Nightmare Parents – not at REA

14 May

Ashton Cave calls them “nightmare parents,” those overzealous grown-ups who can put a damper on a baseball game, a soccer match or any other youth sporting event quicker than a lightning storm with softball-sized hail.

Cave has coached youth sports for 15 years. Last year, he coached Southern Nevada’s Mountain Ridge Little League team to a world title (after the first-place team was disqualified). And during his tenure as a youth sports coach — and even before that, as a youth sports participant — Cave has seen many examples of parents behaving badly.

Not surprisingly, Cave’s most emphatic advice to the parents of young athletes: “Don’t become that nightmare parent.”

Fact is, when your child signs up for a sport, parents join the roster, too. And however the season goes, it will be up to parents to help kids through the up-and-down, win-and-lose realities of sport, help them to maintain perspective and then help them to enjoy the experience.

First, try to put aside any parental trepidation you might feel: Will the child have a good time? Make friends? Get hurt? Be, well, any good? Appreciate the fact that your child has made the choice to commit himself or herself to a sport.

A qualm or two is natural, particularly for a first-time sports parent. “You want to protect them,” Cave says, but “at the same time you want to provide good opportunities for them.”

Participating in sports can teach a child all sorts of good lessons. “If any child shows any type of interest whatsoever in youth sports, I’d definitely encourage it,” Cave recommends.

However, never force children to play sports.

Rizzie Love, regional commissioner of Las Vegas Region 1258 of the American Youth Soccer Organization, sees children who are passionate about the game. She also sees “kids out there who are hating the game, don’t want to play the game, and don’t care if they’re there. But Mom and Dad (say), ‘We played soccer when we were your age, so you’re gonna play,’ and that’s not what they want to do.”

Those kids “are the hardest to coach, because they really just don’t want to be there,” Love adds. “Don’t force them to do something they absolutely don’t want to do.”

Learn about your child’s sport, particularly if you’re not a fan or you’ve never played youth sports yourself. Visit the league’s website to learn about the league, its philosophy, its regulations and such nuts-and-bolts details as where and when games, matches or meets will be played.

Love says some of her players’ parents have played soccer at some point in their lives, while “a good percentage” have never played the game and aren’t familiar with the ways of youth sports. “We try to educate our parents in the very beginning, when coaches do a parents’ meeting,” she says.

During that session, coaches will outline values — which, Love says, include sportsmanship, balanced teams and “everyone plays” — and discuss with parents their own coaching philosophies. Parents also will learn about league rules, including its protocol for dealing with concussions, which says that “if the coach feels a child cannot go on playing, they will pull them off the field, and parents need to understand it’s not their call. It’s the coach’s or referee’s call.”

Parents also will be told of “the necessity for sportsmanship,” she says, not only among players, but of parents toward other parents and “most importantly, the referee.”

Parents also should begin to think of ways they’ll be able to help a child weather the emotional ups and downs that come with athletic competition.

“We tell parents, and coaches instruct them, that you learn just as much from a loss as you do from a win,” Love says. “Losses are just another way to learn how to improve their game.”

Never dwell on what a child may not have done correctly. Rather, frame a loss or mistake as a learning opportunity and always keep the discussion light.

“You can’t put on that much pressure, especially with youth sports,” Love says. “In my opinion, parents just put way too much pressure (on kids). I think they live vicariously through their children.”

Because occasional injuries are a part of sports, parents should become familiar with injury risks their child might face. For example, Dr. Johnn Trautwein, medical director of the pediatric emergency department at Summerlin Hospital, has seen a change in recent years in parents’ attitudes toward concussions.

Football remains a popular sport among valley kids, he says, but “the big thing we’re seeing is, when we have kids who come in with their first concussion … parents are a lot more knowledgeable and they’re a lot more concerned because of what’s happening in the NFL and what’s been in the news.

“In the past, I would see kids here in the ER who have had three or four concussions and loved playing football, and parents would say, ‘Well, he loves the game so we’re going to let him keep playing.’ Now, what we see is children come in, have a concussion and a lot more parents are just pulling the trigger, saying, ‘That’s it. We’re done (with football).’ ”

Such decisions can be made only by parents, Trautwein adds, but such issues are ones parents should think about.

When at practices or games, note whether teams and leagues are following proper safety precautions. For example, Trautwein says, “do they take scheduled rest breaks?

What if, even before his or her first season has ended, a child voices the desire to quit? Try to determine, Love suggests, whether the child really does want to quit.

“What I’ve always told my daughter is, when a sport is no longer fun, then it’s time for you to move on,” she explains. “So when she’d come home and say (that), I’d say, ‘OK, so you don’t want to play anymore?’ ‘Well, no. It was just a bad practice.’ ‘OK, so do you want to play?’ ‘Yes.’ ”

Never hold a child to unrealistic athletic expectations. “Don’t expect him to play at a professional athletic performance (level) when they’re 3, 5, 11, 12 years old,” Cave says. “These are kids, for heaven’s sake, and we expect too much from kids these days.”

If you feel it necessary to critique a child’s athletic performance … well, just don’t. Cave suspects that all too many postgame car rides home aren’t pleasant for either young athletes or their frustrated parents.

“Instead of lecturing them — ‘You could have done this better’ — or talking about how bad their coach is, turn on the (car) radio and just listen to their favorite song, or say, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Dairy Queen?’ or whatever. Don’t talk about the game. Let it go. If a child wants to talk about it, then let them talk.”

Don’t be annoying on the sidelines or in the stands, don’t be a jerk to referees — “They’re not doing it for the money,” Cave says — and don’t live or die by your child’s athletic achievement.

“Just don’t live vicariously through your kids,” Cave says.

And if you do feel the need to yell and scream at a game? “Then you need to watch in your car and roll up the windows so when you yell, nobody will hear,” he says.

However, do work to reinforce the positive lessons — discipline, teamwork, perseverance — sports can teach, even when your child’s team doesn’t win.

“If you can, turn negatives into positives” Cave says. “What you can learn is that there’s always good that can come out whether it’s a victory or a defeat. You learn something about yourself and about your team and you learn about the game.”

Love says her daughter started playing sports at 7. She’s now 14 and, Love says, she considers sports “an opportunity to make some great friends. She learned some great values from people that were her coaches and mentors, whether they were referees or coaches or parents who were encouraging.

“And, she learned how to work with other people in difficult situations and in positive situations.”

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