CHEERING YOUR KIDS ON. Parents play essential role in success and happiness of their children in sports

IT has become fashionable in some quarters to put down mothers and fathers involved with youth sports as ego-tripping ``stage parents,'' living vicariously through the exploits of their children. Pat McInally, however, takes exactly the opposite tack. Indeed, the former college and pro-football star makes it clear right at the beginning of his comprehensive book Moms&Dads Kids&Sports (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 234 pp., $14.95, hard cover) that he wants no part of such stereotypical thinking.

``I'm tired of these attitudes,'' Mr. McInally says in the very first chapter. ``They are exaggerated and do nothing but make parents self-conscious and embarrassed about something they should be proud of - their love for their children.''

From there McInally goes on to cover the entire spectrum of youth sports - tips on equipment, nutrition, health and safety, and conditioning; long chapters about both the physical and mental aspects of performance; advice about choosing sports, dealing with coaches, and handling the virtually limitless types of problems that can arise.

But all through the book - whatever the specific item under discussion - the overriding theme is the essential role parents play in the success and happiness of their children on the athletic field.

``Moms and dads, your kids absolutely need your help...,'' he says. ``You have to get them through the frustrations, disappointments, and failures, and keep the successes in perspective.''

Again and again, McInally urges parents not to let society get in the way - not to worry about being accused of being too pushy or overzealous.

He concedes that there are parents who go overboard - but even worse are those with no involvement at all.

His authority for this position is the kids themselves, via the thousands of letters he has received from all over the country while writing a syndicated newspaper column on youth sports for the last five years.

``I don't believe parents can be too involved,'' he says. ``The lucky kids are the ones who have moms and dads coaching, scorekeeping, working in the concession stand, or sitting in the bleachers yelling their heads off for their young athletes to play well. Be proud if you're out there. Feel sorry for the kids whose parents can't or won't find the time to make the effort.''

But interest and involvement are only the beginning, of course. If parents are going to help their children enjoy the youth sports experience to the fullest, there's a whole range of subjects about which they will need at least some basic knowledge and understanding. And this is what McInally attempts to provide - sometimes with specific suggestions, at other times in a general way.

It's a tall order, given the number and diversity of sports out there, but all in all this book fills it well. Obviously a book trying to look at the big picture has to generalize a lot. And undoubtedly because of his own experience as well as the greater popularity of these sports, the author pays more attention to football, basketball, and baseball than to others.

But except for those relatively rare occasions when he gets very specific, such as choosing football helmets, the sort of advice he gives is broad enough to cover the whole field.

Sometimes the author seems reluctant to take sides on hotly debated issues, preferring instead to present both arguments and leave the decisions up to the individual. On other issues, though, he is willing to stand up and be counted - such as whether or not a young athlete should specialize in one sport. McInally is definitely of the multisport school.

There are plenty of other tips, but don't get the idea that this book is mainly for parents of elite athletes.

On the contrary, it is aimed by and large at the fathers and mothers of all children involved in youth sports - from the uncertain six-year-old beginner to the high school superstar heading for college and maybe a pro career. McInally is well aware that there are a lot more of the former than the latter, and he balances his material well to satisfy all levels.

Larry Eldridge is the Monitor's sports editor.

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