. As an assistant soccer coach, I one time helped to lead my team to a 23-3 loss. While score technically isn’t kept, the kids manage to do a pretty good job of remembering. The parents aren’t bad either. And while there was no let up from the other team (and in fact they cherry-picked a kid in front of our goal to score more toward the end), and as frustrated as I was during and after the game, the one saving grace was as soon as the game was over the kids’ conversation quickly turned to the snack they got, not the 20-goal thumping they were just forced to play through.

Life goes on.

For as good as a youth parent and coach that I tell myself I am, I admit, I failed most of Spencer’s five basic rules.

Spencer says:

1) Do not to be in a group of parents that moves with the play on the sidelines. I’ve never done this, but I’ve seen it a few times and I see how this can put pressure on a kid.

2) Do not talk about the game on the car ride home. Guilty, but I will say we’ve only kept it positive, focusing on the good things they did along with the rest of the team, even in a lopsided loss. When your kid is ready to focus on his snack, this makes sense.

3) Only talk after they have showered, changed and were fed. Also Guilty. By the time we get home, conversations eventually turns to the game before we get in the door.

4) Don’t make social media posts about your kids’ athletics. Guilty again. Fortunately, my kids don’t know much about social media yet, so they don’t see what I post anyway, but I do always try to keep it positive and express my pride, win or lose. But as my kids get older, I can certainly see how social media posts can bring added pressure.

5) Don’t overschedule. Guilty. This past fall was the first time they played two different sports in the same season, and it took up five days of our week. While they never seemed to mind, we did have some cranky days that could have been from overdoing it - and so did the kids... As kids get older and have more school responsibilities, I can see how this could become a problem. My kids love their sports, but also love, and need, their downtime even has first graders.

Fortunately, we are lucky to be surrounded by parents and coaches of the same mindset, which has made our youth sports experiences to date pretty pleasant. We may not have followed Spencer’s rules exactly to this point, but we all try to be positive and in the end make sure our kids are having fun and learning the correct way to play.

I realize things will probably not get better the more my family and I get involved, the older my kids get, and the deeper their sports careers go. In a day and age where mental healthy seems to be a hot topic, as adults we need to sometimes stop and think how our actions and reactions as fans and coaches before, during and after games can affect a young mind who looks up to us and takes in everything they see and hear.

After all, I’m having a lot more fun watching and coaching when I know my kids are enjoying playing.