For parents of school athletes, a few things are obvious: We love our kids, and we love it when they win. But we also want to protect them from harm.
And therein lies the trap for some sports parents, says Edmund “Dr. Eddie” O’Connor, a sports psychologist at the Performance Excellence Center at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids.
“Acting out of love and protection, we can actually behave in ways that actually hurt them, and their development,” said O’Connor, a former school athlete and father — and coach — of four. “It’s so hard to turn things over, but we have to remember (protecting them during play) is what we have coaches for.”
O’Connor spoke to hundreds of parents of Lowell Area Schools athletes and their children recently on the best — and worst — sports parenting practices.
O’Connor has spent the past 15 years helping athletes and coaches at all levels with sportsmanship, performance enhancement, and setting and reaching goals, among other areas. He has worked with schools and with the Grand Rapids Rampage arena football team, as well as college athletes and other organizations.
|Best Sideline Practices for Parents
The Big Three
There are three big errors parents make, O’Connor told the audience at the Lowell Performing Arts Center.
The first is sideline coaching, which can interfere with a student athlete’s focus and learning. It also can put students in a position of having to choose between their parents’ instructions and the coach’s.
The best thing parents can do, he said, is watch quietly and attentively, and cheer good plays. Reinforce effort. Compliment teammates and players on the other team. Let them experience mistakes and correct them on their own, and let the coach do his or her job.
The second sports-parent mistake is yelling at the coach or referees, which often only embarrasses or angers your child.
“Not to mention, what kind of message does that send to children?” O’Connor asked. “That you don’t respect the coach or the ref. We’re modeling behavior. Kids are watching us all the time.”
O’Connor says those parents are taking things too personally. “At this point we’re involved to the detriment of our kids,” he added.
The third mistake happens during the ride home after the game. Especially after a loss.
“Parents, just be quiet when you take them home,” O’Connor said to cheers from students in the audience. “It is not a teachable moment. Let your child come to you. If you are going to say anything, tell them ‘I love to watch you play.’ If you do that, you’re telling them that your love and approval is not based on their performance.”
Nobody’s Perfect, Everyone Can Improve
“I was one of those parents too,” admitted Lowell Athletic Director Dee Crowley. “I was awful on those car rides home.” In retrospect, she said, “Take the time you have watching your kids in sports and enjoy it. It goes by so quickly, and it’s the best time for kids to be kids.”
Amy Bush’s son Nate is a freshman tennis player, and she said she appreciates that the district invites speakers to talk to parents, “to get everybody on the same page before school starts.”
“I think it’s important at the beginning of the season to let parents know their roles,” said Bush, who teaches fifth grade in a neighboring district. “If you wait until an issue comes up there are usually strong emotions involved, and what you think should be common sense isn’t necessarily. It’s nice to be reminded.”