Do you know a soccer mom or a football dad who constantly berates the umpires and the coaches? Or, parents who become so passionate about the outcome of youth sports that they lose track of what the sports experience is supposed to represent for their children?
Frank Smoll, Ph.D., a University of Washington sports psychologist, says “unknowing” parents can foul up the experience for young athletes.
“But just because they’re unaware, doesn’t mean that they have to be a problem,” he said.
Parents typically are the biggest headaches for coaches in youth sports.
In two new books, Smoll and Ron Smith, both UW psychology professors, share strategies to help parents and coaches work together to help kids get more out of sports.
In “Parenting Young Athletes” and “Sport Psychology for Youth Coaches,” the psychologists sum up what they’ve learned from nearly four decades of research and about 500 training workshops for 26,000 youth-sport coaches. They’ve been youth coaches themselves, too.
“When we work with coaches, they always ask about what they can do to get parents on the same page,” Smith said. “We find that good coaching skills are similar to good parenting skills in that, when done well, kids are happier, less anxious and have better self-esteem.”
In their books, Smoll and Smith describe a coaching method that emphasizes giving maximum effort and improving skills. They say it’s the only educational program for youth-sport coaches that’s been scientifically shown to decrease kids’ competitive anxiety and increase their self-esteem and enjoyment of sports.
In “Sport Psychology for Youth Coaches,” the psychologists focus on techniques for providing positive reinforcement as the best way to benefit both youngsters’ athletic as well as personal development.
“If an athlete makes a mistake, give encouragement and demonstrate how to make it right,” Smith said. “What doesn’t work is promoting the mentality of winning at all costs.”
He added that “winning takes care of itself when you create kids who feel good about themselves, gain more skills, are engaged in the activity because they’re having fun, and aren’t shackled by fear of failure.”
Smith and Smoll offer tips to coaches on how to deal with “problem” parents and athletes, and the authors also provide an overview of coaches’ legal responsibilities.
A companion publication, “Parenting Young Athletes” is directed at all parents, regardless of athletic experience, and offers advice on how to be productively involved in their child’s sport activities.
In this volume, “parents are advised that the coach is in charge, and they can’t undermine the coach’s leadership authority,” Smoll said. “But parents have a responsibility to oversee their children’s welfare, and we give suggestions on how they can do that.”
Parents should understand the time commitment and costs associated with having their child participate in sports.
Parents should even receive a primer on issues related to sports medicine, including how to take care of injuries, recommendations for staying hydrated and nutritional needs for athletes.
Smoll encourages parents to volunteer to coach their kids’ teams − even those who may be unsure about doing so.
“Sport programs are always looking for more head and assistant coaches. Parents don’t need to have been superstar athletes, they should just be motivated to provide growth-promoting experiences for the kids.”
In the end, sports aren’t just a way to keep kids busy and entertained, Smoll and Smith say, but rather they provide a training ground for other life skills, like bouncing back after setbacks and cooperating with peers.
Mental toughness, or ability to perform under pressure, is one of the most valued qualities in athletes.
In both books, Smoll and Smith provide tips on how to help kids learn to be mentally tough through a combination of stress management, coping with the fear of failure and developing “winning” attitudes.
Source: University of Washington