This has been a blog I have wanted to write for a long time. My girls have been involved in youth sports since my oldest stepped onto a soccer field at the age of 4. I coached her first team without a bit of history in the sport other than the soccer ball I owned when I was 8. Over the years, I have helped coached other teams, been a helper or just a dad in the stands. We have been on some great teams and on some teams that were at the bottom of the standings. We have been blessed with great coaches and some that were more like I was when I coached my first team. I like to observe people and I have seen some crazy things happen at ball fields and stadiums. So, for everyone who has kids, grand kids, nieces/nephews or friends or just likes to hang out at the ball fields because there's nothing better to do on a Tuesday night, here are the etiquette lessons I've learned from being a part of youth sports.
1. Remember, they are just kids. Not only are they kids, but they are kids who are playing a game because they want to do something fun. This is not the 9th Inning of the World Series or the final two minutes of the Super Bowl. This is a Volleyball game on a Monday afternoon at 4:00 pm in the alternate gymnasium. This is a Softball game on a dusty field on a Thursday Night. They are just kids having fun. They forget the losses and the wins more quickly than we do.
2. Don't try and relive your glory days through your kids. That's easy for me. I had relatively few bright spots in my athletic career. For others, it is not. They shined and were very successful under the Friday Night Lights or a packed out arena. Your kids are there to have fun. They may far exceed your athletic prowess or they may never measure up. Be there for them and enjoy the moment.
3. Remember, it is just a game. This one is not as easy for me. I am an ultra-competitive person. If there is a winner or loser, I want to win. If I'm playing a game of Monopoly or watching my favorite team play, I want to win. In my mind, the game is the most important thing happening at that moment. It needs to be called fairly and everyone playing to perfection. My greatest regrets coaching sports or being a fan at my daughter's games have been the times I let my competitive drive get the best of me. It usually manifests itself when the game official or umpires make an obvious bad call in a tight game. This point probably would be better written by my wife who reminds me that it is just a game. There is no reason to lose your cool over a missed call by an amateur referee.
4. Be more encouraging than correcting. In Youth Sports, we are dealing with kids who are still learning the basics of the game. They need instruction, but they need more encouragement. Whether you are a fan or coach, encourage twice as much as you instruct. As they mature in their sport, they will need different types of instruction. I would instruct a top High School player differently than a 6 year old who is picking up a bat for the first time. Kids, especially younger kids, need to know that you believe in them. When coaching kids, I opt for the sandwich method by encouraging them, correcting them and then encouraging them. For example, "You fielded the ball great. Next time, watch where you are throwing the ball. Your eyes were looking in the stands when you released the ball. That's why the ball went wide. You can do it! You'll get them next time."
5. Let the coaches coach. There is nothing worse for a coach than a parent trying to coach their kids from the stands. As parents, we are the key influencer in our child's life. Of course, they are going to have their eyes on us when we are yelling instructions to them. The problem is it distracts from what the coach is trying to do. They are thinking of the whole team. Over the years, I have seen multiple coaches try and get the attention of a player who is zoned in on their mom or dad. We all want our kids to be successful. If you desire to help them, spend some time with them in the backyard playing catch. When it comes game time, let the coaches do their job.
6. Don't publicly criticize the coach. You never know who is sitting around you. Remember, the coach may have family (including kids) who are sitting near you. Before kids get to middle school, the coaches are mostly volunteer. The only thing I have ever received as compensation for coaching is a free t-shirt. They are doing it for the love of the game and the love of their kids. If you disagree with the coach on something, talk to him or her in a private setting. I would also suggest not going to them right after the game. Call them up during the week.
7. Never criticize someone else's child. They are kids who are learning the game. They will make mistakes. If you want to pay $150 to buy a ticket to see the Cowboys play, then criticize the players who are making millions. If you are sitting in the bleachers watching 7 years olds play, then don't ever criticize them. They are kids. They are playing to be with their friends and to have fun. Definitely, don't yell at someone else's child. You are not their coach. If you want to coach, then pick up the application for the next season. Otherwise, cheer and encourage. We never know what some of these kids may be dealing with at home and the last thing they need is a random grumpy adult yelling at them or criticizing them because their serve flew into the stands or they weren't in sync with the other cheerleaders.
As parents, coaches and fans, our attitudes and actions can affect our kids and their teams. It is important to remember we are teaching them life lessons by the way we act and react in youth sports. Those lessons will far out last their ability to play the game they love.