Saturday, March 3, 2012

It all Starts at Home

I believe that most parents first enrol their children in sports which they, the parent, are most familiar. Rarely do parents enrol a child in sports thinking the child will become the next Sidney Crosby, LeBron James, Tom Brady, David Beckham, et al (The Williams sisters from tennis being an obvious exception). This may come from a cherished childhood memory or perhaps the parent still participates. Some parents place their children in sports they never had an opportunity in which to participate: martial arts, volleyball, competitive cycling and skiing are a few sports that are more available over the past twenty years. And the best parents, those that truly have the best interests of their child in mind, will expose their children to both the known and the unknown, without pressure to compete, only a gentle nudge to try.

Almost all of the horror stories you hear or read in the media centre around crazy parents. This simply illustrates the double-edged sword that is parenting: we want the best for our children but sometimes go too far in that pursuit. Sadly, there is no test or exam to determine who will and who won't be a good parent, nor is their a magic handbook we fall back on in trying times. We learn most of our parenting skills from our own parents, remember a couple of points from extended family and pick up a few tricks from friends' parents. Mass media will also contribute to many parents' strategies in raising their children. The greatest hope here is that you, as a parent, have learned from the mistakes made by these influences and have developed strategies to overcome said mistakes - you need to put your own flavour on parenting.

The way you parent sets the stage for everything in your child's development, including their participation in sport. Parents who encourage their children to help out in the home and share responsibility tend to have children who work with their teammates for the good of the team; parents who do everything for their children and don't allow these children some accountability for their actions tend to have children who are more focused on individual accomplishments over the good of the team. Bold statement? Perhaps, but consider the following "typical house league" players:
  1. Player one is very skilled. She leads her team in points and also has the highest plus/minus (difference between goals scored for and against while playing) on the team. The coach always praises her for effort to back check and assist the defence.
  2. Player two is also very skilled. He leads his team in goals. He has a few assists and a negative plus/minus. This player is usually found "cherry-picking" and rarely, if ever, in the defensive zone.
The common difference between the two players, in my experience, is the parents. As a coach, I always talk to the players and their parents to learn about what type of person each player may be.

I've been blessed with fair number of Player Ones. They don't always excel at everything, but they always put their best effort into everything they do and are usually rewarded for their efforts. These are the type of players that coaches fight over as well want that unselfish, hard-working, team player. We'll take this player even if they don't yet have the skills, because the key word is yet. This player, due to their make-up, will work hard to learn and will absorb most of what the coaches teach.

Player Twos are every coach's curse. While their offensive abilities are a gift, they are driven only by the pursuit of the goal/basket/home run/touchdown/etc. If you break down their assists, almost every assist is counted from a rebound of a missed/saved shot or an errant shot that does in off a teammate. Defence is not part of this player's vocabulary, unless stripping the puck or ball from a defender who ventures too close is considered defence. Every year I have a few Player Twos on my team, which usually results in me having less hair - from either yanking on my head in frustration or plucking the grey hair!

Another key difference between the two players - the elephant in the room - is the compensation/reward provided to each player by their parents. Youth athletes are commonly rewarded with ice cream, soda, cookies and yes, even money. Player Ones are usually rewarded for their effort and applying themselves to the team; Player Twos are usually rewarded for scoring goals/baskets/runs/touchdowns/etc. I usually see other Player Ones when I've taken my own children for ice cream. The Player Twos - I have watched parents hand over cold, hard cash as child leaves the arena/diamond/field.

The last thing I am trying to say is that Player Ones are good kids and Player Twos are bad kids. This isn't about who the child as a person is - it's about how the actions of the parents affect each child. I have seen Player Ones turn into Player Twos because they don't perceive their teammates to be exerting enough effort and I have seen Player Two turn into Player Ones because they learn that the pursuit of individual accomplishments isn't always self-satisfying.

However, the key to any child enjoying the sport in which they participate always starts with the attitudes at home. If we, as parents, simply recognize our childrens' efforts when they apply themselves and encourage fair play and teamwork, our children will become better for it. They will be more willing to listen and learn from their coaches, they will be more respectful of the officials' rulings and, above all, will be happier at the end of the game, win or lose.

After all, It's Only House League Sports!

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