Sports Mama Drama

Parents on the SidelineSports Mama drama. Those three words make my gut clench tighter than a charlie horse. (This sad sideline to youth sports isn’t limited to the Mamas but that title rolls off the tongue better than Sports Parent Drama. Dads, this is for you too.)

Over the years I’ve been a karate mom, tennis mom, cross country mom, basketball mom, baseball mom, soccer mom, gymnastics mom, cheer leading mom, and football mom – not in that order. What can I say. We love sports and active children.

While we want our kids moving and making friends, we don’t care what athletic endeavors they choose. My husband and I prefer running but our kids, obviously, have sampled a smorgasbord of sports.

We love watching them run, throw, jump and kick and we tend to be exuberant fans on the bleachers and sidelines. That is, except at tennis matches. That’s an oddly quiet sport, which is probably why I only played it one year myself.

While most of the sports parents I’ve met are positive, supportive and level-headed people who do their children proud, a few have left me wanting to blow the whistle to issue a red card, or at least call a time-out for some coaching.

Here’s what I’d say:

Stop caring so much if they win. Sure, you want your children to work hard and compete to the best of their ability but this is their game, not yours. It doesn’t reflect on you if they win or lose. In fact, if you care too much, they’ll care too much and you’ll miss the opportunity to help them grow in character from both wins and losses. Good sportsmanship is a life skill that matters no matter what side of the score board you’re on. If you have trouble swallowing this advice, chances are you don’t have enough of your own life outside of your children’s sports. That’s just sad.

Cheer for Every Child on the Team. Even in individual sports like swimming and running your child is still going to be part of a team. Cheer for everyone. In fact, it’s okay to express appreciation for skill or sportsmanship displayed by members of the opposing team. These aren’t professional athletes. They’re children.

Stop Criticizing the Kids. Don’t ride down your child’s teammates or the opposing team’s players either. If the point-guard misses a shot, the quarter-back grounds a pass or the goalie fails to block you can cringe. But please clamp your lips closed and wait for something to cheer about. Again, they’re children. They make mistakes. It’s part of the game. It’s part of life. You don’t want another parent criticizing your child, so don’t disparage theirs. Follow the age-old advice we give to children. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Treat the Ref Like the Field. No. That doesn’t mean walk all over him. Just pay as much attention to him as you would a patch of grass. Refs are people too. They aren’t going to get every call right. In a week, a month or a year from now that horrible call isn’t going to matter one bit. It’s a game, not life or death or a golden opportunity. A poorly reffed game isn’t going to change whether junior goes to college or gets a scholarship, or a good job or a wonderful spouse. Besides, if you yell at the ref chances are pretty good it isn’t going to help your child play better. In fact, it might make that ref cranky, resulting in more bad calls, not fewer.

Stop Coaching. This doesn’t work if you’re a volunteer parent coach but if you aren’t the coach stop pretending you are, even if you played the sport in high school or college. If you played professionally you probably should be the coach, so volunteer already. You and the other parents didn’t sign your offspring up for competitive sports so they could be coached from bleachers or sidelines. And your kids deserve a chance to learn and grow without you calling all the shots.

One of the big benefits of organized sports is that your kids have another adult in their lives to mentor them. When you coach you undermine the real coach’s impact and authority. Really. You don’t know if he told your child to pass and not dribble or how to handle her position. Even if your hollered advice jives with the coach your child doesn’t need competing voices in his ear. One is enough. Now, if you want to undermine the coach then you have a bigger problem and should probably move your child to another team or sport or stay off the sidelines altogether.

See the Big Picture. Only a small percentage of youth athletes go on to play in college. Even fewer make it professionally. Some of them, after years of playing, will lose interest before high school. So, instead of imagining that you have the next Jordan, Messi or Manning think about what you want your child to gain from her sports experience if she stops in 3rd grade, 6th grade, 8th grade or 12th grade.

Here’re some ideas if you have trouble seeing beyond the next pass or shot. Sports can help children live active, healthy, and enjoyable lifestyles while developing self-discipline and teamwork. Sports can teach them how working hard leads to accomplishment and enables them to break physical and mental limits. Sports can help them develop respect for authority, grow from losses, celebrate wins and make friends. These benefits are all of greater value than any championship trophy that ends up gathering dust in your attic.

Find the Fun. There’s a reason the word “play” shows up so much in sports. It’s supposed to be fun! While I’m not going to dig for them, I’ve heard that studies show people continue exercise when they find it enjoyable. If you steal your child’s joy with sports mama  or dad drama, guess who loses? Your kid. Is that what you really want? I didn’t think so.

*Whistle* Play On.

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