Raise your hand if you have ever known, heard of or seen an over-the-top sports parent – maybe even in the mirror. Okay, everyone put your hands down.
The first step in addressing this issue is recognizing the prevalence of a win-at-all-cost mentality in our society. Brought to youth or high school sports, that mentality means every parent's child has to start every game in the "glamour position", capture as much playing time as possible, and win every contest.
It is no wonder that 70 percent of youth athletes quit organized sports by the age of 13, according to the Michigan State University Institute for the Study of Youth Sports. But there are ways to make sports an opportunity to help our kids build character, not to mention an enjoyable experience for the whole family.
At Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), we call it "Honoring the Game". We teach Honoring the Game in our group workshops for coaches and parents, which we've held at scores of local schools and organizations, including the Rockland Rockets Youth Basketball, New York District 18 Little League, Westchester Youth Soccer and Scarsdale High School New York City Police Athletic League, Downtown Little League, New York City Junior Tennis League, Hunter College, Brooklyn Admirals and South Queens Boys & Girls Club. Honoring the Game is a refined form of sportsmanship best remembered with the acronym ROOTS, which stands for respecting Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self. Parents and coaches can use the following as a script to help themselves and their children keep sports in perspective.
R is for Rules: Rules keep the game fair. If we win by violating rules, what is the value of our victory?
O is for Opponents: Without an opponent, there is no contest. We honor strong opponents because they challenge us to do our best.
O is for Officials: Respecting officials, even when we disagree with their calls, may be the toughest part of Honoring the Game. Have a strategy for dealing with your emotions when you start to get upset with officials' calls – even something as simple as counting to 10, and then deciding not to disrupt the game.
T is for Teammates: Being part of a team requires thinking about and respecting one's teammates.
S is for Self: Parents should encourage their children to live up to their own highest personal standards, even if their opponents do not. Most importantly, all adults in the youth sports setting (coaches, leaders, parents, officials, and fans) must model Honoring the Game, so their children will, too. Sports provide an outstanding opportunity to help your children learn life lessons in an exciting, dramatic setting – where cause and effect and risk and reward come to life.
Here are a few specific actions parents can take to reinforce these concepts:
Before the Game:
1. Make a commitment to Honor the Game in action and language no matter what others may do.
2. Tell your children before each game that you are proud of them regardless of how well they play.
During the Game:
1. Fill your children's "Emotional Tanks" through praise and positive recognition so they can play their very best.
2. Don't yell instructions to your children during the game. Let the coach correct player mistakes.
3. Cheer good plays by both teams.
4. Mention good calls by the official to other parents.
5. If an official makes a "bad" call against your team, Honor the Game. Control yourself.
6. If other parents around you yell at officials, gently remind them to Honor the Game.
7. Don't do anything in the heat of the moment that you will regret after the game. Ask yourself, "Will this embarrass my child or the team?"
8. Remember to have fun! Enjoy the game.
After the Game:
1. Thank the officials for doing a difficult job for little or no pay.
2. Thank the coaches for their commitment and effort.
3. Don't give advice. Instead ask your children what they thought about the game — and then listen.
AARON COLEMAN is PCA's Partner Development Associate for the New York and Connecticut area. For more information on PCA, visit www.positivecoach.org or contact Aaron directly at Aaron_Coleman@positivecoach.org; 212-772-4689.