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Written by:  Jan Udlock
Date: March 1, 2011

Playing team sports is an important milestone in many kids' lives. Team sports teach discipline, appropriate behavior in winning and losing, the importance of physical exercise, self-confidence and more. Parents also play an important role, because kids take cues from their parents on what's appropriate behavior and what's not. Every parent wants her child to do well and even to shine on the court or field. In the process of support and excitement, are you encouraging your child or are you working against your child's best interest? Here are some guidelines to help you be a supportive sports parent.

Consider motivations

Talk with your kids about different team sports. What are they interested in? What would they like to get out of the experience? Mention a major benefit of team sports: making friends. Talk with your spouse and be sure it is not your agenda to have your child play the sport you once played.

"One of the primary reasons youngsters participate in sports is to have a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. This is difficult to do when a parent is trying to vicariously live through his child's performance," says Joe Cummings, executive director of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Step up to help out

Involvement with your child's team shows your child you support him or her. Whether you bring snacks, take team pictures, coordinate parties afterward, or your business sponsors the team, find a way to get involved. If the coach wants parent participation in the team's practice, get on the field and help.

Families' calendars get busy and full when more than one child in the family plays team sports, but attend as many games as possible. If only one parent at a time in a two-parent family can go, switch it up so both parents attend each child's games at some point. If you have nearby family members, invite them to a few games. If you do not have any immediate family members living close by, invite a neighbor or family friend to watch.

Coaches and other team players count on each other to be on time for both practices and games. "Ensuring that the players are properly equipped and that they are punctual for practices and for games are great ways parents can support their kids," Cummings says.

Support the players

Different people have different roles and responsibilities at a game. The parents' job is to provide emotional support for their child and leave the coaching to the coach. "Respect the coaches,' expertise and if they are volunteer coaches with little coaching experience, respect the time and effort they are devoting," says Dr. Jim Taylor, sports psychologist and author of Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child.

Cheer for all the kids on the team regardless of how they do. Before the game, ask your child if he would prefer you to cheer for him loudly or softly. Some kids would prefer their parents to not cheer for them because it causes undue pressure. On the other hand, if you have a child who appreciates loud banter, have a nickname for your kid. He'll hear the pet name among the screaming fans.

Let your kids fail

Watching your child strike out or repeatedly miss a basket is painful for a parent, yet allowing kids to fail is part of their maturing. Children are learning skills as well as character when they achieve and when they are disappointed.

"Winning is not the point, because few children will rise very far up the competitive ladder," Taylor says.

Don't blame the referees

After a game, if your child brings up a bad call from the referee, talk with her about it. However, do not let her have a victim mentality that says the team lost because of the referee's calls.

"Referees are human and are bound to make a legitimate mistake or two during any game. However there also is the matter of a 'perceived mistake,' where the difference in viewing the angle can make all the difference," Cummings says. Criticizing the umpire's inconsistent calls does not help anyone in the long run.

Curb inappropriate behavior

Most sports organizations have parent conduct rules. Coaches normally review these with the parents before formal games begin. Referees are entitled to throw a parent out of the game for inappropriate behavior or ban him from the sports park for the rest of the game. If a parent does not stop the behavior, her child's team will automatically forfeit the game. Taylor recommends that the coach or another parent focus on the offending behavior and explain how it hurts the child.

If you as a parent are getting a little too involved in your child's sport, decompress by sitting farther down the field, away from the action.

Team sports can be fun for the entire family and can be rewarding for children. "The goal of sports is to instill a love of sport, exercise, physical activity, have fun, and develop good motor skills and essential life skills," Taylor says.

Jan Udlock is a mom of five and a freelance writer. She had to sit farther down the third baseline to not get too involved in her sons' baseball games.



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