In Parents' Role in Youth Sports

Here’s a basic concept that we all tend to lose sight of in youth, junior and high school sports: The games are for and about the kids, NOT the adults watching or coaching! Sports should exist to provide a constructive arena for our children to learn physical and social skills that will last a lifetime, to have fun and to participate in experiences that will foster healthy self-esteem and a healthy self-image.

The games should NEVER be there for ADULTS (coaches and parents) to act out their own unfulfilled dreams, sports heartaches and frustrations.

This is exactly what happens when coaches get overly invested in the outcomes of their games and too caught up in their won-loss record as a perceived reflection of their own competence and self-worth. Simply put, when an adult’s EGO takes front and center stage in youth sports, the needs of the young participants get pushed “backstage,” or even offstage, making these kids far more vulnerable to getting emotionally hurt and eventually dropping out of the sport!

This is exactly the case when a coach is unfair, when he/she plays “favorites,” or when the coach picks one or two kids on the squad to scape-goat, or when a coach uses two different sets of rules for his/her team: One more forgiving and accepting for the more skilled athletes and another much less tolerant and harsher for the lesser skilled players.

When I taught tennis professionally, I prided myself on my ability to take any athlete and help him/her develop a solid foundation of the game. I was quite skilled with beginners and intermediate players, but not so with the more advanced player. Deep down I knew that working with more talented juniors was where my coaching strengths and experience began to erode. It was here that one could say I brushed against my level of incompetency.

When some of my young players reached this higher playing level, I knew that I wasn’t the best person to really take them where they needed to go. Sometimes, without consulting me, the parents of these players would find another coach who they felt could take their son or daughter to that next level. At other times, I recommended directly to the parents that I had reached my level of competency. In both cases I still felt a possessive ego pull to hang onto “my” student. I still felt pangs of hurt feelings when they “left me” to train elsewhere. However, despite my hurt feelings, I also knew that this wasn’t about ME and MY needs! It was about WHAT WAS BEST FOR THE YOUNG ATHLETE!

When I see two or more coaches “competing” for an athlete’s attention and skills, trying to get that player to like them better and then acting out their jealous and competitive feelings by directly and indirectly undercutting what their “opponent coach” is teaching this athlete, it underscores how the athlete’s needs and well-being get sacrificed at the alter of the coach’s ego! This kid gets put in the middle and is forced to “choose” who he/she likes best. If the athlete seems to be doing better with one of the coaches, then this youngster begins to feel guilty for it!

This is and should be totally unacceptable! As coaches, we are supposed to be the adults! That means that we are supposed to recognize and set aside our own ego-needs so that we may better attune to and teach these kids. It’s, what is best for the young athlete that should always be foremost in the minds of coaches, NOT, what is best for me!


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