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ISSUE 118 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/8/2004

Players play

By Joel Stjernholm
Sports Editor

Friday, October 8, 2004

Without question, parental involvement in youth athletics is far too intense. From parents who file lawsuits against school districts whose coaches cut their children from freshmen baseball teams, to a father I witnessed sprint onto the soccer pitch to tackle one of my younger friends, parental involvement has transcended committed interest and has arrived regrettably at lunacy.

The most egregious offenders are well-documented in the media. From hockey dads fighting to soccer moms cursing, the most offensive instances of parental fanaticism are often discussed and categorically condemned.

However, preoccupation with these most delinquent transgressions threatens to veil more subtle though equally detrimental and misguided athletic-related parental aggression.

Excessively zealous behavior rarely manifests itself in physical conflict or verbal affront directed toward a parent or player affiliated with the opposing team; rather, the most frequent targets of parental ambition are coaches and the athletes themselves. Frustrated parents frequently direct their disappointment at their child-athletes and coaches, contributing to a stressful and ultimately damaging environment for young athletes.

To circumvent imprudent parental involvement in his football program, Edina head coach Todd Olson asserts at his annual player-parent meeting, Players play, coaches coach, and parents watch. I propose that this direct three-part maxim conveys a fundamental truth of sport often forgotten in contemporary commercialized sports culture: athletics are foremost about the athlete. While Olsons maxim is often neglected, it is costly to discount. The balance of this article is devoted to exploring coach Olsons adage, advocating adherence to the principles set forth therein.

Players Play

As mentioned above, athletics are about the athlete. The athlete practices rigorously, takes risks, and exposes himself to praise and criticism alike in public venues. Athletes are entirely responsible for their successes, and are equally accountable for their shortcomings. No mere spectator can wholly embrace the excitement and energy experienced by the victorious athlete. Likewise, spectators are unable to fully comprehend the agony endured in defeat. Despite their best efforts, parents will not influence the outcome of a competition, nor will they enjoy the emotional spectrum athletes experience. Parents dont play.

Coaches Coach

Coaches are constantly bombarded with accusations of poor play calling and politicized distribution of playing time. At lower levels of competition, politics are occasionally involved when coaches make roster decisions, and the quintessential plays arent always called for the perfect moments, but

that is the reality of athletic competition. The problem is not unique to a particular community.

In my experience, however, coaches are generally rational and impartial when selecting players, allocating playing time, and developing strategy. Perceptions of coaching ignorance and partiality are mostly misguided.

Particularly at the high school and college levels, coaches must work with the players they select, and are held to strict account for their teams performance. Successful coaches are not apt to politicize roster selection or make hasty and imprudent strategy decisions given the adverse consequences poor decisions present.

Moreover, coaches want to win. Coaches invest themselves in preparing athletes and competitive game strategies for the explicit purpose of winning. Aggressively confronting a coach regarding roster decisions, playing time, or play-calling is misguided and inappropriate. Parents dont coach.

Parents Watch

Unlike players and coaches, parents have relatively little gameday responsibility: relax, watch and enjoy. Parents are purely spectators; the have no real stake in, or effect on, the outcome of the competition.

Rather, parents cheer, anticipate,and leisurely appreciate the joys of athletic competition. The parents role is intense only to the extent that they root for their childs team, wishing victory for their own team and defeat for their opponents. However, the role of the parent-spectator is purely passive and positive. It is not the place of the parent to criticize: coaches are more than critical enough for everyone. Parents, one might argue, have the best job of all: relax, watch and enjoy.

Parents interested enough to involve themselves in their childs athletic pursuits are provided ample opportunities to do so. Booster clubs need volunteers, team parties and potlucks require organizers, and fundraising efforts arent successful without parental management.

Parents who wish to participate in supporting thir childs athletic efforts behind the scenes should be encouraged to do so. Involvement is only unhealthy when parents attempt to step into the roles of player and coach.

Ultimately, parents ought to play a supporting role in their childs athletic experience. Athletes will always need supportive parents who attend their competitions, prepare nutritious meals, provide transportation to and from practice, celebrate team and individual victories and provide positive encouragement in times of defeat. Unlike fighting fathers and cursing mothers of sports present and past, parents of sports future ought to be supportive and positive, enriching the athletic experience.

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