When I was a child, my father used to jokingly tell my siblings and I that he was convinced we had another brother whom he had never seen, but was quite the trouble maker. This brother, named “Not Me,” seemed to be responsible for every broken, dirty, and disheveled thing around the house. Who broke the railing on the porch: “Not me,” I would say. Who left the dishes in the sink: “Not me,” said my brother. Who finished the ice cream: “Not me,” the three of us would cry in unison. Try as my father did, he was never able to discover the identity of the mysterious troublemaker, “Not Me,” who tormented him throughout our youth.
Youth sports has its own “Not me,” an entity that is seemingly to blame for every ailment that afflicts our children’s sporting lives: the parents! Ask any coach or athletic administrator these days what the biggest challenge he or she faces when it comes to developing young athletes, and almost unequivocally, you will be told “the parents.” Parents who don’t see the big picture, parents who think Johnny is better then Tommy, parents who think their son should be the star forward, or is in line for a full scholarship, parents who coach from the sidelines; you name it, parents are blamed for every ill in youth sports today.
Youth athletics is now a negative, damaging environment that is causing 70% of children to quit organized sports by the age of 13, and many coaches and administrators believe that if we just got rid of the parents, all our problems would go away. Unfortunately, they could not be more wrong. While parents may be at the root of many of our problems, they also lie at the heart of our solution! Its time to stop blaming parents, and start enlisting their help to shift the paradigm, and give youth sports back to our kids!
There is no greater influence in the life of a young athlete than his or her parents. Coaches only spend a fraction of the time with their players that the parents do. Why not put this parent-child time to use? Why not educate our parents about ways to help their athletes, instead of demanding that they stay out of it? Why not make them our advocates, instead of our adversaries?
Throughout two decades of coaching, I have seen every type of Parental Code of Conduct known to man handed to parents to sign, and they all have one thing in common: none of them work UNLESS those who sign them are held accountable. In my experience, this is rarely done, and thus the rules go right out the window. I believe it is time to stop handing parents rules, and start giving them ways to help their kids, and standards to aspire to that will benefit their child’s development, as an athlete and as a person.
Parents, you are the solution to what ails us! You will be the solution when you decide what you value most, and ensure that your child’s sports experience is delivering those values. You will be the solution when you demand that sport serves our children first, and our parents and coaches second.
Right now the vocal minority of parents is demanding early single sport specialization, a pre-pubescent focus on winning, and unfettered sideline access to their child so they may coach them from the first whistle to the last. Pushing our kids to our goals instead of theirs, emphasizing winning over development, early sport specialization, and sideline coaching have all been shown by both scientific and psychological research to be damaging to a child’s performance, but because parents demand it, they are able to find coaches and clubs willing to provide that service.
Now if you are reading this, and you are a parent who is thinking “that is not me, that is not what I do!” then congratulations, but what are you doing about it? Are you enlisting other parents who feel the same way you do, in order to change the environment on your team and in your club? Or do you feel powerless to stem the tide of this environment that will likely cause your child to quit sports, and thus saying nothing at all?
You are NOT powerless. You are the silent majority. There are far more parents who are thinking what you are thinking than you can imagine. At every talk I have ever done, parents tell me that their gut says the path they are on is wrong, but the need to “keep up with the Joneses” and the fear that they are short changing their child if they do not keep up is so strong that they just do what everyone else is doing. This damaging group think, based NOT on the best science but on excellent marketing from businesses that capitalize upon it, has created a generation of disillusioned athletes. It causes children to quit sports. It destroys parent’s relationships with their kids. And it is far less likely to help your child perform his best then exposing him to a wide variety of opportunities, and helping him find his own passion.
There are millions of parents out there who are capable of taking back youth sports from the few who believe that emphasizing winning over love of the game, and trophies over developing better people, is the path to success. All the science backs that feeling in your gut that the current path is not the right one. We just need to do a better job getting the word out.
If everyone’s kids were smoking cigarettes, would you accept that your kid was going to be a smoker, in spite of all the evidence that shows how damaging it is? Would you buy her cigarettes for her? Of course not. You would tell her that just because everyone is doing it does not make it right. You would fight for her health, even when everyone else had given up the fight not because it’s easy, and regardless of the support of other parents, because YOU know that it is not healthy for YOUR Child.
Well, I hate to say it, but right now your young athlete is surrounded by metaphorical smokers, and it is up to YOU to take a stand for what you value. YOU need to sound out the parents who feel the same as you do, but are too caught up in the cloud of smoke to see the light. At first you will be an outlier, and perhaps called a trouble maker. But take heart in the words of Gandhi:
“At first they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”
It is time for youth sports to serve our kids again. It is time for sports to promote positive values for them. It is time for those of us who have read the science and know that the status quo is wrong to make our voices heard. It is time to stop saying “Not me” and start saying “Why not me?” Change your child, change your team, change your community, and together we will change the world of youth sports.
If you think more parents need to hear this message, then please share it with them.[testimonial3 author=”John O’Sullivan is the author of Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids. He is a former collegiate and professional soccer player, and has spent the past two decades as a coach at the youth, high school, and college level. O’Sullivan speaks nationwide to coaches, parents, and young athletes about developing athletic excellence and leadership within positive sporting environments. He resides in Bend, Oregon with his family.” + pic=”http://changingthegameproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2008-John-Osullivan.jpg”][/testimonial3]