I came across Jerry Lynch’s book Let Them Play while attending the 2017 Aspen Institute Project Play Summit. I can’t recall just how I came across it, but it was recommended such that I ordered it as soon as I got home. I just finished it. My bottom line on the book is that is a good book for the uninitiated youth sports parent.
Specifically, Lynch – a sports psychologist by trade – presents little that is new to someone who has been involved with the issues facing youth sports over the last few years. Lynch does take a very spiritual take, however, as the subtitle of the book implies. He peppers many of the chapter introductions with ancient Chinese wisdom, like
“Your opponent’s greatest advantage is your lack of confidence in yourself”.
Highlights of the book include:
- I do like that my fellow Wildcat alumnus and current Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr wrote the foreword.
- Lynch does a good job of characterizing the benefits of youth sports: “learning how to fail, how to succeed, how to overcome self-doubt, how to get stronger mentally and emotionally, and how to develop selflessness”.
- Lynch identifies one of the problems with youth sports today is parents and kids focusing on outcomes (winning and losing, points scored, etc.) instead of the process and effort – very similar to the tenets of the Hustle & Attitude philosophy .
- “When children set and meet personal standards or goals, they feel satisfaction and pride no matter the game outcome”.
- Lynch encourages “his athletes, coaches, and parents to embrace only three expectations:
- Expect to do well (by demonstrating what you’ve practiced and learned)
- Expect good things to happen
- Expect to have fun (by being with your friends and learning the game)”
- “Kids don’t play sports for Mom and Dad. They play to have fun, and most kids care little or nothing about winning. Naturally, they want to be successful and feel competent, and they want their parents to love them and watch them play“. AMEN!
My favorite chapter is “The Delicateness of Readiness”. In this chapter Lynch says a sports parent’s job is “to provide safe uncritical environments where our child athletes feel comfortable playing sports, competing, and testing themselves. This takes encouragement, gentle guidance, and unfading patience”. Further, “we must make it okay for kids to experience failure, setbacks, and mistakes”. I like his recommendations to consider opportunities (in sports or otherwise) like buses. “When one stops, read the destination sign, and invite your children to climb aboard; no need to shove them on”.
The book ends with a ‘Code of Conduct’. The code consists of over 20 paragraphs that in essence sum up the ideas presented earlier in the book. As codes of conduct go, it is a little long, but I don’t disagree with any of his points. If you’re a youth league director or a coach, you could do a lot worse than at least starting with Lynch’s code and tailoring it to your specific situation.
Many of the chapters are three pages or less; so the book is easily consumed in chunks – although at 177 pages, maybe some readers could tackle it in one sitting (or a reasonably long plane ride).
Again, I recommend Let Them Play to anyone looking for an introductory discussion of how parents today ought to behave with respect to the current youth sports environment. It will be of particular interest to readers who have a spiritual bent.