Tips for Parents

Tips for high school sports parents

by Terri Lobdell / Palo Alto Online

Positive Coaching Alliance founder and Executive Director Jim Thompson recently wrote "The High School Sports Parent," which includes the following advice to parents:

Focus on the "Big Picture." Help kids take away from sports character lessons that will contribute to their success in life. Lessons include the rewards of commitment and delayed gratification, learning to bounce back from difficulties with renewed determination, and discovering how to support people within a team context. Avoid becoming a "back-seat coach" and leave performance on the field to the athletes and coach.

Help your child keep sports in proper perspective by focusing on effort rather than outcome. Focusing on athletic talent rather than effort is a "trap" that can actually harm the player's ability to reach potential. Focusing on talent also breeds an attitude of entitlement. Help your teen understand that hard work is usually entwined with enjoyment and is a gift that will serve him or her well throughout life.

Mistakes are what kids worry about most. The fear of making a mistake can paralyze them. Consider the typical reaction from the stands that an athlete hears or sees after a glaring mistake: Many parents groan, slap their heads, frown or yell corrective instructions. Instead, help your teen learn not to fear mistakes and to bounce back quickly, leaving more energy to learn the game.

Model "honoring the game." Demonstrate respect at all times for the other team and for game officials.

Realize that coaches have to balance competing needs. The playing time "pie" is limited and the coach cannot give every family everything it wants. The team concept requires give-and-take for the sake of the whole.

Help your teen learn to advocate for himself or herself. Encourage your teen to think about how he or she wants to deal with a problem. Offer to listen or role-play. For most problems, your child is in charge of his or her own experience, not you.

Don't make derogatory comments about the coach to your teen or other parents or members of the team. Undermining coaches behind their backs is rampant in high school sports. This toxic behavior can devastate team culture, divide a team and place high school athletes in an awkward middle between coach and parent. If you don't like the coach, keep it to yourself and don't poison the water.

If there's an issue you think warrants intervention, proceed sensibly. There are some situations -- such as physical or emotional abuse -- where you may decide you need to step in.

In cases in which parents decide they must act:

Don't intervene while angry; wait until you cool down.

Don't assume you know what is going on or that your child's portrayal is the only "true" one. Seek confirmation of what you heard from other parents you trust not to feed the rumor mill.

Consult with your athlete on your plans. It is crucial that you don't act in a way that undercuts or embarrasses your teen.

Act as if everyone is operating out of good will, even if you suspect they are not.

Follow the chain of authority. Go to the coach first, even if you think he or she is the problem. You will ultimately get better results with the athletic director if you start with the coach. Similarly, the athletic director should always be contacted before an issue is brought to the principal or assistant principal.

Editor's Note: This article was part of an investigative two-part series on high school coaching in Palo Alto published in the Palo Alto Weekly on May 14, 2010 and May 21, 2010. Additional articles appeared only online.

Tips for high school sports parents: Advice to parents of sports-team members from the founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance.

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The job of coaching: a review of the working conditions high-school coaches face. For many, the work means long hours, low pay, high expectations and shifting personnel.

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