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An Open Letter To Youth Sports Officials

Parents Want To Learn

I write this letter to youth sports officials from the point of view of a parent who has been involved in youth sports for 15 years. I have been on the sidelines with all kinds of parents. These are some of these things that as parents we want officials to know.

As parents we have a lot to learn about the youth sports our children play. Most of us have not played the game with age appropriate rules and therefore we are learning on the job what our children are doing on the field. Some rules are new to us and, of course, have little in common with the rules we see professional athletes use while we watch them on television.

It is clear that as officials you have the most training when it comes to the rules of youth sports. We know them as rules but you are the one who enforces them. In the United States, playing and watching youth sports is different because of this ignorance level of the spectators who are usually well meaning but misguided parents. We do lots of stupid things to make the youth sports environment not as healthy as it should be.

  1. We yell at referees as if to intimidate them into calling the game in our favor. This does not work and tends to embarrass the young player.

  2. We yell at the coach. We believe we are trying to help our child but usually we are just making the situation more difficult for the coach and players.

  3. We yell at the other team's coach and players. This sets up more tension and the likelihood of retaliation. None of these actions are healthy to the development of young sports players.

  4. We even get into altercations with other parents or players.

Most Parents Are Not Intentional In Their Bad Behavior

We do not set out to be problem parents. We do not go to the athletic field looking to go home in a police cruiser. We are there to support our child. We are there because we believe youth sports are a great experience for our child. We want our child to be part of the healthy environment of teamwork, hard work and self-improvement. We want to see our child develop a love for the game they are playing. We want to see our child be physically fit and mentally sharp.

Yet our actions and our beliefs are often out of sync. What we believe we want for our child and how we act often does not match. Most of us do not understand how we are a negative contributor to the youth sports culture we barely comprehend.

Parents' misbehavior is often fueled by our lack of knowledge of how to handle the anxiety of watching our child perform. We get caught in performance anxiety in a way similar to that which players are vulnerable as well. When the anxiety level rises in the us, (move into tunnel vision) we are more likely to say and do things which we know aren't the role model we want for our child. If we are not taught the skills to contain and focus this anxiety, then all the education in the world we receive will be for naught. If, under pressure, we cannot remember what we have learned then our behavior will not change.

Here are some requests we have for the referees of youth sports. We know that these requests go beyond the technical responsibilities of the referees. But we understand that referees have the most influence to help shape a positive youth sports culture where young players will want to play and develop their skills to the highest level. When the youth sports culture creates a positive contagion, then the young player will more likely to want to keep playing and be involved in the game.

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