Joanna Chadwick: Parents, leave criticism to the coaches
A personal favorite Twitter topic is pointing out the craziness of high school sports fans. Surely you know the ones.
They condemn the coach for every decision, along with every miscue committed by players. Comment nastily on every player but their own. Cheer only for their kid. Scream at officials about every call.
These athletes are teenage kids, some hoping for a college scholarship, all playing for a chance at a state title. These are coaches who devote their summers to unpaid work with their athletes.
Yet they’re too often berated at games, on social media and in the barber shop — most often by parents.
Hutchinson athletic director Eric Armstrong conducted a preseason meeting with more than 500 parents that should serve as an example of how to teach the right way to approach high school sports. Armstrong’s goal wasn’t to berate Hutch’s parents or contend they are overbearing.
He told them they shouldn’t call a coach until 24 hours after a game, said conversations about playing time are off limits and urged parents to “help student-athletes have the best experience that they’re going to have.”
Experience? Wait, isn’t high school sports about every athlete playing to get that Division I scholarship? To go pro?
It sure seems to be. Sports is business to way too many people.
“Not every kid that comes out of Hutchinson High is a college athlete,” Armstrong said. “Not every kid is a Division I athlete. But every kid goes out looking for a positive experience. I think sometimes when adults get in the way of that, it makes it difficult for kids to have the best experience they can.
“… Let’s find a way to allow our kids to participate in activities. Let’s cheer them on. Let’s be there when they need us to be there, when they need us as parents. Let’s not try to be the coach or a player on the field or an official.”
Not all parents know how to act at games. Youth-league coaches should be training parents now — sit opposite the team during soccer games, don’t coach your child during games, leave the high school-aged refs alone.
The stories Armstrong used to highlight his points came directly from his experience as a parent to Kaylie, a sophomore soccer player. Like most parents, he talked to her about how she should have made a play.
“What I was telling her wasn’t the best way to get to (the ball), it wasn’t mechanically sound,” Armstrong said. “… I had to take a step back. ‘You aren’t the soccer coach.’ The reality is, Kaylie knows more about soccer and has known more about soccer than I do since she was in seventh grade. When kids spend all that time in the summer playing and spending time with high school coaches, they know more.”
Armstrong also talked about the car ride home, a perfect time to relive the glories of a game — and criticize.
Bruce Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC released an informal survey, taken over three decades, that noted the ride home was overwhelmingly the worst memory from youth and high school sports athletes.
When Armstrong noted this to me, I got a little sick to my stomach. I love the car ride home after soccer and basketball games with my sons.
When one son plays, his brothers will give him compliments and my husband and I note good plays.
This is a good thing. But then we note ways to get better. It’s well meaning and brief, but is that analysis necessary?
Then I remembered a Facebook post about a mom telling her child, “I love watching you play.”
I’ve been saying it to my boys lately. The smile on their faces is divine. You know what? It is fun to watch them play. They love competing, they love the games.
Will they be the greatest ever? I suppose it’s possible, but really, we just want them to enjoy it — while insisting on maximum effort and a great attitude.
“I think we have to get parents to realize we’ve had our time,” Armstrong said. “I have great memories. Are they all wins and state championship rings? Absolutely not.
“Some of the best memories I have are of me and my teammates doing whatever it was. When we as parents don’t let our kids experience those things, they lose.”