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The Art of Performance: Parents have responsibility in youth sports

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By Dr. Keith Wilson

This is the time of year when children are involved with all kinds of sports and extracurricular activities. For most young people, their parents are deeply involved in these activities as well. Usually, parents are needed for transportation and administration in youth sports. Parents also are important as coaches and support for their child.

Unfortunately, it often happens parents do not fully understand their role and overstep their involvement. This leads to negative outcomes for the parent and sometimes for the child.

Parents are vulnerable to making mistakes as they try to be supportive of their child in extracurricular activities. First, parents might try to live through their children and their activities. This might be caused by parents being disappointed in their own athletic careers. Consequently, they take great pleasure in their child’s performance.

Parents caught in this trap are offended if an opponent fouls their child but the referee does not call it. They feel personally violated. They will act on behalf of their child instead of letting the child deal with the challenge. This situation is very confusing to the child as they never learn how to stand up for themselves. They never learn to voice their concerns because the parent always is doing it for them.

Second, parents often overstep clear boundaries, harming the spirit of the competition. Some parents believe and act like it is OK to insult referees or game officials. Parents might think this is acceptable behavior because of the example set in professional baseball, where yelling and screaming at umpires is part of the game.

However, in youth sports, the referees often are volunteers and sometimes even parents themselves. Referees will make mistakes because they are not professionals. Children are embarrassed by their parents’ bad behavior toward referees. The child could even be penalized because of that behavior.

Parents are not immune to verbal and sometimes even physical attack. Clearly this is a violation of what youth sports and extracurricular activities strive to provide for the community. This type of behavior can’t be tolerated. League officials need to have a clear plan for expected parental behavior. Simply telling parents to do the right thing will not change out-of-control behavior.

Leagues need to set expectations high and provide training for parents so they can be successful in supporting their child. Parental behavior will follow expectations of league rules. If there are no explicit expectations, parents’ behavior will be detrimental to themselves, their children and their league.

There are many resources open to youth leagues, including national organizations, willing to help provide training. However, locally designed parental programs can be just as effective if the league is fully committed to providing a safe and educational atmosphere for their youth.

The last aspect of this problem, hopefully, is obvious for those parents who can’t or won’t follow the expectation of appropriate parental support. They need to withdraw from being so closely connected to their children’s activity. Parents might need to seek professional help to understand their motivation for creating a negative environment for their children.

Youth sports and extracurricular activities are great character developing activities for children. However, organization officials and parents have to do their part to help create a learning, growing experience for every child involved.

Dr. Keith Wilson is owner of The Wilson Center for Performance with offices in Radcliff and Louisville. He can be reached at TheWilsonCenter7@aol.com.