I came across a tweet this morning from a colleague I respect, Dan Ward (@theDanWard), where he was linking to a video by another Dan I respect, Dan Pink (@DanielPink), that originally aired on PBS. The video is titled “Why You Should Always Skip Your Kids’ Baseball Games”. Interesting idea, huh. Pink’s opening statement that Mom and Dad are the problem with youth sports is aggressive. My Hustle and Attitude philosophy exists to try to make sure that youth have a positive experience in sports – and to provide recommendations/tools to help adults (parents, coaches, administrators) ensure that happens. Pink makes several points about parental behavior. However, I don’t agree that not attending your kids’ games is the answer.
- “Attending your kids’ games has become a leading indicator of parental awesomeness”. Pink correctly identifies an issue with youth sports today; i.e. adults who gain some kind of status or live vicariously through their children’s youth sports adventures. Those of us who have been around youth sports recognize the stereotypical behaviors: aggressive fathers whose athletic careers topped out at high school, soccer moms who get status among their circle of friends by having the most involved/accomplished youngster, parents who can’t understand why their little superstar isn’t playing as much as the other kids, etc. The issues here are not the parents’ attendance at the games, but the parents’ attitudes concerning their kids’ participation in youth sports. Youth sports should be about the kids – and ALL ABOUT THE KIDS. I believe that parents who understand this behave appropriately at their kids’ games – they encourage their children and they let the coaches coach and the officials officiate.
- “What really counts: the mastery of something difficult, obligation to teammates, the game itself”. Pink points out that these are the things that matter in a discussion about parents being a distraction to their kids by attending their practices and games. I think that, whether metaphorically or physically, parents should drop their kids off at practice. I recommend parents either actually drop their kids off and leave them with the coaches or that, even if they stay and watch practice, they act as if they aren’t there. As early as possible, the athletes should learn to bring their own water bottles and equipment and that during practice, they should be fully engaged with the coaches and their teammates. I think it is a mistake for the kids to be running to their parents for anything during practice. The same holds true for games – the athletes are ‘handed off’ to the coaches and the parents become cheering fans.
- “If we’re not in the stands, the kids are the story”. Excellent point about the kids being the focus. It is widely held (which is code for I can’t recall the specific source!) that a best practice for parents with respect to youth sports is to not go over or rehash the games in the car ride home. After games, the children don’t need to hear about the things that went wrong or that they need to work on – they already know…they played the game, after all. Parents should let the athletes enjoy the successes and achievements and allow the coaches to work on the areas requiring improvement.
- “Sports are bizarrely parent-centric”. What an interesting comparison between how parents behave in youth sports compared to school and other youth activities like dance or music! I had never thought of it that way before. And he has a point – maybe sports parents ought to act more like we act in other activities.
Pink’s final recommendation that parents replace their time at their kids’ practices and games with exercise is another positive one. In fact, I’ve already seen this with a couple of moms that walked around the track while their sons were engaged in football practice.
Dan Pink’s video essay correctly highlights several issues with parental involvement in youth sports today. However, I don’t think keeping parents away from their kids’ games is the answer. I believe healthy changes in attitude and perspective are the right answer. My wife and I marvel that, even today in high school activities, one of our sons at some point during the activity will look into the stands and be reassured that we are there. We are there to support and encourage him – and he very much appreciates it.