Parent learned lessons from kids' coaches


April 30, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

This week I've decided to alter our format a bit. Usually I answer questions submitted by various readers. Today, however, I wanted to comment on a very insightful letter sent in by Diane Kelley of Laurel. Thanks, Diane, for taking the time to write this. My responses to each of the points she made are listed below.

My four children played recreational, travel, and school sports for many years. From their coaches I learned:

1. Once the child is on the field it is too late to instruct. Let the players try to apply what they have learned in practice. Also, with all the commotion going on during the play, players need to be able to hear their coach and / or other players, not parents. I observed parents who were former athletes never commenting during the games, so I figured they knew best as to what the players needed when on the field.

This is a great lesson and one that I wish more parents and coaches could learn. I like to talk about "teachable moments." When a player makes a mistake on the field, usually he or she knows it immediately. Bringing attention to that mistake is only going to embarrass the player and cause the kid to focus on the mistake and not the next play. Attempting to instruct or correct the mistake at that moment also can be counterproductive, because with all the commotion going on surrounding the game, it is going to be very difficult for the player to absorb the lesson. Parental intervention at this point simply takes away from the authority of the coach and what he or she is trying to accomplish. In-game mistakes can be addressed away from the parents by coaches in between game action (during timeouts, between innings, etc.). The coach should make a list of things that need to be corrected and address them in detail at the next practice.

2. Most sports are a team effort, so one coach insisted parents' cheering was to be directed to the entire team for a job well done, not just one specific player. Players' names were not to be called out, but the "team" could be applauded for something well done or cheered for encouragement. The opposing team could also be recognized for performing something amazingly well. If you appreciate the sport, all efforts should be acknowledged. It is not a we vs. them in every venue, especially with children's sports.

This is a good idea, but may be hard to enforce. I don't mind if someone is going to single out a kid by name for a good play or hard work as long as that person supports other players on the team. Parents and supporters should make sure to congratulate each player for their effort after the game and to cheer for everyone on the team -- either individually or as a collective group. However, I strongly recommend that parents maintain an even keel during the game. If you get too excited about the good things and too down or quiet about the bad things, the lows are going to seem really low and that can really hurt team morale. If a coach wants to institute a policy of cheering only for the team as a unit, he or she most likely will have to develop a code of conduct for the parents to sign off on before the season.

3. One of my children's coaches would silence offending parents by sending their child over to quietly ask the parent to refrain from negative comments to players, coaches, or referees. If the parent did not regain control, the child sat the bench. This was very effective because many parents who become fanatics vs. fans are selfishly attending only for their child, not the team, and their child is not able to participate if the parent loses focus.

While on the surface this seems like a good idea, it seems unfair to punish a kid for his or her parents' actions. If every parent falls into line, that's great. There are no problems and no one has to be benched. But what if there is a problem parent? As a coach are you going to have the heart to make a kid suffer because of something outside of his or her control? I think that a lot of coaches would have trouble following through with this, and those who do follow through would risk ruining one player's experience. I prefer a pre-season meeting with parents where guidelines are set as well as in-season conferences with parents when necessary. If this doesn't work, then more drastic actions might be necessary toward the offending parents.

4. If your child is on a team with a coach not developing or instructing your child to reach his or her potential, you could find another team the next season or volunteer to coach yourself. I was fortunate enough throughout my children's team participation to be able to play the role of spectator; hopefully, years well spent for us all.

We have to keep in mind that all coaches were not professional, college or even high school players. Many are moms or dads who love their kids and want to make sure that their children have the best possible experience. As parents, we are fortunate to have many options when it comes to our kids' participation in athletics. If you have a disagreement in philosophy with a specific coach or program, you have the right to search for one that is more in line with your child's needs and ability. As I've said before, driving an extra 15 minutes for your kids is definitely worth it if that will make their experience more fulfilling.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to

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