Cheers, Not Jeers
“Strike the bum out!”
“That’s the worst call ever, Blue!”
“Where did you learn to coach, Coach?”
While these might be okay when yelling at the TV, they’re things most of us would rather not hear at a youth sports event. But when it comes to sports, we all like winners; and sometimes despite our best efforts, we can become too passionate–especially about our kids’ youth sports activities.
Youth sports organizers say they are having a harder and harder time recruiting coaches, umpires and referees because, while volunteering for these positions used to be fun and rewarding, now the negativity keeps good people away. Adults opt out of youth sports, not because the task of being a coach, referee or umpire is too hard, but because the cheering in youth sports has become so rare. While many former athletes would make excellent coaches, umpires, and referees, they decline because they do not wish to be part of the criticism, ridicule, and second-guessing.
The way to fix this problem is simple: instead of jeers, we need cheers. That’s all it would take.
The problem is that as parents and friends, we become emotionally invested in the sports our children play. Then when things don’t go our way, our passion sometimes gets the better of us. We jeer instead of cheer. We think we’re supporting those we love, but our outbursts often become hurtful and counterproductive.
Sometimes as parents, even if we don’t yell at a game, we communicate with our young athletes in counterproductive ways. A friend of mine, a dedicated coach of youth sports in our community, recently shared a survey about youth sports with me, and I want to share it with you.
Hundreds of college athletes were asked: "What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?" Their overwhelming response: "The ride home from games with my parents."
The two former coaches who initiated this three-decades-long study—Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching, LLC—have become staunch advocates for youth athletes. They now devote their time to helping adults avoid becoming nightmare sports parents. In fact, during the last 12 years Brown and Miller have spoken to more than a million athletes, coaches and parents at colleges, high schools and youth leagues.
Brown and Miller say that the vast majority of parents who make sports difficult for their children do so inadvertently. They aren't stereotypical sports parents who scream at referees, second-guess coaches or berate players. Instead, they are well-intentioned folks who can't help but initiate conversations about the contest before the sweat has dried on their child's uniform.
In the moments before, during and after a game, win or lose, kids want their games to be just games. And these athletes prefer parents who can transition from passionate spectator or well-meaning coach back to supportive mom and dad as soon as possible.
Brown and Miller tell audiences that survey results clearly indicate how to amplify the young athlete’s joy during and after a ballgame. Simply let them know you love to watch them play!
If you’re wondering exactly what to say to that little leaguer, soccer kid, or young softball player before and after a game, Dr. Tim Elmore, the president of Growing Leaders, says it’s simple. Before the competition, tell kids to: 1) Have fun, 2) Play hard and 3) I love you. And after a competition, say: 1) Did you have fun? 2) I’m proud of you and 3) I love you.
People say there’s a fine line between our best and our worst performances, and that the difference is often our mental attitude. So next time you have the chance, remember to cheer—not only for the win, but also for the effort. Cheer for those who are doing their best, because cheering for the best really does bring out the best within us all.
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