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How to be the real MVP (most valuable parent)

Youth sports continue to be of interest to blogs and media, often with mentions of “helicopter” parents, disrespectful players and belligerent coaches.

So what, you may wonder, can parents do to make the experience a positive one for their children? Jeremias Garcia, who oversees the Center Point Day Program at the Diakon Wilderness Center near Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, not only has extensive experience working with young people of all backgrounds, but also has coached various ages and levels of boys and girls basketball and girls soccer.

We asked him to share his experiences and advice:

What are the challenges and rewards of coaching?
Some of the challenges I deal with are ensuring everyone has a great experience, being flexible with avenues in which to communicate with parents—email vs. text—and staying organized. It can also be difficult when parents don’t agree with my methods or direction. And I’ve run across coaches with huge egos who don’t seem to understand the opportunities to build up or destroy a player. That can be tough.

However, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. It’s important to me to teach life-lessons that the players carry with them forever. I also enjoy seeing them grow and learn as individuals and as a team. I enjoy building relationships with the families and fostering a sense of community—and being able to help develop and increase self-respect and confidence in my players is very rewarding. A goal for any coach or parent involved in youth sports should be to build character, resiliency and confidence.

What do you think is important for parents to know when their child is playing a sport?

1. Your child will be dealing with disappointment, fear, success, anxiety and stress at some point. The more we can be positive and encouraging, the easier their transition from one emotion to the other will be.
2. Get involved! Volunteer to do things for the coach and team: Bring snacks, work in concessions, and so on.
3. Know the schedule for games and practices.
4. Have your player at practices and games on time. If you don’t, it adds a lot of unnecessary stress and extra anxiety for everyone.
5. Come to the games. Whether your child plays for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, they’ll remember your attendance.
6. Understand that your child might not be the best on the team and that’s okay! It’s not about you—it’s about the player and his or her experience.

What can parents do to be supportive to the coach?

1. Communicate frustrations or lack of understanding respectfully and at the right times. If your coach doesn’t know there is a problem, he or she cannot help you work toward finding a solution.
2. Explain strategies that work with your child in terms of motivation and learning styles. The more information a coach has about your child, the more success that can occur.
3. Communicate scheduling conflicts—and the earlier the better.

What are specific suggestions for parents to follow?

Do:
•    Be your child’s No. 1 fan.
•    Give encouragement, encouragement, encouragement!
•    Practice with your children. Suggest but don’t push. Give them opportunities to work on their skills, but be okay if they choose not to sometimes.

Don’t:
•    Allow your child to give excuses, but try to understand the situation.
•    Add pressure, they’ll put themselves under enough and most of them want to perform well for their parents.

Example: If a child says that he should be getting more playing time than another player, it’s easy to go down that road and complain with him, but it doesn’t create results or resolve the situation. It creates entitlement, division and lack of a work ethic. Teaching your child to communicate with the coach on ways he can get more playing time and asking the child what he can work on to get more playing time gives the opportunity for your child to learn how to communicate better and develop a plan.

A goal for any coach or parent involved in youth sports should be to build character, resiliency and confidence.

I know a student who was cut from the high school volleyball team in tenth grade, but she had made the team in ninth grade. At the time, the player was upset and devastated, but after experiencing this failure, she realized she only wanted to be a part of the team and not do what it took to be a strong volleyball player.
Although it never feels good to get cut from a team, this player learned and understood the value of working hard and doing what it takes to be a player rather than just be on the team. This young woman began consistently to practice her basketball skills because of having more time to work on her game. As a result, she played her best basketball season. She actually looked back at the moment she was cut from volleyball and realized it was one of the best things that could happen to her. Important to note is that during the time she was cut from the team, her parents were very supportive but not enabling.

It’s part of life for children to experience failure. In some respects, it’s actually very healthy. Children who experience setbacks but who also are supported by parents who cheer them on in life often are those who are successful in their later years.

Playing sports is never just about becoming “better” at the sport, but rather about the lessons we learn along the way.

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