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Game day is particularly stressful for youth sport participants, but not because of the game itself. The expectations and rules that coaches and parents sometimes put on young athletes can add a tremendous amount of stress. We need to remember that youth sports is for…the youth. We also need to remember that game day is the best day for them to learn and grow. How we communicate on game day makes all the difference in what they get out of it. Here are some rules for parents and coaches to help make game day a great experience for the kids:
Don't set winning expectations:
A parent should always expect their child to play their best, be fair to other team members, and play with sportsmanship. These things are what youth sports are all about, and you should make note of when your child has done these things particularly well. Don't set expectations that are predicated on winning a game or reaching a milestone. This puts unecessary pressure on kids and puts them in an outcome mindset, moving the focus of control externally. They need to focus on process, on development, and on the things they can control and work on during the game.
Just. Don't. We don’t play heavy metal music at full volume during open heart surgery, why would we simulate that during games for children. Games can be difficult on young players and all that screaming is loud, distracting noise. It's completely fine to cheer on your child and get excited during heated parts of the game, but make sure you're not the sports equivalent of a backseat driver.
Put some faith in the coach:
You hired the coach to do a job, or at least trusted them to do it. Counteracting the coaches work, making snide remarks, or questioning their every move undermines the authority relationship and backtracks development. Be especially careful about bad-mouthing the coach in front of your child, it may get back to them.
Keep negative opinions about other players to yourself:
Only talk in positives about other children. There's always going to be that one kid on the team who never passes the ball or is a known bully. Speak to the coach about any problems with a player, but try to keep public scrutiny nonexistent. We can create proxies of our feelings in our own children very easily. If you bad mouth their friends, you alienate your child or you drive a wedge between your child and his friends. Many times, team bullying is the result of parents making nasty comments that are internalized and replicated in behaviors from children toward teammates. If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.
Be gentle when you talk about the game on the way home:
If the game went well, it's awesome to relive all the ways your kid played a great game, but if it didn't go so well tread lightly. The wound of a loss is still fresh right after the game, and it might not be the best time to bring up how they could have played better. Remember to tell them that you “love watching them play” and that you are a support for all they do.
No matter how big or small the game, you need to keep your emotions in check at all times. Children feed off our energy. If we are “going batty” before the game or we “lose it” during the game, they will too. Children are not fully prepared to handle extreme emotions as easily as adults. Extremes can tip the anxiety-performance relationship and produce disaster. It is supposed to be fun. Be calm, be happy, let them do their thing without our emotional interjection.
Coach Reed is an Author, Speaker, and Coach. He is Executive Director of STAR Soccer Club in Cincinnati, OH, is a TEDx alum who now travels the world speaking for Changing The Game Project, and works with myriad sports organizations training them on Communication, Culture, and the competitive mindset through his Beyond The Game programs. His book, Echo, is due out before the end of 2016.