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Parenting & Youth Sports

Growing up there were soccer games I played in and I used to wish I played in a stadium with no fans. I just wanted to play the game because I loved soccer and the sidelines were driving me crazy. Maybe I was just a sensitive kid but maybe I was not. Maybe fans need to take a good look in the mirror at their behavior.

This blog is my thoughts on children in sports and the role parents play at games. I am a former Division One, full scholarship athlete who went to Michigan State University to play soccer. I was recruited nationwide to play for a variety of schools. I played in tournaments all over the country growing up starting in elementary school. My weekends were always filled with soccer year round. I played on the Illinois state select team since I was twelve years old and every year after until I was almost in college. In high school, I won all sorts of achievement awards and nominations by the local papers. So I GET competitive sports from a kids perspective but today I am seeing it from a parents.

I will start with my experiences as a parent on the sidelines. I was at my seven year olds basketball game a few weekends back and was APPAULED at the parents in the crowd on the opposing team. Literally yelling at the children. The referee actually asked our coach if he should kick these people out of the gym. A child fouled out during the game and parents on the opposing team were yelling taunting things at the court about him. HE IS SEVEN! Get a grip people, this is not the NBA championship and even then people get thrown out for inappropriate behavior. I was literally speechless. At the same time I found my voice and I felt the anger in me to tell those parents to, "Shut up!" I wished I had the power to say that back when I was younger.

At what point do parents think it is ok to act like an animal at a child's sporting event. This was not the first time I witnessed it first hand. A few weeks back at a FLAG football game for kindergarten and first graders, parents on the opposing sidelines were yelling at one of the players on my child's team and again our coach had to address the sideline to stop it.

Growing up I had people yelling at me all the time from the sidelines. Parents who were not coaches felt the need to "coach" from the sidelines on both teams. It drove me crazy. I remember my freshman year of high school on the varsity team. I just wanted to fit in but what does a fourteen year old really have in common with seventeen or eighteen year old. Especially when I came in and immediately became the leading scorer on the team. I had shattered the scoring record for a freshman on the varsity team that year. I scored twenty-six goals in the season with the prior record being thirteen. I found parents yelling from the sidelines a huge distraction and wished the referee would have thrown those people out. It drained me and honestly took some of the joy out of the game. Dealing with my teammates and trying to fit in was hard enough let alone dealing with crazy adults. A few years later, I had a team mate who found herself a victim of a crime and students would come to the game and taunt her. Again, this was crazy. How on earth anyone would behave like that is beyond me! Maybe they learned it from their parents?

My thoughts and advice to parents: If you want to pull your kid over and give them a pep talk go for it. But don't embarrass them. If you don't have anything positive to say I promise just being there and saying, "Great job" after the game is all they need. A child doesn't need to feel like they let you as a parent down if they didn't score or didn't win. They don't need you adding to it. After the game tell them how much you loved watching them. If you want to give them some pointers do it in a tactful positive way. Please don't put down other players on their team or opposing team. Teach them what they can control. I noticed when you do (fill in the blank) it was amazing. Positive reinforcement goes a long way. You need to be tactful. There is much more riding on what you say than the game itself. Do you really want to strain your relationship with your child over how they played in a sport? Take this opportunity to teach them skills on how to deal with a variety of life issues. Not just scoring points.

I had parents on the sidelines of my games that got upset if another kid was playing very aggressively and they would shout to get that player back. Hearing those parents talk and complain post game just dragged me down. I wanted to shout, "Hey she out-played us. We did our best and it was not enough." For those parents out there that had a hard time with their kids getting out hustled, guess what? That is part of the game. Someone is always going to be bigger, stronger and faster. That is the nature of sports. That is why "'we" as athletes train and practice to improve on our weaknesses and make our strengths stronger. That is part of the game. Top athletes that make it to the higher levels have work ethic ingrained in them and grit. The parents on my team hated when we played certain teams but I bet if that player they couldn't stand were on my team instead they would have loved it. To have a player that fought for every play and never gave up is a teammate everyone wants.

To this day when I think of some specific parents that I remember from my game days, I wish they would have been thrown out. As a player I hated it. I now know today those people have a lot of mental baggage and need to find some better ways to cope than lashing out at kids during a child's sporting event. But back then I didn't and I just didn't understand why they were yelling at us. So my advice. Save your voice. If you can't control yourself than don't go to the games or watch from a distance. It is not fair to your kid or any other kids on the team.

So for those parents out there that are thinking this might apply to them, ask yourself how do you want your child to remember you? I look back and remember exactly how each of those parents made me feel. Do you want your kids to think back about amazing times growing up playing sports or do you want their only memory to be wishing their crazy parents weren’t there?

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