Dear Eli: I've attended a lot of youth games, from peewee to high school. While most parents and grandparents are encouraging, there are always a few who seem to take their passion a bit too far. They holler at the refs, which is bad enough. But even worse, they direct negative comments toward their own kids.
One season in youth baseball, we had a dad who would yell, “Catch the ball!” every time his son would make an error. It was very noticeable, and I felt bad for the kid. He was 8 years old. It’s not like he meant to miss the ball.
I realize how easy it is to get caught up in these games. And I'll admit, in the past I’ve let my emotions take me a little further than I should’ve on a few occasions. But what I did was listen. I listened to the folks in the stands that took it too far. That did it for me. I never wanted to sound like that dad who hounded his son over a booted ground ball. What advice do you have for parents who take their kids’ sports too seriously, to the point of belittling their own offspring?
— Still Listening
Dear Listening: I once asked Rick Jones — nine-time state championship winning football coach and current assistant at the University of Missouri — this same question, and his response has stuck with me.
Coach Jones said he’d coached a handful of boys whose fathers played in the NFL. The one thing all these former professional athletes had in common — they kept quiet. They didn’t holler from the stands. They didn’t schedule meetings with the coach about playing time. They played it cool.
Maybe it’s because these were the guys who “made it.” Because they’d already achieved success at the highest level, they didn’t feel the urge to push their kids so hard. They were fine to just sit back and watch, which isn’t a bad idea for parents with lesser sporting pedigrees.
My kids are too young to be involved in organized sports. So yes, my time is coming. But I do think there’s a fine line between supporting a young athlete and pushing him too far.
In the end, that line will always be determined by the parent. And something all parents should consider before trying to “coach” their child is their child. Some kids respond well to criticism. It spurs them on to greater heights. Others recoil when corrected.
Watch your child closely. Read his cues. Even if your kid does respond well to aggressive coaching, it’s best to refrain from yelling anything during the games, especially if we’re talking about youth-league baseball.
Remember the old adage: “Little pitchers have big ears.”
Eli Cranor is a former professional quarterback and coach turned award-winning author. Send questions for “Athletic Support” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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