Dr. Mom: Pledge to be a supportive sports parent, not a coach's nightmare

03/13/2012 12:00 AM

03/13/2012 10:12 AM

Baseball season has begun. We just enjoyed opening day this past Saturday for our son's baseball league. And it's exciting watching your child learn to play a sport he or she enjoys, isn't it?

Admittedly, I often have to tame my inner cheerleader and remind myself to keep my personal coaching to a minimum. I'm starting to see that look of annoyance on my son's face when I'm lingering a little too close to the dugout and reminding him to not play in the dirt when he's in the outfield.

I know I need to let go.

I recently read a very insightful article on how parents behave during and after watching their child on the field. It was an eye-opener because, I think, many of us parents feel it's our job to at times be the backup coach. We give little pep talks before the game. We may cheer wildly during the game – and perhaps give some constructive criticism following the game.

The article summed up what they found after surveying hundreds of college athletes. They asked these athletes what the worst part about playing youth sports was.

The unanimous answer was the ride home. Yikes.

This was because parents would grill them about the game, talk about what went right or wrong, and how their child could improve.

What would the child athletes prefer?

A simple "I love watching you play." That's it.

The title of the article, "What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent – and What Makes a Great One," makes me definitely not want to fall into the former category.

And yet, unfortunately, I may have done one or two things that fall into the nightmare category, like lingering behind the dugout, giving my son words of encouragement and gentle reminders about paying attention. He's 7, and I could see he was restraining himself but wanted to tell me to buzz off.

Granted, we're still at a young, mostly fun age when it comes to sports. I've heard horror stories from other parents with older children. Parents can become invested in a crazy way, yelling at coaches, umpires, and the players. Some parents even outwardly criticize their children while they're on the field, to the point that the child breaks down in tears.

Yeah, that kind of sounds like a nightmare – for the children and everyone else.

I do not want to become a nightmare sports parent.

So, this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to cheer on my son and his teammates, from the bleachers, not from behind the dugout. I'm going to trust my child that he will listen to his coaches and learn not to play in the dirt when he's in the outfield. I'm going to hope with all that I have that he makes contact with that ball when he's up to bat, but not go crazy when he does or doesn't. I'm not going to relive the game, play by play, on the ride home because I know my son just wants to decompress. I'm his mom, not his coach.

This is his sport, and I want him to own it mistakes, wins, losses, and being part of a team. With 75 percent of children quitting their organized sport by age 13, I want this 7-year-old to enjoy it and to figure out whether this is his thing.

He may or may not want to play again next year. I don't know.

What I do know is this: My job is simply to say, "I love watching you play."

Because I do. I really do.

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