Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Message to Parents of Athletes

If I could give one piece of advice to any parent of a child participating in a sport, it's to stop telling your kid to not play a certain position. Quit telling them not to play goalie/pitcher/catcher/defensive end/flyer.  It's not fair to the kids, the coaches, or the team. Just. Stop. Talking.

First, let me explain what I think entitles me to tell you how to parent. I am a hockey mom, a soccer mom, a dance mom, and a softball mom. I have two kids (and a husband—he counts, too) and our whole family is active. Both the Husband and I coach as well. Right now, we're waist deep into hockey season, and I see it all the time—parents tell their kids "I don't want you to play goal, I want you to skate out." It drives me batshit crazy. And if I offend you by saying this, it means you're likely a parent that has crossed this line. We have a kid on our team who in general, doesn't understand the game of hockey. By watching the way he plays, he'd probably make a really good goalie. But his parents told him no. Now, like I said, we're waist deep in the season. I am also the Team Rep (I keep the books, play the Team Mom, and am the scorekeeper), so I see more of the kids and their parents than most others. I realized yesterday that I'd seen this kid's mom for the first time this season. THE FIRST TIME. But it's not just her. Quite a few parents have uttered these same words, and that pretty much guarantees that when you're not at the game, your kid will be in goal.

I'll also clarify: My kid is a part-time goalie. It's not easy to be a goalie mom. And goal isn't always his first choice. (Actually, mine would be any indoor sport where there's heat.) We don't have a dedicated goalie on our team, he does it because no one else will. They are Mites—this is their first opportunity at game play on the ice. It's the perfect time for every kid to try it—the league provides the specialized equipment and training for free. (And if you know anything about the cost of youth hockey, this is BIG.) And by playing goal now, no one is etching into stone that your kid will be goalie until The End Of Time. Do I like the pressure of the 1-on-1? No. But he's confident in goal, so I support him. I told him that no matter what, I will never be that parent that tells him where I want him to play. Here's why you should do the same.

Reason #1: You've done this already. It's not your turn anymore, it's theirs. I once coached with a guy who stood by this simple motto, and it is so true. We're adults. Our time to learn fundamentals of a game are past us. If you trust your kids to be on the field, court, or ice with coaches, then let the coaches do their jobs. You've spent most of your parental life telling this child they can do anything. So stop telling them that they can't. Put your trust in them in any position. Sure, we all want our kid to be the center. But not all kids are centers. Some kids really excel as defensemen. Some kids play a wing position far better than the center plays the center position. Some kids are only here because parents need a few hours a week where they're not responsible for them.  In this case, at least sign them up for a sport they want to do, not one you want them to try. Seriously, I can't teach your kid soccer fundamentals while he's climbing trees.

Reason #2: You're not the coach. A friend once told me that every season, it takes him at least half the season to get the kids to stop listening to their parents on the sideline and to listen to him. He's right. Yes, at some point in our lives, we've all played the same sport as our kids do. But that doesn't give us the right to undermine the coach and redirect our kid. If you want to do that, step up and be a coach. Otherwise, let the coaches do the coaching. We're not taking your right away to work on skills at home, but when we are in a team setting, sit down, shut up, and enjoy the game. Or take a nap, whatever works for you.

Reason #3: This is a game, one meant for kids to have fun. The first statement that I live by as a coach and as an athlete myself is that every player, when they step off the field/court/ice, should be excited to step back on it again—win or lose. Now, I'm not from the school of thought that every kid gets a trophy, they should earn it. But regardless, every kid should be excited to play the game. And if you're telling them they can't play a position because *you* want them to do something else, you might as well clean his ears out with Q-tips at halftime and bring turnips for the team to share after the game.

I get it, as parents, we want to protect our kids. But you also have to trust that they will make the right decisions under pressure without you. Sure, I bite my nails when my kid is in goal and a breakaway unfolds. But I have to have faith in his own confidence and training. And you know what is amazing? Seeing every kid on the ice skate over to my son to either congratulate him on a save or acknowledge that he tried his best, because they trust him too. I did the same when my daughter was a cheerleader. She got picked to be a flyer because she's tiny. Yes, I understand the risk of injury. But she's also really clumsy and could have the same injury walking across the street. That was a sport I despised growing up, but because she wanted to do it, I volunteered my time to help coach and run the organization. And it was one of the most fulfilling opportunities ever. I did it for the kids, not for myself. It was fun to learn with them, to help build their confidence, and to see the satisfied looks on their faces when they performed. But that happened by understanding what each kids' strengths and weaknesses were, and putting them in the correct position to support that. Trust me, I got plenty of parents who wanted to know why my kid was a flyer and theirs wasn't. But it wasn't about favoritism. If anything in coaching, my kids get the short end of the stick because I want to make sure that all the kids see I am here for them, not just my kid. Frankly, I'd rather let someone else coach my own kid, then I don't have to worry about that nonsense.

I think this also comes with having to understand who your kid really is. This kid I mentioned before, his parents are just...out to lunch. We've been working on a travel tournament for months, and I finally had to ask the dad directly if they are in or out, because I need to collect funds. His answer? "I'm really busy, so I probably missed it." WTF? Listen, I'm no super mom, but let me explain something. I work a day job as a Brand Manager. I have my own freelance business as a graphic/web designer and photographer that I do on nights and weekends. My Husband is a Manager at an auto dealership and also does inventory side work on weekends. I myself play soccer two nights a week. He plays hockey one night a week. As I said, my son plays hockey and soccer, and my daughter plays softball and is a dancer. I have the same 24 hours in a day as you do. I still find a way to make this all happen. We don't miss birthday parties and gatherings with friends, we fit those in, too. So don't give me this whole "I lead a busy life" crap, and then try to tell your kid that you think you know what position is best for them. The only position I'm trying to keep my kids from is hoping that my daughter doesn't end up dancing on a pole. The rest is fair game. Let them have fun, let them play where they want to, and if you don't like it, then just add Bourbon to your Dunkin Donuts coffee and you'll be better equipped to tolerate whatever the coaches decide. Capiche?

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