For the Love of the Game?
blink of an eye, your 10-year-old son stole the ball from the
defenseman, dribbled toward the middle of the field and sprinted 15
yards toward the defending goal. The goalie is celebrating a little
prematurely with merely 10 seconds left in the league's championship
game. Your son is just inside the 18-yard box, and all he has to do is
tap the ball to the right corner of the goal, past the off-guard
goalie, and the game will go into overtime.
realize that this is the moment you've dreamed about: your son is going
to be the hero. This is why you signed him up for recreation soccer.
This is why you paid $78.95 for brand-new Adidas Copamundial soccer
shoes. This is why you dropped $150 for a week at the "I Wanna Be Pele"
soccer camp. This kid's going to play for a National Champion someday;
maybe he'll even win a gold medal.
just a game anymore," Dr. Darrell J. Burnett told WellnessJunction.com.
"Parents see it as a potential for a scholarship. They have to get back
to approaching it as a game."
happens? Your All-Star son shoots a dribbler right to the feet of the
shocked goalie, who picks it up and boots it down the field to end the
game. TWEET!! Game over. As your son walks off the field, an opponent
snickers, "What happened? Blinded by the glare in your shoes?" The
coach hangs his head, gathers the team together, and tells them they
played a great game and should have had a chance to win, but some
players just didn't give 100 percent. After the post-game handshake,
your son walks over and looks as if his pet rabbit had just died. So
what do you say to him? "Hey, what happened, buddy? You could have tied
the game for the team."
forget the fact he started for the first time all season? Or that he
executed three perfect throw-ins after having foul-throws all season
— something you see him working on every day after practice?
youth sport around the country, parents are vicariously climbing inside
the bodies of their children, trying to relive the glory that evaded
them at that age. Through their children, they are able to start the
championship game they watched from the bench, or sink the winning
basket that clanked off the back rim 20 years earlier. While parents
should play a large role in the promotion of youth sports for their
children, some parents go three steps too far and end up taking the fun
out of the game.
of parents' over-involvement in youth sports came to a head July 5,
when one father allegedly beat another parent to death following an
argument about physical contact between their sons during a no-contact
"stick practice" in hockey. This was possibly the worst in a long line
of incidents around the country in the last few years.
and other professionals nationwide are in the spotlight more than ever,
attempting to provide solutions to these unnecessary acts of violence
and disruption that occur at youth sporting events. One of these
psychologists, Burnett, has worked with children who dropped out of
sports and understands the reasons they quit. He said parental pressure
and a negative coach were the top two reasons kids stopped playing. In
response to these reasons, Burnett offers advice on how parents and
coaches can play a more positive role for youths in sports.
Parents Just Don't Understand
"It's just not a game anymore."
to see the events that unfold simply as a game, and not a final
testament for future success, Burnett said. Children play sports for
fun, not so they can get a scholarship 10 years down the road. Why do
5-year-old children draw pictures? They draw because it's fun and it's
a way to impress their parents. It's not because they want to become
the next Pablo Picasso. A child is praised for anything he or she
draws, despite what it may look like or is supposed to look like. The
same has to be applied to sports.
"We have to think in terms of process instead of product."
asked, when kids finish a game, what's the first thing they ask? Who
had the snacks? Or, where are we going for pizza? Conversely, what's
the first thing parents ask when the kid gets in the car? Who won? Or,
how many goals did you score? Burnett noted that while the kids are
playing video games at the pizza parlor after a loss, the parents are
huddled around a table discussing which play cost the game, and which
players performed the best. Process, instead of product, needs to be
"I praise my kids just for participating in sports."
If you only
praise children when they do well, then that becomes their identity,
Burnett said. The child will feel the only way to get a positive
response from his or her parent is to always do well. This sets an
unattainable standard for children, and when they can't reach it, they
feel they have failed their parents. Kids have to be praised just for
trying a sport. Naturally, parents will make critical remarks to their
children. However, Burnett recommends there should be a 4-to-1 ratio of
good remarks to bad remarks, so parents should mentally record the
types of comments they are making to their children.
"Sports teach kids a really good life lesson: it's OK to make a mistake."
One of the
biggest lessons parents need to learn is to stay calm when their child
makes a mistake, Burnett continued. As the old saying goes, everyone
makes mistakes. But, the value in making a mistake is learning from the
mistake to become a better player, and more importantly a better
Kids think of
mistakes in two ways. First, they may think of them spatially or
mechanically. For example, the child thinks, "I messed up; I'll have to
do this differently next time." On the other hand, children may think
of mistakes judgmentally: "I can't believe I screwed this up. Now I
won't make this team or get this award."
Some other points:
- Don't yell out instructions.
Kids have a hard enough time trying to perform their best while
attempting to impress their parents at the same time. The last thing
they need is directions coming from teammates, the coach and their
parents, all simultaneously.
- Don't yell at the officials or the other team. Kids
feel that if their parent is yelling at the officials and giving them a
hard time, the officials might take it out on them, and penalize them
for their parent's behavior. Burnett advises parents to "be ideal
- Try to avoid an autopsy after the game. Kids know when they mess up. They don't need their parents re-inforcing that fact.
offers a "Checklist for parents in youth sports — on and off the
field," in his article, "Parents and Sportsmanship." This article, and
many others by various psychologists and youth sports' professionals,
can be found at www.youth-sports.com.
Put Me in, Coach!
also have a difficult time handling the youth sport atmosphere, and
some may underestimate their importance to their players.
"The No. 1
reason why kids come back is positive coaching," Burnett said. "Coaches
must grasp the idea that their role is important. When I talked to the
coaches and we define a successful coach, it isn't determined by
[their] win-loss [record]. The coach has to keep the kids involved."
According to Burnett, there are four needs a coach must establish for a child to keep him or her returning to youth sports.
The first need is a sense of belonging.
If the children cannot find a group to come to them, they'll go to the
group. The coach can add to that sense of belonging by making the child
feel like part of the team. This point leads to the second need, which
is to feel worthwhile. If the coach relates to the kid as a
person and as a member of the team, it will add to the value of youth
sports. The third need is a sense of dignity. The coach's job
is to treat the children with respect, and let them know they will be
treated with respect simply for coming out and playing. The fourth need
is a sense of control. The coach lets the children know they
are in control of their own destiny, and lets them work their way into
a role on the team.
The other job of the coach is to control the parents to prevent a situation from getting out of hand. The first step is to define unruly behavior.
going to deal with unruly parents, you've got to have it all spelled
out before the season begins," Burnett advised, noting a preseason
meeting with the parents can help prevent any unwanted situation.
Coaches need to tell parents that offensive language, and the berating
of players, coaches and officials are unacceptable. The coach also must
provide consequences for any action considered inappropriate.
"If there is a situation, the first step is to remain calm, otherwise you can feed the fire," Burnett continued.
When a situation occurs, the coach has to have some way of dealing with it.
One way is to have other parents who participated in the preseason
meeting, talk to the offending parent to try to calm him or her down.
After the event occurs, the coach must become the teacher, so the parent understands what he or she did wrong, and why it was considered unacceptable. The coach has to look for the positives in every situation.
Some other references for youth sports issues include:
- Gatorade's "Playbook for Kids" — A parent's guide to help kids get the most out of sports.
- www.nays.org — The National Alliance of Youth Sports.
- www.djburnett.com — Dr. Burnett's official Web site.
- www.youth-sports.com — a Web site offering articles and advice on youth sports topics.
Address: Dr. Darrell J. Burnett, 30101 Town Center Drive, Suite 202D, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677; (949) 249-2882.