Parents: The Most Valuable Player in Youth Sports is You

By Greg Bach
Crowd of parents cheering sports team from stadium bleachers

Super Bowl champion Brady Poppinga still remembers a heated argument that unfolded between a volunteer coach and parent following a youth baseball game he played in over 20 years ago.

His youth team had just been knocked out of a tournament in Evanston, Wyo., and as they were packing up their equipment, the team’s coach and a father of one of the players began yelling and swearing at each other.

“That scarred me,” said Poppinga, who would go on to play linebacker in the NFL for eight seasons and win a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 2010.

“That one experience soured the whole year because today that is the most vivid memory I have of that year—two well-respected parents almost going at it, said Poppinga. “It was one of those selfish moments where they thought it was all about them and they forgot all about us kids. It ultimately just poisoned the whole experience for me.”

As parents, we want our children to remember their journey through sports for all the right reasons, and that requires parents working with—and not against—coaches. Use these tips to help those relationships flourish.

Attend Practices

We all lead busy lives, and it seems like there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done. But don’t drop your child off at practice and do your impression of Olympic sprinting legend Usain Bolt by racing to your minivan to go knock out errands. Instead, grab a seat and devote your full attention to the practice session. This doesn’t mean the occasional glance. It means putting your phone down—you can look at your Facebook newsfeed later.

Watching what the coach is teaching players, and how he or she is going about doing so, sends a terrific message that you genuinely care about what your child is learning under their leadership. Plus, you can see how your child responds to instruction from others.

Offer to Help

Practices also offer potential opportunities for you to get more involved and give the coach a helping hand. However, please note that any involvement must first be greenlighted by the coach.

Offer your help prior to the beginning of practice, not once practice is underway, when coaches have a dozen kids pulling at their attention. If your offer is met with enthusiasm, be willing to do what the coach asks.

Some may just need a hand setting up some cones before practice, and others may want your input on drills and plays.

Remember, the coach volunteered to take on this role, so follow their instructions. If you want to run a team your way, be sure to volunteer to coach next season. Organizations are always looking for capable coaches.

Sometimes the coach may already have enough assistants, or maybe even prefers to oversee the season by themselves and may decline your offer. If so, don’t be offended. The bottom line is they volunteered, so they make the calls.

Coaches Coach, Parents Spectate

Game days are fun—for both kids and their parents—with the colorful uniforms and exciting action. But don’t be that parent, the one who is yelling instructions at their child like a drill sergeant. The coach needs the players focused on what they are sharing from the sidelines.

Messages delivered from the stands infringe on the coach’s efforts, are confusing for young athletes hearing different instructions from different voices, and are downright annoying for others to listen to all game long.

If a young athlete needs to run faster, play harder, get the ball or pay attention, the coach will let them know. That’s not your job for that hour. Relax and have fun!

Manage Emotions

When an opposing player knocks down your son or daughter in the heat of action, or an official makes a decision that goes against your young athlete or team, a parent’s blood pressure tends to climb. And emotions simmer.

You must find ways to remain in control—whether it’s talking to another parent about the latest Game of Thrones episode to distract yourself or grabbing a snack at the concession stand to push away that negative energy, find what works and use it. Losing control is never acceptable and you don’t want your child remembering their sports experiences with embarrassment and resentment.

Dr. Dan Wann, a leading sports psychologist at Murray State University and featured expert in the NAYS Parent Orientation and Membership Program shared, “I know that in the past I’ve talked to parents who have come to me and said, ‘I feel like I’m getting so wound up, what do I do?’ I’ll put them with a parent buddy. If you feel like your friend is losing control, you tap them on the shoulder and let them know to take a deep breath and that it will be okay.”

Manners Matter

If you have a concern regarding your child—maybe it’s the amount of playing time they are receiving, their position or how they are being treated—ask the coach when a convenient time would be to discuss those questions in private.

Ambushing the coach two minutes before the first pitch is a big no-no. So is bringing attitude and high volume to the meeting. Be polite, courteous and really listen to what the coach shares. If your questions can’t be resolved, speak to the program director.

Reality Check

Remember, college scholarships and future endorsement deals aren’t being squandered simply because the coach has your child playing a position different than what you had hoped. The season isn’t all about you and your child.

It’s about an entire group of kids who—regardless of their skill levels—all deserve equal opportunities.

Being a model youth sports parent is full of challenges. But when parents enter the season viewing their child’s coach as an ally—not the enemy—and focus on building relationships instead of sabotaging them, then a rewarding season can be enjoyed by all.

And that’s what every young athlete deserves.

Greg Bach is the senior director of communication and content for the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS), which has been a leading advocate for positive and safe sports for children nationwide.

Leave a Reply