Alanna Waters currently serves as a lacrosse coach for young athletes. She notes that coaching inexperienced players can present its own set of challenges, since a coach must teach both athletic skills as well as life skills. Alanna believes that sports can help a young person develop, however, she urges parents to learn how they can support their child’s athletic pursuits in a healthy manner.
Many young athletes take their practices and games seriously, which helps to lead to success on the field. However, it is often difficult for these boys or girls to see that their athletic participation is mostly for enjoyment, and that the game is not a “win or die” situation. In order to help their young players learn how to try their best on the field without getting too caught up in the end result, parents must learn a few key tips about youth athletics.
Moms and dads should make it a point to remain positive whenever they discuss their son or daughter’s athletic pursuits. Instead of getting just as frustrated as the player after a loss or taunting the other team after a win, parents should focus on the child’s efforts. They must emphasize that having fun is the most important thing part of a game or practice, regardless of how much of a “must win” it appears to be.
Some parents, particularly those who were athletes in their younger days, get tempted to offer tips to their son or daughter, however it is best to put coaching aside and simply congratulate the child on their performance that day. Moms and dads should support the coach’s decision, even if these choices anger the boy or girl. Kids need to trust their coaches, and parents who demonstrate that they do not feel confident in the coach’s abilities may cause complications.
Alanna Waters comments on this noting, “It’s great for Mom and Dad to get involved and invested in a game, but parents must never lose sight of the fact that youth athletics are all about getting into shape, learning about teamwork, and having fun. If the team loses a game, it’s not the World Series. They tried and that’s what counts. When parents start to critique a boy or girl’s performance or yell at the coach, it takes the fun out of youth athletics. Kids should know that as long as they try their best, Mom and Dad will be proud.”
Children look to their parents for guidance on how to feel during specific situations, and this applies to athletics. If the young player sees that their parents seem to feel nervous or anxious before a big game, the child will start to mimic these emotions. Parents should make it a point to always remain calm and positive before a game, thus allowing their son or daughter to feel at peace too. It is normal for a child to feel nervous during a game, but they should never feel overwhelmed with anxiety.
Just as kids learn how to feel before a game by looking at Mom and Dad, they also learn about sportsmanship and how to act as a fan by watching their parents’ actions. Moms and dads who scream at the referees, swear, and pull their hair during games are teaching young athletes that these actions are acceptable. Cheering loudly and enthusiastically is important, but good sportsmanship at all times is a must. Parents can support the team in many ways, such as bringing snacks or helping the coach, but getting aggressive about game play is not ideal.
Alanna Waters notes, “Parents should get actively involved in their kid’s athletic pursuits, however Mom and Dad must always keep in mind that they are a role model at all times, even when they don’t believe that their child is studying their actions. Demonstrating aggressive or unsportsmanlike behavior indicates to young athletes that these kinds of actions are acceptable. Instead, parents should support the athletes and cheer loudly, but always remain levelheaded and calm. This also helps to take some of the pressure off of the players. If they see that Mom and Dad are just having fun, they will feel more relaxed about their performance too.”
Parents must use care when handling a post-game situation, just as they would when helping a boy or girl prepare for a practice or competition. Adults should make several positive comments about the child’s athletic performance that day. In order to help the boy or girl learn and improve, parents can ask their kids about a few things they think they did well, and also focus on a few areas where the young athlete would like to improve. This helps the child to learn, without feeling as if he or she is being attacked for that day’s efforts.
Moms and dads should make it a point to avoid focusing solely on the score and the statistics of the game. If the child scores a goal, they certainly deserve praise, but they should not be on the receiving end of the lecture about how their numbers on defense were lacking. At a certain point, an adult must also recognize when the time for discussion about the game is over. Immediately after the competition has concluded, it is okay to go over how the outing went. However, a day or two after the game, there should be no more discussion about what happened on the field. This helps a child to realize that a game is only a small part of their life, and is not to be taken too seriously.
Waters comments on this explaining, “Children need a sports-life balance, and this starts when they first begin participating in athletics. If they are constantly talking about sports with Mom and Dad, attending practices and games, and preparing for future athletic events, the sport will soon consume their lives. Kids need to learn that sports matter, but other aspects of life are important too. By avoiding obsessing over athletics, parents can help to make sure that this point is driven home.” Alanna Waters encourages parents to talk with children about the other, broader skills they pick up during athletics, such as supporting teammates and having compassion on the field.
Alanna Waters is a youth lacrosse coach who serves as the head varsity girls’ lacrosse coach at Metro Lacrosse. The program is a unique one because it helps urban youth to develop both their athletic and their interpersonal skills. Alanna enjoys her dual role as a coach and a mentor to her team.