Parents can make or break a youth sports season. Not only are they the ones registering their children for Little League or Pop Warner football, they are the ones driving their kids to practice, volunteering to coach the teams, organizing team dinners, chaperoning away tournaments, playing catch at home, and more. The attitudes and actions of sports parents really can make a child love or hate playing sports. But even if you aren’t the biggest sports fan yourself, the physical presence of parents during practice and games make a huge difference.
Parents protect the players.
Every parent has done it; you’ve got errands to run, another practice to get to, or dinner to make. You don’t have time to sit around for two hours so you drop your son/daughter off at practice with plans to return to pick them up later. But the simple fact is, if you aren’t at practice than you have no real idea of what is going on at practice. 99% of the time nothing is going on and your children are perfectly safe, but even 1% of the time is too great of a risk. The mere presence of parents is enough to keep most sexual predators at bay. Abusers don’t want to risk getting caught, so they are going to be very careful to not do anything in public that might raise red flags among parents. Many youth sports leagues have instituted rules that no adult is allowed to be alone with a youth athlete for this exact reason–witnesses keep players safe.
Parents can help keep other parents in check.
Everyone has run into “that” sports parent; the one that screams at their kids, coaches from the sidelines, argues with the officials, and generally embarrasses the rest of the team. The worst thing a sports parent can do is feed into that behavior by getting into it with that other mom or dad. Getting into a screaming match (or even a physical fight) is not going to solve anything. Instead, sports parents can make a deal with each other at the beginning of the season as to how they are going to behave on the sidelines, and what the consequences are for not sticking to the deal. It might sound crazy that parents have to police each other, but too many fist fights have erupted because two parents couldn’t handle themselves. The calm and reasonable attitude of some parents might be enough to curtail the crazy and aggressive behavior of the others. And when “that” sports parent sees that no one else is joining their crusade in badgering the other team it might be enough to convince them to reel it in.
Coaches might keep their own behaviors in check.
Every coach has their own style of coaching, and some are bound to be a little more gruff than others. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with raising your voice, screaming and berating and verbally abusing players is not going to make for a better team. Much like with sexual abuse, most abusers don’t want their actions made public. Silence and a culture of fear enable them to keep doing what they are doing. Knowing mom and dad are on the sidelines might be enough to keep the coach’s behavior in check and remind them to think before they speak. Even if they don’t routinely yell at their players, having parents at practice might be enough to keep coaches from losing their temper.
Never forget how much your approval matters.
Above all else, kids just want to know that you love and are proud of them. While you may not be all that into sports yourself, if it is something your kids loves to do than just being at their games and showing your support them makes a world of difference. Sometimes just being there is the best thing you can do for your youth athletes.