School Beat: The Parents’ Role in Supporting their Athlete

By Tim Erickson

Rockford High School Director of Athletics

The key to a successful experience for young athletes is often determined by parents understanding the role they have in supporting their son or daughter.  Many parents overemphasize sports and winning at the expense of sportsmanship and support.

The Rockford Athletic Department has always encouraged parents to become involved in their son’s or daughter’s school activities.  However, once a parent knows that their child is physically and emotionally safe, there becomes a time when a parent needs to “release” their child to the coach and to the sport they play.  Parents, coaches, and other adults send powerful messages to student-athletes, and these messages should not conflict.   The athletic field creates many opportunities for decision making, conflict resolution, and growth. A parent who has not released their child may be interfering with these learning opportunities.

Parents should consider the following “red flags” that may indicate they have not released their athlete:

• Parent is living his/her own personal athletic dream through his/her child’s experience.

• Parent tends to share credit when child performs well, but blames coaches, officials, and other factors when performance is poor or after a loss.

• Parent tries to solve all athletic-related problems for their son/daughter.

• Parent continues to try to coach their child, even though the child probably knows more about the game than the parent.

It is time to reflect on your role as a parent when:

• You are more nervous than your child prior to the game.

• You have a difficult time bouncing back from a tough loss.

• You find yourself making written or mental notes so that you can give advice after the game.

• You become critical of decisions made by other adults – coaches, officials, administration, etc.

• Your child avoids you after the game or they are embarrassed about your involvement.

From Little League to Major League, there are only four roles at an athletic contest: spectator, athlete, coach, and official.  When parents try to choose more than one role, they are likely headed for conflict.  So, as a parent, what should your role be?

Prior to the season ask yourself some important questions:  Why do you want your child to play the sport?  What will it mean if your child has a successful season?  What goals do you have for your child?  What role do you think your child will have?  Now ask your son/daughter these same questions.  Compare answers.  If both of you have the same expectations, chances are your child will have a positive experience.  If responses differ, a parent needs to rethink his/her thoughts and attitudes.   For example, your child may state that they play a sport because they like to have fun and hang out with teammates.  If the parents believe their child is playing to earn a college scholarship or to earn all-state status, this is a sign that two sets of expectations exist and conflict will likely arise.

Experience tells us that every athletic season will bring challenges and that everything will not always be perfect.  Injuries, opponents, weather, and relationships with teammates are all factors which can lead to frustration.  The possibility of the student-athlete enduring these tough times increase if the parent and athlete have a mutual perspective on expectations of the athletic experience.

As a parent, you should make every effort to attend as many games as possible.  Cheer positively for your child’s team.  Model appropriate behavior and keep the focus on the team. Attend pre-season meetings. Do everything you can to make the athletic experience positive for your child and his/her teammates.  Encourage involvement in multiple activities, including other sports, the performing arts, student government, church youth groups, etc.  Accept the judgment of the officials and coaches and remain in control of your emotions.  Accept the goals, roles, and achievements of your child.

We all hope that in the end the athletic experience will have provided an opportunity for physical and emotional growth, as well as the chance to build lasting relationships and have fun.  Benefits of sports include opportunities to work together and get along, take risks and survive, and learn how to set and achieve goals.  As parents, we need to support our children, but also understand the role we have in making the athletic experience positive.

See you at the games!