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Voyageur's Best Features of 2006

Parents first game

A parent’s first game...
 
by Bill Pocernich  |  June 6, 2006
 

May 30, 2006. There I stood, watching my five-year-old’s first competitive (somewhat) at-bat. As a coach and educator, I have read many articles about how parents and coaches are ruining sports for youth today. One fact continuously ran through my mind: “The #1 reason kids dislike sports is reliving the event at home after the game.”

The fact that Cromwell didn’t have enough fourth through sixth graders come out to field a little league baseball team made me think that maybe the national trend made it here into our community, too. What kind of fourth, fifth, or sixth grader, when presented with the idea of playing little league, would say “No”? Why are our youth choosing to stay away from activities that my generation couldn’t get enough of?

The number one concern I had for my five-year- old as he stood there with that bat, ready for his first pitch, was “Please have fun with sports.” I love sports, my wife loves sports, and one of our dreams is for our children to love sports, also, and to share that experience with them. All of this was running through my head as my son stared down his coach, waiting for the first pitch to be tossed to him.

What can parents do to make youth sports fun for our children? Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical sport psychologist, author, and lecturer, and I found some tips of his on an internet site that made sense to me, a novice sport parent. These ideas are summarized in the next four paragraphs:

In youth sports you can tell kids’ attitudes by watching their behaviors during practice or a game. If they see the game as a game, with an opportunity to learn skills, compete, increase confidence, and have fun, they’re able to go with the flow, have fun, and relax. Overall, they show a sense of humor and a sense of good sportsmanship. They’re able to learn from their mistakes. However, if they see the game as a pressure-filled event, with winning as the only acceptable outcome, most of their energies will be spent trying not to make mistakes. If they make mistakes (which is inevitable in youth sports), they’ll use lots of energy making excuses, blaming others, complaining about officials, etc.

How do kids develop their attitudes? As the saying goes, “The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.” As parents, we have to be aware that our behaviors often set the tone for our kids’ attitudes toward youth sports. As adults, we often tend to focus on the end product, rather than the process. When an adult arrives at game’s end and sees the kids coming off the field, what is the first word out of his/her mouth? It’s usually, “Who won?” or “Did you score any goals (get any hits, etc.)?” With our emphasis on the end product, we run the risk of teaching our kids to focus on outcome rather than process (skill improvement). Mistakes are no longer viewed as opportunities to learn. They are seen as occasions of failure. The first question we should ask is, “Did you have fun?”

Research has shown that elite athletes focus on tasks, not trophies. That is, they focus on the process of their skill development, measuring their progress in terms of frequency, duration, or intensity. They have an intense desire to win, but most of their energy is spent competing against themselves. Success in their eyes is measured by progress, not trophy size. As parents and coaches, that should be where our focus lies, as well.

As parents, if we were looking to develop a positive attitude in our kids, we would do well to watch our own behaviors at athletic events. Do we give positive encouragement, or critical judgmental remarks? Do we show a calm demeanor, or heated overreactions to mistakes? Do we praise participation, or game statistics? Next time you go to a game, remember, your attitude is showing, and your kids are watching.

Remember, sports are games. They are inherently fun. As parents, we must keep this fact in mind. We don’t have to make the game fun – the game already is that. We just have to make sure that we don’t make the game more than that for our children.

I watched as one of my son’s coaches, Darren Karppinen, lobbed the first pitch of his baseball career toward him. He made solid contact with the first pitch. My son stood at home plate, not sure what to do next and noticeably nervous. His coaches directed him to first base, and I could see the pride swell up in him. After the game, a teammate asked their father, “Who won?” The father answered, “Everyone scored from each team, so it was a tie.” On the way home my wife said to me, “You know, this is the rest of our lives now, driving to and from T-ball games in the summer, basketball games in the winter, football games in the fall.”

My response: “Only if we’re lucky.”

This article first appeared in the June 6 issue of the Voyageur Press.