Home > Sports > Being a youth league parent: A how-to guide

Being a youth league parent: A how-to guide

This year, I started coaching t-ball. Twice a week, I have 11 5-year-olds hanging on my every word – or every third word… or whenever they want to pay attention. We go over the basics of baseball. Not the squeeze play or turning a nifty 5-4-3 double play. Stuff like, “You don’t throw the ball with the glove,” or “You can’t run directly from first to third.” Or the all-time favorite, “Put the bat down… the bat… put it down… the bat… stop swinging the bat!” I’m sure Tony LaRussa has the same problem.

The good thing about living in the Internet age is that, as a coach, you can use “the Google” to find drills, practice plans, etc. that make coaching a bit easier. When I coached basketball for 10-11 year olds, I couldn’t have made it through any practice without the stuff I found on the web.

What you don’t find so easily on the Internet is what to do as the parent of a youth league athlete. I saw some bad parents (some on my team, some for other teams), and this is mainly for them. But, it’s also a good guide for parents who can easily get on the slippery-slope towards being THAT parent.

So, for all of those parents who know (or will know) the fun of watching endless games of t-ball, soccer, basketball and hockey, here is a coach’s point-of-view on being a good youth-league parent:

    1. Your child his a slim shot at getting a college scholarship. You hear me? Very slim. The odds of going pro are astronomical. Remember that and reset your expectations (i.e., focus on letting the kids learning the game and having fun – and not in that order, really).
    2. Oh, I know that your kid has a sweet jumper or a golden arm. Yeah, I get it. Little Tommy might be playing for the Yankees one day. That’s a fine goal, but read rule #1 again. He should be free to dream of a big-league life. You don’t have that luxury.
    3. Once your kids reach 8 or 9, don’t yell directions or commands to your kid during practice or games. One of the great lessons of sport is to learn to listen to a central authority figure (the coach) and your teammates. They’re accustomed to listening to you, but when they’re dribbling the ball down the court, that’s not the time they need to hear you screaming, “Just shoot the ball!” Maybe the coach wants to encourage the kid to pass. Maybe we’re not playing a full-court press because we have the foot speed of a flock of turtles. Defer to the coach during the game, and if really bugs you, ask him or her about it (CALMLY) afterwards.
    4. Speaking of yelling things at games, be positive. Sweet monkey pie, just be positive. Negativity from the parents drove me out of coaching for a few years. It’s the ugliest side of youth sports.
    5. In fact, if you ever find yourself shouting at a referee or umpire in a youth league game, think about this: the guy/gal with the whistle probably makes $6/hour. It’s more of a volunteer job than you think. Oh, and they probably know a little bit more about rule interpretations than you do. So, cut them some slack. When my parents used to grouse that I wasn’t on the officials enough, I’d call the ref over and say, “I think you’re doing a helluva job, but my parents are assholes who want me to be yelling at you. So, I called you over here, and it looks like I’m getting on your case. Anyhoo, you get a score on the Braves game today?”
    6. Oh, and if you yell at the scoreboard operator because the score is wrong, simmer down. In basketball, baseball and almost all other sports, there’s an official scorekeeper who isn’t the same guy that operates the clock and scoreboard. They’ll get it straightened out. Sit down and allow the people to do their job.
    7. Use some common sense. The other day, I saw HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble that featured a guy who did ligament replacements for athletes. A few years ago, he had a steady stream of 12-year-old boys who needed “Tommy John surgery” to repair blown out elbows. Why? They were throwing curveballs at 11 years old. Now, when I was in Little League (in 1983 or so), we knew that you shouldn’t throw a curveball until you were 14 or 15. But, every now and then, parents and coaches start pushing younger kids to throw one. As a parent and/or coach, you have to be the grown up here. You know what’s right and what’s wrong. Act like it.
    8. Show up for practices. Plain and simple. That’s where they learn and grow as athletes and individuals. And if you can’t make them because of another sports league’s practices, piano lessons, pottery class or interpretive dance, then perhaps you’ve overscheduled the kid.
    9. Work with your kid between practices and games (or seasons). In my old basketball league, you’d get the same kids back on your team if they hadn’t moved into the next age group. Often, the kids would tell me that they hadn’t really picked up a basketball in the intervening nine months. If you go through the effort to sign them up for a sport, spend some time working with them on the game. Make sure they work on their skills. Michael Jordan once dribbled a basketball around Wilmington, NC for an entire summer. THAT is how you improve.
    10. Swallow your own parental medicine: if your child’s friend’s mom drove her minivan off the cliff, does that mean you have to? Too often, joining youth sports is about keeping up with the other folks in your life. You should know if your kid is truly interested in archery – or if they just want to do it because Tommy from school is doing it. If it’s the latter, rethink the investment (time, money, effort).

    You know, as a kid, I always thought it was weird that my mom and dad sat in the outfield in lawn chairs during my Little League games. I never thought about it much until my mom told me why a few weeks ago. She said they hated to be around “Little League parents” who were living vicariously through their kids. They would sit in the stands and holler, yell and argue. My parents would sit a couple of hundred feet away and just watch the game.

    And all of a sudden, I could remember those games, when it felt like more pressure than a 10-year-old should have. Walking to the plate with that heavy wooden bat, just knowing that a strikeout would elicit boos or sarcastic comments. I was 10 for god’s sake, and I wasn’t very good. But I loved the game. And I gave it up soon because I didn’t like the environment.

    So, during the next season, when it comes time to blame the coaches, the officials, the league administration or the ghost of Pop Warner, let’s just all take a breath. The kids just want to play. They want to have fun. If they learn some stuff, great. They have PLENTY of time to be serious and goal-oriented in their life. Let’s not push them there too soon.

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Categories: Sports
  1. June 25, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Thanks for this piece. I coached my son in baseball from tee-ball to his first year in the minors. This past season I eased back to “volunteer parent” alternately keeping pitch counts (under Little League’s new program) or umpiring. The transition was a fun one and allowing my son to perform for and be instructed by other, somewhat more experienced baseball men was botha revelation and a relief (as long as they don’t ask me to umpire anymore!). I did a lot of reading about being a good “little league parent” to help me understand my role “in the stands” compared to “in the dugout,” including your piece. I wrote about my experience here:

    http://threetreejournal.blogspot.com/2007/06/bittersweet-end-of-little-league-season.html

    Please visit if you get a chance and thanks for your blog.

    David

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