Advice for Parents of Teen Athletes
The National Collegiate Athletic Association estimates the probability a high school football player will compete at the professional level to be .08 percent, for example.
But the popularity of high school sports continues to rise. Participation increased for the 25th consecutive year during 2013-2014, to nearly 7.8 million student athletes, according to a survey released last year from the National Federation of State High School Associations, which is comprised of state high school sports and activities groups.
In this high-stakes atmosphere, some parents go overboard with their enthusiasm.
"Unfortunately in competitive sports on the high school level parents can be a tad bit overbearing, to say the least," says Elijah Brooks, head football coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. Although, he says, the vast majority of parents falls in line.
If teen athletes feel their parents are living vicariously through them or that sports is the number one priority, dysfunction can arise, he says.
Parents should focus on how teens can build character through sports, says Jim Thompson, founder and CEO of Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit organization working to change the culture of youth sports.
"It’s not that you can't care about whether your kid gets a hit," or whether the team wins a game, he says. "But your job is not to help them win the game, it's to help your child take away the life lessons."
Talking to the coach about a teen's athletic performance or acting out emotionally in the stands is probably not a good idea.
Brooks’ school holds a twice-yearly meeting with parents to set ground rules about how parents should behave and communicate.
"If parents don't act right in the stands, they will be removed from the game and if it continues, their child could suffer consequences due to their parent’s actions," he says.
Parents who know they have a hard time exhibiting self-control should develop a routine for the tense moments that happen during a game, such as counting back from 100 or doing breathing exercises, says Thompson, who also wrote a book of advice for parents of high school athletes.
Teens should talk to coaches themselves about athletic concerns, which teaches them responsibly, says Brooks. The only time it would be appropriate for a parent to talk to a coach about poor athletic performance is if there was a persistent problem that wasn’t being addressed.
Teens can practice having these conversations by role-playing with parents, says Thompson.
The best parents are the ones who keep priorities in order, says Brooks.
"Parents that stress academics first always seem to have students who are a lot more comfortable," he says. "They are not as pressured and they tend to more successful."
Parental involvement can be a good thing too, says Sean Ryan, head baseball coach at Benedictine College Preparatory in Richmond, Virginia.
"It is great to have parents involved and caring about what their kids are doing," he says. "I think that's one of the benefits is that sports can bring kids and parents together, just like music or theater or anything else."
Brooks says parents should attend all games, banquets and other functions.
"That means more than anything else, is their parents' support," he says.
Athletes may not end up with a college scholarship. But all players, Brooks says, can learn to overcome adversity and understand the value of teamwork.
"It teaches tremendous life lessons," he says.
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