It Wasn't Me

Are you that sports parent?

Probably not, at last that’s what you tell yourself, and the research would likely agree. 

According to Harvard scholar Richard Weissbourd, author of The Parents We’re Meant to Be, most parents quickly identify others in the stands as the problem parents, but rarely admit to the same behaviors themselves. For some reason, the symptoms of being that sports parent are often shrouded when we look in the mirror.

Fortunately, Dr. Weissbourd offers a few signs that you might be that sports parent.

(1) You Find Yourself Sitting Alone

If you find yourself isolated in the stands, you might need more than a breath mint. Few fans want to hang around someone who is constantly critical of the officials, coaches, and players. Don’t get me wrong, misery loves company, and there are times when parents of similar disposition bond over their negativity and complaints. However, if you notice your spouse prefers to sit somewhere else rather than with you, it’s possible she might not want to be seen with that sports parent. 

(2) You Are Coaching From the Sidelines

I started my career coaching at a school that read this announcement prior to the starting lineups at every home game…

Let the players play. Let the coaches coach. Let the officials officiate. Let the spectators be positive.

Looking back, it felt more like a prayer, “Please God, may everyone stay in their lane tonight.” 

While the statement had little effect on our crowd’s behavior, it was a succinct way of defining clear roles for everyone in the gym. We appreciated that parent’s willingness to volunteer their expertise during the game. It was a nice reminder that the district actually invested hundreds of dollars to pay other people to do the coaching so that parent could enjoy watching the game. 

There are a multitude of reasons to discourage parents from coaching from the stands, but if you just can’t help yourself, you feel compelled to give Johnny one more reminder that he likely won’t hear or understand while he’s playing the game, well, you might just be that sports parent.

BONUS - You have an email to the coach in your saved drafts.

I’ve written many emails in my 45 years on this earth that never saw the light of day. There have been moments where the process of articulating my thoughts has been therapeutic. I’m not here to judge what you thought about saying.

However, if you have been crafting an email throughout the season with carefully annotated suggestions for how to improve the team, you might be that sports parent regardless of how good your high school team’s offense was back in ‘87. 

(3) Sports Always Come First

Does your family prioritize family events, vacations, or other special occasions over your children’s sports schedules at least some of the time? If not, the mirror might have something to say.

Look, I get it. If you miss the weekend tournament somebody else will take Johnny’s spot in the lineup, and who knows if he will get it back. The coach might play the kid he can trust (as evidenced by a commitment to put the team first). Johnny might miss out on the chance to have his special talent discovered by college coaches. 

The fear of missing out can be intense. 

However, a time will come when your parenting days will be over. Johnny won’t need a ride to practice anymore. Eventually he will retire his cleats and move on to something else, and you will be left to deal with a few regrets. What do you want those regrets to be?

If you imagine yourself looking back at a childhood gone by, and you feel guilty for taking too many vacations, or prioritizing family events instead of practices and tournaments, you might be that sports parent.

(4) Sports and the Dinner Table

Once upon a time, the dinner table was where children learned about the world. Together families processed the day’s successes and failures. Kids learned to pass the butter, to share when there wasn’t enough dessert left to go around, and that everyone had to take a turn doing the dishes. Yes, I am old.

For many families, this reality no longer exists. Over-scheduled kids stuff their backpacks with snacks to get them through multiple practices before grabbing something out of the fridge to keep them awake long enough to muddle through their homework when they get home. TVs and phones demand our attention even while eating. The dinner table experience that once held families together has long been forgotten.

That is not to say that these conversations never happen, more often than not, the setting has changed from the dining room to the car ride. However, if you find yourself running your child from one training session to the next, and the majority of your conversation revolves around just those experiences, you might be that sports parent.

(5) You FEEL Your Child’s Performance 

Plenty of parents enjoy celebrating their child’s performance on social media, in part because it legitimately feels awesome when they do something wonderful on the playing field. There’s a sense of pride when Johnny makes a big play. You’re happy for him because his hard work is paying off.

However, if you become a happier YOU when Johnny plays well, that might be a sign that you are that sports parent.

Randi Mazzella wrote a compelling article for the Washington Post titled, Overzealous parents are ruining youth sports. It’s past time to sit quiet and let the kids play. She identified a key indicator of those sports parents:

Many parents derive their own self-worth from their children’s achievements. “Kids have become a reflection of their parents’ identity,” says Catherine Sanderson, a professor at Amherst College who is teaching a course on sports psychology. “Their success, in academics or sports, is a tangible way for parents to measure their own success: If my kid is a ‘winner,’ then I must be a winner too.”

It’s one thing to empathize with Johnny’s failures, and to celebrate his successes. However, if your emotional state is dictated by Johnny’s performance on the field, or your sense of self-worth is dependent on Johnny’s achievements, you might be that sports parent.

It Wasn’t Me

Back in 2000, Shaggy recorded a song about denial. I adapted the lyrics to help you recognize if you might be that sports parent.

She caught me yelling at the players - It wasn't me.

Drawin’ plays on my program - It wasn't me.

Even wrote the coach a letter - It wasn't me.

Just wanted him to be better!  It wasn't me.

We never went on vacation  - It wasn't me.

Never talk over dinner - It wasn't me.

When he plays bad I start to simmer - It wasn't me.

Just want him to be a winner! It wasn’t me.

Food for thought.

- Nate Sanderson

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