Teaching parents to be better sports
Parents must learn to tread a fine line between caring too much about whether their children excel and taking too little interest.
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"Historically, before the Little League was founded in 1938 or 1939, parents did not play ball with kids. It was not part of the sports ethic," he says. "Little League grew and grew, and by the time you were in the mid-1950s, moms and dads were coaching Little League teams."Skip to next paragraph
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The popularity of sports has increased dramatically over the years, and so has the nation's preoccupation with superstars like Michael Jordan.
"For some parents, there is the sense that my child is the gifted one who will be the next Michael Jordan," says Wolff, the former ballplayer who has a master's degree in psychology. "Some say, 'Maybe he won't be a pro, but he will get a college scholarship.' Some parents also have a free-floating sense of keeping up with the Jones family."
To ensure that children benefit from their athletic experience, parents must learn to tread a fine line between caring too much about whether their children excel and taking too little interest in their athletic activities, experts say.
That distinction is different for each child, he notes. Some children play basketball or golf eight hours a day in the summer because they love it so much and that's fine if they manage to retain their focus on friends, academics, and other aspects of their lives, he says.
Take the young Tiger Woods as an example.
"His dad was not the pushy parent people thought he was," Doyle says. "He was always encouraging Tiger to play other sports and to have fun on the golf course. He encouraged him to be a fine student, and Tiger went to Stanford University."
When parents are too pushy, they focus too much on their own dreams, he adds.
Barbara Stahl, a sports parent for 15 years and the author of "Parenting, Sportsmom Style," says that she sometimes found herself in that position when her son played youth sports.
For many years, her son's soccer team beat its archrival, a team from a neighboring town. The first time her son's team lost, Mrs. Stahl was upset, and asked her son if he was sorry about the loss.
"I realized, for my son the game had ended 10 minutes before. I was the one who was wrapped up in the emotional rivalry," she says.
Mak, the youth coach, says that she, too, found herself emotionally involved at times in her son's athletic experience. She often yelled if her son was in danger or if referees failed to watch for fouls, she says.
"If someone would jump on my son, I would say, 'Open your eyes. You almost killed my kid.' If I saw a kid fouling another player, I would yell, 'Ref, watch what's going on!' "
When Mak's son, Justin, was about 12, he told her that she embarrassed him when she challenged referees' calls. "I realized I was overzealous, so I tried to tone it down. I tried to back off," she says.
She continued to attend all of Justin's games, but she often sat on the opposing team's side, where she felt more inhibited about yelling.
"I tried to find a way to still be involved in the game, but to be a real positive part of the excitement," Mak says.
Savvy sports parents not only strive for balance, they try to ensure kids take part in baseball, hockey, or soccer for the joy of it.
Parents should let children lead them, says Wolff. Children who excel in sports are those who are passionate about it. And these kids' drive comes from within, he says.
"All you need to do is be supportive," says Engh. "You need to tell your child, 'Win or lose, you are doing a great job; I want you to have fun.' "
To support a child, parents should attend their children's games, whenever possible, and cheer them on, experts say. They should provide positive feedback to coaches, referees, and umpires.
"Good sports parents realize this sport is a tool to teach your child about life," says Mak.