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Everybody's seen them: the agro-dad who bellows from the sidelines, the soccer mom who piles swim team, goalie practice, and gymnastics onto her daughter's plate. But team sports isn't just about being stronger, better, and louder than your opponent: it's about learning to win and lose gracefully, and gaining teamwork skills along the way. And many parents may be standing in the way of their own children, even as they think they're urging them on. Just ask the coaches that see parents and kids on the field everyday.
So, want to be the coach’s favorite? Here are some important do’s and don’ts.
Coerce your child into playing if he or she really doesn’t want to. If you’re sad about missing your shot at the NFL but your son is more of a poet, join a rec league and buy him a journal.
Treat practice and game days as optional. Everyone takes the occasional vacation, but if your child can’t show up consistently of his own volition, they’re probably not ready to be part of the team.
Coach from the sidelines, especially if you’re not an expert. “It confuses the child because he or she is getting conflicting information from the parent and myself,” says Brian Vonderharr, who coaches soccer in Midlothian, Virginia.
Put down opponents. You’ll not only set a horrible example of poor sportsmanship, you’ll embarrass your child.
Volunteer to bring healthy snacks and drinks. Skip the fruit punch and donuts; sliced watermelon, oranges, and apples, cheese sticks, squeeze yogurt, whole grain crackers and water fuel growing athletes.
Step in to help entertain and organize young ones when necessary. “Standing in line for a turn becomes boring quickly,” says Vonderharr. “When parents are willing to help, activities are faster and more organized which makes the enjoyment greater for the children.”
Get to know your child’s teammates and cheer for the whole team.
Support your child off the playing field, too. If your daughter’s serious about gymnastics, help her understand what’s necessary to take it to the next level by getting books out of the library, watching competitions on television, etc.
Ask the coach how you can help. Even if you know nothing about the sport, you may be able to give another player a lift, wash a load of dirty towels, help with a fund-raising dinner or chaperone a bus trip.
Keep things in perspective. Unless your child is the one in a million who goes on to become a successful professional athlete, the most valuable lessons of team sports are teamwork, discipline, and learning to compete gracefully. This isn’t the Olympics. It should be fun.
As Vonderharr says, the ideal team parent is one who “actively engages to support and cheer for the team and do what is best for the team.” Go, you!
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