Tips for rookie parents

May 22, 2010

It was either when my 14-year-old daughter punched me as hard as she could after flying out to right field or when the coach took her aside to console her that "all softball dads are [unprintable word that nearly rhymes with lassos]" when I realized being a father to a high school varsity player is not nearly as easy as I'd expected.

But here's my defense: Nobody taught me what it takes to be a supportive, loving parent to a high school athlete. Oh, the school's athletic director and coaches offered a preseason lecture. But most of us in the audience probably knew ahead of time that we shouldn't swear, kick or spit on the opposing team, umpires or each other. The new material was mostly about how to buy mulch from the boosters.

Parents standing on the sidelines are not the wild-eyed maniacs some make us out to be. Many of us wear corrective lenses. They make it so much easier to scrutinize all involved.

Losing games is not a big deal. The trick is trying to say the right thing afterwards. Try not to be overly solicitous, like the mom from the other team who came up to my wife after a game and told her in all seriousness that she was "sorry for your loss." We assumed someone had died.

My daughter's sport may be softball, but a season sitting in the stands with my fellow parents through rain, shine, wind and even one particularly brutal pinecone storm has taught me lessons that parents of any high school athlete, from archery to wrestling, will recognize. Here are my top 10 tips to rookies for surviving a season of no-holds-barred, best of three falls, varsity parenting:

Don't sit close enough for anyone to hear you speak, or even for your facial expressions to be visible to the players. Trust me on this. If your son or daughter can see you roll your eyes after a strikeout or say "yikes" on an errant throw, you need to move about 20 feet farther back.

Be supportive — until you shouldn't be. Cheering a hit is good; talking to your child about batting strategies beforehand for two to three hours straight is probably going too far.

Don't bore your family, neighbors, co-workers and the rest of the planet with stories from the game more than 10 to 12 times per day.

Buy a good GPS unit for your minivan or other vehicle of choice. You will have to drive to high schools hidden in the middle of neighborhoods you've never seen before (and, incidentally, most of them restrict parking).

For those headed to games immediately after school (and that's most of us), just remember to tell your employer that you're stepping out for chemotherapy and will be back shortly.

Any conversation with the coach that begins, "What I would do in your situation is …" would fall in the category of things not to say out loud.

Drink plenty of fluids. Make sure the fluids you consume after the game come with a government warning label.

Remember that your child's homework adheres to the Conservation of What Matters Law: The obligation will get no smaller or less onerous while he or she is away practicing or playing a game.

Never bad-mouth anyone but yourself — and possibly whoever invented the sport your child plays. Let Abner Doubleday sue. (It's not like he really created baseball anyway, the 19th century, ferret-faced nut-job.)

Come equipped. Change of clothing, snacks, umbrella, first aid, analgesics, blanket, disposable wipes, duct tape, cell phone — all should be in your survival kit. The players should probably bring whatever they need, too.

—Peter Jensen

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