For many years, through flag football to tackle, from t-ball to the 90 foot "big field", we've always hung around our son's games, and even the practices. For us, it has been a time to socialize with parents in similar pursuits. We often get to volunteer as a team-parent, or as a coach. And over the years, we have come to think of these other families as a part of our extended family: a sports family.
But this year, our boys turned 13. Our son shot up from 5'6" to 5'11" this past year. He now borrows my razor, but just for his upper lip. But he's still our son, and he's still just a kid. So we enjoy supporting him in his pursuits. When it comes to enjoying our son’s pursuits, we maybe overdo it, actually. We hang around at practice, sometimes watching, sometimes taking aerobic walks around the ball park, but we are around.
If I’m not coaching, we end up watching at least half of the practices at least half of the time.
However, for many of the boys on our spring league city recreational league team, they don't have a parent showing up. For some it has to do with younger siblings needing attention, for others it has to with inflexible work schedules. But there are a significant number of other boys who are dropped off and picked up by parents uninvolved in their sons' athletic pursuits. A year ago, when the boys were playing on the 70' field, seemingly all the parents were there. This year on the 90' field, it would appear that less than half the parents are there. Where did all the parents go?
Are we overdoing it, or, is there a good reason to hang around at practice, but most definitely make it to games? As I see it, we need instruction in the game ourselves, as parents and fans; we need to coordinate with other parents to volunteer and be supportive of our team and our league; and even though our son is looking older all the time, kids continue to need support.
I grew up playing adult-free sand-lot ball. We had lots of summer days playing in a local school yard. Some days, my brother and I would jerry-rig “catching gear” out of cushions and stuff we found around the house. We enjoyed the lore of baseball and loved Saturdays at my Grandpa’s watching major league ball. But that was about it. Everything else I have since learned about baseball has come through careful reading, critical watching, and listening to those who coach my son. As parents supporting our son’s love of the game, we need to learn. Even if it is for recreational league, rather than the more committed summer travel team play, learning the games our children play allows us as parents to build stronger relationships with our children, oversee the interactions with other adults, and learn previously unknown aspects of the game.
At the beginning of each season our team has a meeting of parents. Usually a letter goes out as well. The coaches establish a communication style that fits their busy schedules. Since coaches are making a huge sacrifice for the kids, they usually get to describe the communication style that best suits their work and family life. For most of us, that means: a) verbal announcements, usually to the kids; b) emails. Rarely do coaches have time to make phone calls to all the parents. Even if there’s a team mom or dad, they too have little time to make many phone calls. Yet, I have never seen a coach at a practice, unwilling to talk to a parent, answer some questions, and provide additional information.
In the best of relationships, accountability is present. Sometimes it has to be more formally developed, other times it forms naturally and easily. Recently, I was told of a coach who disagreed with the umpires and was frustrated over his own team. These things happen. However, at the conclusion of the game the coach told his team to sit in the dugout and not go through the “good-game line” to fist-bump and hi-five the other team. This poor sportsmanship was averted when a team parent came to the dug to encourage better behavior from their child. The result was other kids joined in and the whole team came out on to the field to go through the good-game line.
Coaches are human, and as such may err in judgment. They may not understand a child’s learn styles or abilities. A coach may need additional support if they are new at working with kids, regarding how best to communicate with children. And some coaches may need to be corrected if they are modeling less than good sportsmanship.
As summer gives way to fall, another sports season is coming quickly. Two weeks ago, our summer baseball season ended. However, about a month ago, football practice already began. As we give priority to another sport we will hang out around practices as much as our responsibilities allow, and we’ll make sure to be there for games. While some coaches have difficult interactions with parents’ complaints, the opportunities for cooperation hold greater rewards. Helping our kids is a shared responsibility. Learning the fundamentals of a game have their place, but supporting the valuable life lessons of sport is a full-on responsibility as we seek to raise children to adulthood with character and virtue.