In sports, parents are engaging in child's play

On High Schools

High Schools

October 31, 2004|By MILTON KENT

THERE USED TO be a time when parents were seen and not heard bellowing at their kids at games, when parents respected their children's coaches and the games themselves by being supportive and not judgmental.

That time, says Greg Dale, a sports psychologist, has passed, and kids are suffering because of it.

"A lot of people ask me, `Don't you think kids are different today than they used to be when we were kids?' " Dale said during a visit to Garrison Forest School last week.

"I tell them that I don't think that kids are necessarily that different. I think parents have changed, and they've changed as a result of society."

Dale, who teaches classes in performance enhancement and sports ethics at Duke University, said parents have become more strident because of the big bucks that have come to athletics.

"There's so much more emphasis on winning because of the amount of money that is out there because of the college scholarships," Dale said. "They see what can happen at the professional level. That's really influenced our culture. Sport is a religion. It is an obsession. It has taken over and we don't have the proper perspective on it."

Things have gotten so bad nationwide, Dale said, that four lawsuits are filed each month in which parents are charging that coaches are hurting their high school kids' chances at scholarships by limiting their playing time. Viewing games that way is tantamount to seeing kids' athletic participation as a return from an investment, namely a parent's time and money, which is a rotten message to send to children, Dale said.

"I hear coaches saying more and more and more that the parents are the main thing that is turning them off to sport," Dale said. "We're running away potentially a lot of good coaches because of how involved the parents are. When I was an athlete, I would have died if my mom and dad would have intervened on my behalf with a coach over my playing time. Parents need to step back and let the coach and the kid do that thing. It's a sanctuary; it's a sacred thing between the coaches and athletes in that team situation."

Dale, a former middle and high school coach in New York and San Antonio, travels the country these days, speaking to parents and coaches about their proper role in their kids' athletic lives, as well as promoting his new book, The Seven Secrets of Successful Coaches - How to Unlock and Unleash Your Team's Full Potential.

Some of Dale's suggestions for parents, neatly laid out during a one-hour talk Wednesday, are common-sense ones. Parents shouldn't talk to coaches about their child's playing time, leaving that for the child, and they should be respectful of other parents, keeping in mind that the kid who makes a mistake in a critical situation could be their own.

Moms and dads should remember that their kids are playing the game for their own personal growth and enjoyment, not for their parents' approval or to stroke their parents' egos, Dale said. Indeed, parents should work hard to ensure that they have lives outside of their kids' athletic pursuits.

In the immediate moments after a contest is over, the game should be the last thing that is discussed on the ride home, unless the child wants to talk about it, Dale said.

In addition, parents shouldn't let their children play just one sport, and they should refrain from allowing their kids to wrap their identity within the games they play. In other words, a kid shouldn't say that he is, for instance, a football player, but should tell people that he plays football.

"How we get the perspective back is ... we, as parents, need to be thinking about what's best for our son or daughter, not what's best for us," Dale said.

"We need to take our egos and set them to the side over here. We've had our chance and we can't live vicariously through our kids. We need to think about, `Are my actions doing anything to take away from my son or daughter? Am I doing anything to bring more attention to myself? Am I embarrassing my son or daughter? Am I helping my son or daughter learn all these life lessons? If sportsmanship is important, am I modeling it?'

"If we can get parents to be more self-reflective here, and really take a critical look at what they're doing, then we're going to get people to stop doing that."

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