Autumn is almost here and many of our children will be starting in on fall sports. I am going to discuss positive parent strategies for flag football and soccer, but the following ideas can be applied to a lot of sports.
Most parents tend to remember to get all the gear and show up to practices and games on time, but we are not coached on the best way to parent our budding athletes. I interviewed two volunteer coaches (who have been at this game for quite a while) and found some common themes that they believe will make a child’s sports experience more positive.
It is important to remember that every child is different. It seems that many times we parents get caught up in having the same expectation for every child -- which is usually to score the big goal or touchdown. Try to take the time to analyze your child’s play habits in a sport before the big game.
At games, the adrenalin can get the best of parents (many times more than the kids) and it is hard to give good advice at the moment of the game if we don’t put some thought into it in advance. Let’s take soccer for example. You will find the majority of the parents are focused on their kid getting the ball and scoring although very few children will score in any given game let alone a season.
Instead of following this frenzy, try to talk to your child on a different day (than game day) and focus on a goal for the next game. Try to watch what your child actually does (in game or practice) and where your child can improve or ask the coach for advice on how your child can improve.
Here are some common soccer problems and solutions.
Problem: your child is a ball hog.
Solution: Encourage your child to look to make a good pass. Since there is no official score kept in AYSO through the age of 8, it is a perfect opportunity to encourage this and reward them for the pass and hopefully the coach will do so, too.
Problem: Your child cries at the loss of a game.
Solution: Advise your child to graciously shake hands or high five the opponents (never let them skip this or do this as if they don’t mean it), attempt a smile and then go for a jog after the game (specifying the place –around the nearby school building, for example) to calm down.
Problem: your child runs away rather than toward the ball or shows other signs of fear or lack of confidence.
Solution: Comment on small improvements such as remarking, “I noticed you really kept your hands down during that quarter and stood tall,” or “way to run toward the ball; you got really close to it.”
Problem: Your child is always in a group of kids on the field.
Solution: Teach your child to look for open spaces. This is a great skill in just about every team sport.
Coach Billy Witz (Long Beach AYSO coach for eight years) had this to say about helping your kids with soccer:
“The best thing a parent can do is to acknowledge the small victories. Everyone will congratulate your child on scoring a goal, but what is most important is to acknowledge the little things – the smart pass whether it reaches the destination or not, playing tenacious defense after the ball has been lost, the run forward that might have occupied a defender and mostly simply ... to play without fear of failure.”
I spoke to Rob Raigland (Los Alamitos Friday Night Lights coach for seven years) about helping kids during flag football season and he had this to say:
“Being a good flag football parent to me means being supportive of your child, your child's coach and your child's teammates. It takes the form of acknowledging the efforts of each with positive affirmation. It also takes the form of not demonizing the other team or their players. And although winning is more fun, the results are not super important in the big picture."
Another way parents can help is practicing with them and analyzing plays in professional football – if you are into football. I ask my children questions about game strategies, so that they can deepen their understanding of the game.
From a skills perspective, in flag football, catching is a big skill that differentiates kids – like dribbling in soccer. You don’t have to be the fastest and only a few tend to throw really well, but if you can teach your kid to catch, it is a big advantage. They will get the ball and it is easier for the coaches to integrate a kid that can catch.”
Remember that everything doesn't have to happen in a single game or season. When realistic goals are made, children will feel successful and are more likely to want to continue with the sport.