Ten helpful hints to making your loved ones’ athletic experience the best it can be.
March is one of my favorite months out of the year because spring sports across the Northwest get going and I’m a big spring sports fan. I participated in four of them growing up (organized baseball, tennis, soccer and track) and the unseasonably warm and dry weather so far this month has meant lots of kids playing the sports they love outside where they were meant to be played. It’s also a time for parents and supporters to catch up on things and if you’re like me one of the best things in life is watching your loved one play.
I’ve spent over 40 years playing, coaching, cheering and writing about sports and I’ve sort of assembled a “Ten Helpful Hints” of a supporter’s role and how to make the experience a good one for your loved one.
1. Get your loved one to practices/games on time: I always felt the ultimate way you show respect for something is promptness. If you’re always late that says a lot about how much you care about things. I know…we’re all busy but it you must be late let the coach know….or perhaps another supporter can take or pick up your loved one or if you’re in a position to do so volunteer to take one of your loved ones’ teammates to or from practice or a game. Some of my best memories of sports are the car rides to and from the game (our van in Babe Ruth baseball was always the preferred mode of transportation because my mom let us listen to our music).
2. Make sure your loved one has the appropriate equipment to participate adequately: It’s very hard to improve on techniques when you don’t have the equipment to do so. Not to mention your child feels sort of an inferiority complex if they are the only one without something. And, having the proper equipment at practice means you have it at home as well so you can practice away from the field. We have gone as far as to put a soccer ball in each of our vehicles just in case.
3. Practice time = learning time….don’t interfere!!!: It’s hard for the coaches to coach and the players to play when an overbearing parent is telling the child how to do something. Think of it this way – how well would you do learning a new skill at your job if someone off to the side is trying to tell you something as well? And for kids on multiple teams – do things how that coach wants you to do them. With my son I found he does a lot better when I’m not watching…so I stay out of sight and where he can hear me as much as possible.
4. If it’s not positive, don’t say it: What do we learn from negative comments from spectators? Nothing. The athlete knows he/she didn’t do something right…the coaches instruction will help them learn. Negative words will often sway the athlete to think about what you said, not what it’s coach said.
5. The focus should never be on yourself as a spectator: The focus for every practice and game should be the athletes…if your behavior has people putting their eyes on you nothing good will come of it. And your loved one will almost always notice it too.
6. Let the coaches coach: The positions where your loved one plays, the techniques they are taught and the methodology put forth by the coaches is with two things in mind…one, safety and two, so the child has the best position of succeeding. That’s where the enjoyment for the sport will come from.
7. Don’t make the officials’ job tougher than it already is: Nine times out of 10 the official is a volunteer receiving no compensation outside of a burger and a soda at the snack shack. But ten times out of ten a spectator letting them know they kicked a call or that they are “pulling for the other team” doesn’t help at all. If you think you’re better than the official, then you volunteer to do it as leagues everywhere need officials so our loved ones can play. If you’re not willing to do it, don’t criticize someone who is.
8. Remember who the focus should be on…not the other teams players, coaches or fans: Here’s a simple check to make sure you do this…ask yourself “did I come to this game to see the other coach? Did I come to see the spectator sitting in row B, seat 2 on the other side?”. If the answer is no, then don’t pay any attention to them. If you feel their behavior was unjust bring it up to someone in a position of authority after the game/match. Which brings me to number nine…
9. The 24-hour rule: Try to give yourself 24 hours before discussing the game with anyone. This takes the emotion out of it and much more constructive conversations can take place. There should be only one question to your loved one after the game…”did you have fun?”.
10. Remember….IT’S JUST A GAME: For 99 percent of the athletes out there it’s not that big a deal whether they won, lost or tied. There’s a line from one of my favorite movies Hoosiers where the coach before the state championship says “ If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.” Further, if you’ve followed these hints as a supporter your loved one can’t wait to get out there the next time.
One more thing – I must come clean and let you know I have violated every one of these hints. And because I’m a passionate, competitive person I’m sure I will violate them again. My crime wasn’t so much as violating these rules as it was beating myself up over these things. Much like your loved one on the field, learn from your mistakes and move on…because there will come a time when your loved one won’t be playing out there anymore and you don’t want to look back and play the woulda-coulda-shoulda game. Where I sit from the cheap seats sports are meant to be fun and a diversion from normal life…we all need to do our part and keep them that way.