Five Signs You Might Not Have a Life Outside Your Kid's Sports

There really isn’t a much more simple way to say this.  Many parents find that they have little time left for themselves after spending so much time on their child’s sport.  It isn’t uncommon for athletes as young as eight or nine to have multiple practices and competitions in a week.  As a result, parents spend most or all of their free time shuttling children between practices and competitions, eating at fast food restaurants, and staying in cheap motels.  The question becomes, “Do you have a life of your own outside your child’s sport?”  The following are a few signs that you might be over-involved.

You Attend Most or All Practices

I personally know the parents of two different high school athletes who rearrange their work schedules and other aspects of their lives so they can attend their child’s practices.  One indicates he “just wants to have a feel for what’s happening with the team.”  The second says he needs to be there so he can give his son feedback on how he is practicing.  

Most parents don’t take such drastic measures to attend practice, but some feel they need to be at every training session in order to be supportive. It is important to note that you might be sending the wrong message about keeping sport in the proper perspective when you feel you have to attend all practices.  Even when your child is first starting a sport and you have become comfortable with her coach, it is appropriate to drop her off, inform her you will run errands or do something for yourself, and that you will be back in plenty of time to pick her up when practice is finished.  By taking this approach, you will let her know that her sport is “her thing” and that she can enjoy it on her own without you having to be there at all times.  I am certainly not saying that you never stay and watch practice—just not all of them.  

As your child moves into middle and high school, you should feel it is appropriate to drop in every now and then, as long as your son or daughter gives you the permission to do so-yes, I think we need to ask their permission if we want to attend practice.    As he gets older, he will likely be embarrassed or at least uncomfortable if you are always in attendance.  The key is to communicate with your child as he matures and listen to his desires in this matter.

Your Family Vacations Revolve Around the Athlete’s Sport

Family vacations can be some of the most memorable times for children.  Unfortunately, more and more parents are choosing to combine their family vacations with their child’s sport.  Once again you are likely to be sending the wrong message about the appropriate perspective regarding sport in your family’s life if this is the case.  It is important to take some time as a family that is completely away from any organized sport.  Allow your family to have a break from the pressures and“the grind” of the sport.  When challenged, one father said his family does take family vacations that do not involve his high school son’s sport.  However when asked to elaborate on their vacations, it turns out that the family often drives a motor home and the father will stop every few hundred miles and have his son run wind sprints up and down the side of the road so that he can stay sharp and in shape.  It would be interesting to ask that athlete if he truly enjoys those “family vacations.”

In addition to promoting the wrong message about the sport and its significance compared to other aspects of family life, these vacations often cause unnecessary stress for the athlete.  You might be more likely to get frustrated with your child if she doesn’t play very well when the whole family has taken this vacation so she could participate in the sport.  Your child may begin to worry about letting you and other family members down and even feel guilty because everyone is spending their vacation time at the soccer field rather than on the beach because of her.

Your Circle of Friends is Limited to the Parents of Other Athletes

Take the time to examine your circle of friends and social acquaintances.  If most or all are somehow related to the sport your child competes in, you probably don’t have much of a life outside that sport.  If this is the case, make an effort to move outside this circle and spend time with adults who have other interests and can encourage you to expand yours.  You will certainly send the message that your son or daughter’s sport isn’t everything to you.

The Main Topic of Conversation at Mealtime is Your Child’s Sport

Does your child’s sport dominate the conversation at mealtime in your household?  Once again, if this is the case in your family, there is a good chance your child is receiving the wrong message about the importance of her sport compared to other aspects of life.  This doesn’t mean that you should never talk about the sport during a meal.  However, you should ask the athlete in your family if it is okay to discuss the sport.  She might not want to talk about it during this time.  If she says it is okay to discuss the sport during mealtime, it certainly shouldn’t be the only topic of conversation.  Encourage and allow all members of the family to discuss their interests as well.  This will provide a much more healthy balance for you and your child.

You Spend Time in Internet Chat Rooms that Discuss Your Child’s Team

The chat room phenomenon is clearly out of control in the college ranks, and is occurring more often at the high school and even youth levels in some parts of the country.  For convenience sake, parents of athletes on the same team often develop an email tree to keep everyone up to date with what is happening with the team.  Unfortunately, some parents take advantage of this very useful tool and use it as a chat room where they can have an open forum to discuss issues with their child’s team.  Some parents take it even further and establish chat rooms with the sole purpose of discussing their child’s team.  Often, parents question coaching decisions, individual athletes and other aspects of the team process. I have personally witnessed how these actions have had a very negative effect on teams.  At a minimum, this seems to be a very questionable practice on the part of parents.  Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in this potentially very destructive abuse of technology.   

The Two Most Important Strategies to Remember When Communicating with Athletes After Competition

1.  Avoid venting your anger after a loss.  A well respected Division I head coach says that venting your anger is selfish.  “The only person it helps is the coach.”  Remember that most of the time your athletes feel just as badly as you do after a tough loss.  It is probably not very productive if you vent on them at that time.

2. Give yourself and your athletes some time to cool down after a frustrating loss.  By talking about it when emotions are high, you might say things that are unproductive.  I know several coaches who have a 24-hour “cooling down” period before they address any negatives.  If you can’t wait that long, you might find a time that is away from the competition site to address what happened in a more constructive manner.

Remember, coaching is a people business.  The most successful coaches are the ones who effectively communicate with the athletes they are trying to lead.

Five Keys to Communicating with Athletes During Competition

1. Communications should be simple and to the point. Provide them with simple focus cues. For example, a track coach might tell a sprinter to “stay low” in the start of a race. Or, a baseball coach might remind a hitter to “focus on the pitcher’s release point.”   Often, this is all you need to say. 

2. Be aware of your body language. Remember that your athletes will not hear what you say if your body is saying something different. You can create a fear of failure in some athletes just by a facial expression or throwing up your hands in disgust.  

3. When in doubt about whether you should say something to an athlete, don’t say anything. In crucial situations, our ability to pay attention to many things at once becomes diminished. If you sense that an athlete is already overwhelmed, it might be best to leave him or her alone. When you do give instructions during a timeout, for instance, you should ask athletes to repeat what you said or ask them to tell you what they are supposed to do on the next play or in the next few moments. Many times they will look right at the coach talking in the huddle and not hear a word that is said. At least when they have to repeat it, you will know they heard what you wanted them to hear. It is also a good idea to ask the substitutes what you said or what the ones playing are supposed to do on the next play. This will help your substitutes pay attention and be in tune with what is happening.

4. Avoid using the word "don’t" when giving instructions. When you say things like, "Don’t fumble the ball," "Don’t turn the ball over," or "Don’t swing so hard," you are actually setting your athletes up to do exactly what you are hoping they will not do. By using these phrases, you cause them to focus on what they are not supposed to do. Try to always state instructions in a way that tells athletes what you do want them to do. For example, "Hold on to the ball," "Focus on a fluid and relaxed swing."

5. Many very successful coaches argue it is unproductive to yell and scream at an athlete after he or she has made a mistake.  They say that following a mistake, you should ask your athlete questions like “What did you see out there?” or “What do you think you could have done differently in that situation?” Many times a coach’s first reaction is to yell or scream things like “Why did you do that?” or “I can’t believe you just did that!” Statements like these only put your athletes on the defensive and serve little purpose in correcting the mistake. However, if you ask them what they saw, they will be less likely to tune you out and more likely to remember the proper response in the next situation. If their answer is wrong, you can point out that you saw it differently. Then let them know what you want them to do in the future.

Remembering these five keys will make you a better coach during competition.

Three Keys to Communicating with Athletes Before Competition

1. Everyone prepares differently for competition. It is a mistake to assume that all athletes prepare the same way or that they prepare the way you did when you were an athlete.  It is important to learn what your athletes like to do to prepare themselves and then create an environment where they can  prepare in that manner. The team can be broken into subunits and different coaches can be responsible for each subunit if you have large numbers on your team.

2. Use reminders to focus on the process of playing well. Avoid emphasizing the importance of winning by saying things like, “We gotta have this one” or “This one is for all of the marbles.” The process of playing well is much more under your athletes’ control and they will be much less stressed or anxious if they have specific aspects of the game to focus on rather than the outcome.

3. Do not provide them with an out. For example avoid saying things like "I know you are tired” or "We are banged up. Statements like these only provide your athletes with built-in excuses if things aren’t going well or they are tired.

Following these three keys will help you communicate more effectively before competition and give your athletes a better chance to succeed.

Two Key Aspects of Consistency for Coaches

To be credible you must be consistent. Any sign of inconsistency and you lose credibility instantly.
— Pat Summitt, Former Head Women's Basketball Coach The University of Tennessee

One of the ways a coach earns credibility with athletes is by being consistent. How would your athletes respond to the following questions regarding your consistency? 

Do you know what to expect from your coach on a daily basis?

Is your coach the same person whether you are winning or losing?

Does your coach handle discipline in a consistent manner?

Does your coach practice what she preaches?

I would like to address two of these areas and offer you some “food for thought” on being consistent with your athletes in these areas. 

Consistent Discipline

1.   One of the quickest ways to lose credibility with athletes is to state a consequence ahead of time and then not follow through on that consequence.  Some coaches like to lay out their consequences ahead of time for breaking rules.  Just remember, if you do that, you will likely back yourself into a corner where you have no choice but to carry out the stated discipline.  Life is series of extenuating circumstances and if you live in a black and white world, you aren’t acting as a leader and you will miss the opportunity to have an impact on the athletes you coach.  I encourage you to have as few rules as possible and then let them know there will be consequences if you break a rule based on the situation. 

2. Avoid holding grudges against athletes.  I often hear coaches say that a particular athlete is in his or her “doghouse.”  What happens is that the athlete is in the “doghouse” for several days or weeks and the coach looks for every way possible to catch the kid doing something wrong.  Athletes will respect you more if you promptly address a problem you might have with them and then move on to other things.

Consistent Communication

Another way of saying this is to practice what you preach.  Coaches who do not follow the same standards they set for their athletes are sending mixed messages.  Following are a few examples that have caused athletes to lose a measure of respect for their coaches.

Athletes are punished if they curse or use foul language, but the coach curses throughout practice and game situations.

Athletes are told to show emotional control, but the coach throws a temper tantrum during practice or at an official during a competition.

Athletes are promised a certain reward if they do something, but the coach never follows through on his promise.

Athletes are told they have to be confident and poised in competition, but the coach destroys their self-esteem by continually cutting them down with sarcasm in front of teammates during practice.                 

In conclusion, athletes want and respect coaches who are consistent.  They will be more likely to follow you anywhere you want to take them if you are consistent.