Coaches/parents walk fine line

ASK CAL

Youth Sports

January 28, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- I am a varsity baseball coach who is starting to work with our Little League program. I don't have any children yet, but wonder if you had some advice for the parents I will be working with on how to successfully coach their own child and still make sports fun. How do they draw the line between coaching and parenting? It must be tough to get in the car after a game and stop coaching and return to parenting.

Brian Osborn, Howell, Mich.

DEAR BRIAN -- Your question is a difficult one that many of us face. I'm one of the lucky few who had the privilege of advancing to the highest level of sports. Most of the moms and dads coaching their kids love whichever sport they pursued and want nothing more than for their child to go as far as possible in that activity. Sometimes their desire for their kids to succeed can get the best of them. These parents, whom some would say are living through their children, at times can push their kids too hard.

Making sure you provide the best experience possible for all of the children while not favoring your own is a fine line to walk. On the other hand, you don't want to be too hard on your own kid. It's a difficult balance to strike, but not impossible if you keep the following guidelines in mind.

The golden rule is to do the best that you can to treat your child like everyone else on the team. Don't give preferential treatment in terms of playing time or position in the batting order. Don't weigh your child down with unfair burdens that are not expected of other players (like carrying the team equipment every day). When disciplining your child, don't single him or her out in front of the team. Be careful not to discipline your child for something that might have happened at home or school. And, most of all, be sure to celebrate your child's successes with the same enthusiasm that you would for any of his or her teammates.

You should have some time to give your child the individual attention he or she craves before practice, after practice or at home. When it comes to practices or games, make sure that your child feels like he or she is just a part of the team, and you'll be in good shape.

DEAR CAL -- Over the years of coaching and watching youth sports, one of the things that makes me uneasy is the father with a booming voice yelling at his son, telling him what to do. I can't imagine that play-by-play yelling of instructions is helpful. If anything, it would seem to be a distraction, drawing attention to him and mistakes he might make. Do you have suggestions for well-intentioned but overzealous parents on this matter?

Bob Coleman, Lutherville

DEAR BOB -- In almost all instances, the father with a booming voice yelling at his son really wants nothing more than to help his child perform to the best of his ability and succeed. Sometimes, however, the parent wants that success more for himself, and that's when the situation can get ugly.

There's nothing wrong with yelling encouragement, but this should be done for the entire team. Cheering for all members of the team sets a good example, showing young athletes that every team member is important. However, coaching or otherwise providing instruction to a child during a game is not a good idea for a number of reasons.

In fact, I would say you shouldn't even talk to your child about the game during timeouts or breaks in the action, because that is when the coach needs to talk about lineup changes, positioning and strategy.

When the game is in progress, there is a lot of noise, excitement and commotion. Any lesson you are going to attempt to communicate at that point is not likely to be absorbed.

In addition, who is a kid supposed to respond to when a coach and parent are barking out instructions? Most kids want to make mom and dad happy, so they are likely to attempt to do just that while playing, which might go against what a coach wants them to do. Or, perhaps the child will just get confused and freeze.

Encourage your kids and their teammates, support the coaches, and keep your thoughts about strategy, positioning and so on to yourself until you have a quiet moment at home. If you can accomplish that, your children will enjoy the games more, the coaches will respect you and be more likely to listen to your suggestions, and the overall experience is more likely to be enjoyable for everyone.

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

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