I grew up in upstate New York. My parents tried to expose me to all sorts of sports. I danced, did gymnastics, karate, soccer, diving, and horseback riding. By the time I was in middle school diving and horseback riding were the sports I was passionate about. I rode on Saturdays and dove year-round; practicing a couple days a week during the off season. In the fall, I competed for my school team; practicing every day after school, and swimming several mornings a week.
My parents came to every competition; no matter the distance and the difficulty. You see my mom had difficulty walking and couldn't get by without a cane; and yet, she was there. My Dad was a corporate executive, leaving the house at six and returning later that night by 7; and yet he was there. My parents supported me and my sister every step of the way, unconditionally.
What my parents never did was critique my practices. They never questioned the coach when I wasn't the one competing that day or when I got yelled at for being lazy. My Mom dropped me off at the pool or the stables, and usually sat in the car and read or ran errands. If she was present during practice she glanced up every so often to see what I was doing, but she never criticized me after practice or pressured me to improve. So, why has the mindset changed to that of analyzing every practice and every drill like a game day review? Now don’t get me wrong, there is a big difference in staying around to show support, or staying close until you and your child feel comfortable with your absence. I am not disputing that we live in a much different time today; but there is a big difference between watching to show support and watching to critique your child, his coach, or the practice.
So, what brought about this change in behavior if it was not learned from our parents? Is it because youth sports are SO much more competitive than in years past? Is it because kids today are competing at a level that most of us didn’t compete at until we were in high school or even college? Why does our generation feel the need to analyze practices and question a child's coach at every turn? It doesn't matter if you played as a child. It doesn't matter if you played in college or if you eventually went pro. Maybe you do know more than your child's coach; but critiquing every practice, questioning your child’s coach at every turn undermines his authority. Why should your child respect what his coach says if you don't? What are we teaching our children? Practice should be a safe place to learn and make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes while receiving feedback from the coach; not from Mom or Dad.
Kids today face more adversity than we did as children. They are learning things in school at earlier ages, and there is more “school” crammed into each day. Recess has decreased to make room for more lessons and every day is much more stressful. They are growing up online and learning to navigate not just the tangible world around them, but the cyber one as well. The pressures we faced as children are nothing compared to the ones that our children face every day. So, let’s remove some of that stress for them, and back off. Leave the coaching to the coaches, and if you watch, talk to kids about what you saw by opening the lines of communication. Ask them how practice was, what they liked best or what they didn’t. Let them tell you, if they want to, what they did well and what they need to improve on; because if kids tell us what they did wrong, they are more likely to own it and learn from it. Let’s trust in the people that we entrust our children to learn from and watch them compete in the sport they love!