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Role Models – Why parents are so important for young athletes!

By Carol Frey, M.D.

Role Models are important. And as a parent the definition of good role models is even more important. Playing sports is an emotional experience for kids. It builds character. Winning and losing teaches kids about the joy and disappointment in life. And a parent should be a big part in helping their kid to succeed. Here are some thoughts on how good role models apply themselves.

The parents of athletes should have good coping skills to handle this emotional roller coaster of kids’ sports. They need to be good role models for their children. But some parents just can’t handle it!

They experience the stress and exhibit bad behavior in many cases, such as yelling at the refs, yelling at the kids, calling the coaches and refs names, drinking alcohol at the games, and fighting with other parents. I’ve seen parents just storm out of a game (or not show up at all) because it is too “stressful” to watch. Seriously? This is your kid.

By the way, the parents also need to have good coping skills for the long hours, early wake-ups, long drives to games and practice and tournaments, and endless breaks in play at large tournaments and meets. Add to this the stress of the financial costs of club and high school sports. No wonder the pressure is turned up—both on the court and off.

Not every parent has the skills to cope with the bumpy ride that is involved in youth sports. Parents must be able to handle the ups and downs and also to set an example and help the kids cope.

The stress of sign-ups, deadlines, team selection (especially all-stars), equipment purchase, lineups, starting positions, playing time, advancement, private training and trainers, and finally wins and losses will elevate to such a level in some parents that they begin to behave inappropriately. The level of emotional intensity for the parents and the kids is increased as competition and specialization increase. This is a prescription for a parental meltdown in many cases.

It may be a good idea to have parents’ codes of conduct. At the very least it points out the main problem with bad conduct in youth sport: the adults. Of course, some people just need to be taught proper behavior and how to act! A code of conduct may help set some limits.

My Medical Advice

You can (and should) be a model spectator parent. Here’s my best advice for good role models:

· Be there. Let your child know you support him or her by attending the games as much as you can.
· Root for your team. Applaud good play—no matter whose side it’s on.
· Let the coaches coach. And let the officials call the game as they see it, not you. Remember who wears the whistles. If you go wild, you’ll be sent home, and your kids will be embarrassed.
· Let the kids be kids,to have fun and compete.
· Support your child athlete because he or she will need to develop mental toughness.
·  Praise your child for the great catch in the third inning, not the dropped ball in the bottom of the ninth. They’ll learn from both experiences.
· Educate. If there is some knowledge you have about the sport, it is okay to review a play, even a bad play, to make it a teaching moment. None of the kids in our survey thought that yelling from the stands was a teachable moment. Most were embarrassed for themselves, the parents, and other players.
· Remember, many of the coaches and refs are volunteers, or receive low pay, and should be praised for being there.

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