Archive for the ‘Parents’ Category

This post is dedicated to all dads of sporting girls who wonder whether their involvement matters. Girls crave connection with their dads, and although my dad didn’t have the capacity to relate in healthy ways, it didn’t change the profound impact his attention had on me.

Our yard was big. And private.

The tall, wood fence was lined with trees. We weren’t trying to keep others out as much as it seemed we wanted to keep something secret in.

I remember the knotted ground: the stubborn roots of our little aspen grove that demanded attention from our lawn mower and surprised us when we ran barefoot in the grass. There was the brick chimney stack that served as a rebound wall for tennis ball games. It was in the shadow of that chimney I learned to play football.

I wanted to be on his team, because only team members got to share his secret. His back would face our opponents, my siblings, and for those few minutes I was important and special. He laid out our secret plan on an outstretched palm that fascinated me. I watched him trace an imaginary pattern and he explained how to translate his palm-plan to my yard-running. His favorite play, and mine, was the button-hook. I was to head straight at the opponents and turn just before I got to them.

“The ball will be there, before you turn around,” he’d remind me. I loved that play: the predictable surprise. Too much else in my world with him was unpredictable surprise and maddening disappointment.

Not the button-hook.

He delivered those passes with pinpoint accuracy, like a previous high school quarterback should have. I wanted nothing more than to catch the ball. Every. Time. It seemed like life or death for me. I knew the urgency of facilitating this fragile connection. I had the responsibility of finishing the play and I wanted to do that more than anything.

It was a treat when he agreed to play football with us and it was one of the few times I saw glimpses of something that most obviously looked like joy. I could release that in him. I could catch, he would smile. His playmaking hand would be gentle with a pat on my back and the connection would be complete.

Then there were the times I dropped the ball.

“Oh,” he’d jest, “I hit you in the wrong place. Next time I’ll try not to hit you in your hands.”

He wasn’t mean, but I was crushed nonetheless. All I wanted was for him to be proud of me and for him to validate my value.

Thank God I just got better at catching, throwing, and shooting. I was blessed with athleticism and, looking back at all the ways that formed who I am, I think it was my saving grace. I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn’t gotten good at sports. If I couldn’t strive for that connection, the one talking point that felt comfortable with my dad. We wouldn’t have had anything else to say to one another and I can hardly imagine what I would have done to get his attention then.

I needed my dad’s football-throwing hands: to hold, to hug, to clap. I certainly could have used more of him, but I am grateful for what he could give.

My dad’s hands created shadow football plays, spanked me once, shook with withdrawal while drawing basketball plays on a coach white board, flipped off soccer referees, waved away parents trying to escort him out of a gym or off a field, and slapped his knee in frustration for the times I didn’t catch the ball that was thrown…right to my hands.

Copyright 2019 Meagan Frank

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I’ve been working on this sports book project for over seven years. I have tried to identify the personal places I need to grow and some of what I’ve worked through has been tough to process. I have avoided thinking or writing about this one…until now.

I am proud of my sports story. I played four years as a Division I soccer player and a year as a Division III basketball player. I achieved recognition in both sports. It is only recently I have been forced to contend with the fact that how I accomplished what I did wasn’t really all that good. There was a lot of pain for that gain, and more than there should have been.

Generally, I pay attention to those things that strike a nerve with me. A pain-filled nerve was struck for me three times in the past ten days and I need to attend to the thoughts that have emerged.

Last week, a friend of mine shared that her daughter had suffered intensely over the winter months of her sport season. The coach was emotionally abusive, but no one wanted to deal with it because the team was winning. It is a difficult position for kids and families to be in. Their choice is to endure the abuse for the sake of the team or stand up for your personal right to health and safety. I always chose the team. Most athletes do. Athletes are encouraged to put team above self and very rarely does anyone consider how potentially damaging that decision can be. Those who stay engaged beyond discomfort, working through humiliation or physical punishment, are lauded and celebrated. Toleration of coach emotional abuse is a complicated issue, but it is high time we begin conversations to change destructive coaching tendencies.

The second thought-provoking instance happened on Facebook. I commented on a shared article post about how NFL coach Mike McCarthy yelled at refs after his kid’s basketball game. I commented that he likely has emotional issues he needs to attend (as does every yelling parent everywhere) and a commenter argued that she was glad she played in a time when coaches were allowed to yell at kids because it made her resilient and tough.

Yelling coaches also made me tough and resilient, for sure. It was my only defense. This instance, however, McCarthy was in the role of a dad. The commenter forgets that a dad’s behavior, even when that dad happens to be a coach, opens an entirely different box of emotional fireworks for his kids.

My drunk and yelling dad certainly contributed to my determination. He was the fuel for my angry energy. His abuse, although explicable, should never have been excused, yet I chalked it up as something that just happens for some fans at sporting events. Too many people say the same thing.

I suffered emotional abuse at the hands of my alcoholic father, a number of times in connection to basketball memories specifically, but I forgive him. I forgive him for yelling at referees during games because he was battling his own demons. I forgive him for drinking four beers in fifteen minutes before driving me and a teammate home from a game he coached because I know he wanted the withdrawal-shaking to stop. I forgive him for showing up drunk at the hospital because I too found it a little overwhelming that I broke both my arm and my leg in one fall. I forgive him for standing me up when he told me he would take me to dinner after a college game and I forgive him for missing my senior season in college because he was in jail.

I forgive him, but I continue to be affected by how those memories shaped me.

I thought I had completely moved past my emotional abuses, and in relation to my dad I’m doing pretty well. I also had pretty decent coaches growing up and aside from one horrific conditioning night, as punishment for an irretrievable season, I wouldn’t say I was abused by coaches.

Coming to terms with the part I played in tolerating and perpetuating my own abuse, however, has been harder to work through.

The third nerve-strike happened when my husband and I were watching an ESPN 30 for 30 show last week about professional wrestler Ric Flair (AKA Nature Boy). I was riveted. He wrestled for forty years. Each day he would abuse his body on the mat and then he would drink five cocktails and ten beers at night. Every. Single. Night. His son was on the same trajectory of becoming a professional wrestler and a raging alcoholic, when he overdosed on drugs and died. Flair’s daughter is now wrestling on the professional circuit, in honor of her brother. I couldn’t turn off the program and I couldn’t get the story off my mind.

I recognized the tendencies, the addiction, and the dysfunctional drive. The question that then arrived was “Can an Athlete Self-Abuse?”

It seems like I should have known the answer to that already. Obviously they can. There are eating disorders, addiction to exercise, and toleration of abuses that should never be tolerated. I’ve recognized self-abuse in others, yet I hadn’t ever turned the mirror to acknowledge that I too abused myself in the name of sport.

You would think it would be easy to write that, “I was abused in sport”, but it’s not easy to admit. The thing is, my abuse was subtle, never criminal, and, disturbingly, mostly at my own hands.

I achieved recognition for playing and I prided myself on the highest level of sacrifice in that pursuit. The thing is, I had no clue what I was pursuing. No one asked me my long term goals and I know for a fact I couldn’t have offered one had they inquired.

Without a doubt, I battled with RED-S Syndrome starting in high school and all four years of college. It is an energy deficiency complication that affects all systems of the body, including the psychological aspects of performance. It was not diagnosed while I was an athlete, but all the evidence is there. I didn’t start my period until after I turned 16, I broke two bones in one fall, I was diagnosed with anemia in college, and I spent more time in the training room than I did on the field.

In spite of injury after injury in college and lackluster performance after puberty, I kept at it. I was tough, resilient, and gritty. I wanted to prove to the world and to myself that I was above my circumstances. I was stronger than anything that might have made me feel shameful and I could prove it. It seemed like a constructive mindset at the time, but in conjunction with everything else I hadn’t taken the time to analyze, this was not my healthiest time.

I tolerated practically anything. I put up with: sexist weight room attendants and coaches, whispers of icky sexual advances by gymnastics coaches, rumors of players sleeping with coaches, having to talk a coach out of his “funk” because he was distraught our 16-year-old captain wasn’t paying enough attention to him, driving a van full of college teammates, as a freshman, back from Nebraska at 90-miles an hour because the hungover assistant coach couldn’t drive, driving 45 minutes one way to coach for my childhood club even though I passed five other clubs along the way, accepting the emergency hire position to replace an emotionally abusive coach, agreeing to clean up his mess even though I had three children under the age of five and I had no aspirations of being a college coach. There is a lot more, but you get the idea.

I was the punchbag clown that kept popping back up after being beaten down in order to prove I could take anything that came my way. I must have thought I deserved to be injured or hurting practically all the time.

My work with this book project, including my relationship with sport and finding healthful ways for our family to navigate sports, I am convinced there are healthier ways to engage.

There is a difference between grit and self-abuse.

Self-abuse is behavior that causes damage or harm to oneself.

The definition of grit that resonates most with me comes from Cindra Kamphoff’s book Beyond Grit: Ten Powerful Practices to Gain the High-Performance Edge. She writes, “The leaders I see kill it know their goals, know why they are pursuing their goals, and keep going despite setbacks and adversity. Without understanding why you want to achieve your goals, it is almost impossible to stay devoted in your pursuit.”

As a high school and college athlete, I didn’t have goals or a clear idea of why I was pursuing them. I just knew sports kept me busy, afforded me recognition and success, and was the proof I could offer the world that I was worth something.

Healthy athletes have goals and clear boundaries. They know what exercises strengthen them and what exercises hurt them. They realize they need to push muscles through micro-tears to make them stronger, but they don’t push hard enough to inflict harm or injury.

If you haven’t had conversations with your children or your athletes about goals and boundaries, it is time.

Ask these questions:

What are your athletic goals? What are the ways you are pushed too far past your emotional boundaries?

Keep in mind, stretch and challenge is what grows you, but pushing too far can damage you. It is a fine line.

Emotional abuse is “making an individual fear that they will not receive the food or care they need.” In the context of sports emotional abuse plays on fear of not achieving a place on the team, playing time, or opportunities at the next level. That fear can be imposed upon an athlete or it can be internally driven.

Where is the line between challenging a kid and crushing him?

Where is the line between pushing a kid and paralyzing her?

Where is the line between internal grit and self-abuse?

The answers to those questions are unique and different for everyone. Part of why coaches avoid the “emotions” conversation with teams is because it’s exhausting to imagine addressing the emotional needs of each and every athlete. There is not a playbook that can be shared or X’s and O’s that make sense in the emotional world. Each athlete’s emotional needs and journey are theirs alone and it is difficult to appropriately navigate that journey but oh-so-necessary.

Sports Abuse is real. There is physical, sexual, mental, and emotional abuses happening consistently by coaches, parents and by the athletes themselves. Since we have our kids in sports for their health and well-being, and as exhausting as this work is going to be, it’s time to pursue the complete health and well-being for people who show up to take part in sports, and work to end the abuses we’ve let run rampant for way too long.

Copyright 2019 Meagan Frank

No, seriously, check your feelings before you walk out the door. Decide which emotions are useful, to you and to your sporting child, and leave the rest at home. Intentional presence will positively enhance every part of your day, and has potential to be a game changer for you as a sports parent.

I’ll expand on that in a second, but first I want to tell you about a celebration we had in our house last week.

Middle Sprout had a horrible hockey game. I’m not kidding, it was like the worst game she has maybe ever played. On the heels of a really emotional week for her team, after two days of finals (including her hardest test the day of the game), she struggled to focus like she usually can in net.

As a goalie, she is vulnerable to the extremes of emotion. When she plays out of her mind, stopping every shot she sees, she is on cloud nine. The days she is mucked up with distraction, or over-exhaustion, she usually doesn’t perform well and it feels pretty horrible.

The unwritten rule of being a goalie’s mom is that I am supposed to feel how she feels.

This is a flawed rule, and I have worked hard to break it as often as I can. It is not easy, but it is so worth it.

There are a lot of goalie moms (and dads) who feel what their kids do. It’s my suspicion many parents discourage their kids from playing goalie because they do not want to have to navigate the emotional minefield (oh yeah, and pay for all that gear). Goalie parents don’t hold the corner on emotional attachment to athletes, however.

My disclaimer is that I am not the typical sports parent.

I work hard to be in my own emotional space when it comes to our kids’ sports experiences, and I choose for that space to be a positive one. It helps me to be a better mom for them. I contend that the entire youth sports environment would be vastly improved if people were willing to engage in personal emotional work.

It Matters that Parents Rise Above Emotion, Not Become It

When our goalie daughter has a rough day, if I am in the muck with her, how do I support her? If, at the end of a tough day, I need a hug more than she does, how does that help her?

The same applies when I coach. I work on maintaining control of my emotions. If I am overwhelmed by emotion I cannot make the best tactical or instructional decisions. Objectivity is the regular victim of undisciplined emotion.

I have practiced understanding and controlling my emotions for a really long time: as an athlete, as a coach, as the spouse of a coach (yes, even as a spouse: it’s tough to hear unfair things said about a person you love) and as a parent of athletes. All sports endeavors are filled with emotion, so I have had LOTS of practice. (forty-something years worth)

I have also been intentional about my study of emotions and how to navigate them. While researching for the book I am writing Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, Feeling My Way, I have uncovered nugget after nugget about the power of emotional health, and it has changed my relationship with sport, enhanced my relationships in my family, and it has improved my ability to coach.

I was happy after last week’s awful game. Not because our daughter struggled. Not because the team lost 10-1. Not because there was plenty of hurt and upset for the girls and their parents. I was really happy because I have actually found a way to separate myself from the emotions that used to govern me. My strategy last week included concentrating on the parts of my presence at that game that brought me happiness:

  • Our entire family was together in the same room.
  • Teachers from the high school were there supporting the team.
  • I felt good about organizing the celebration for the seniors and their parents.
  • I had my camera in tow and I love taking pictures.
  • And, we had a short trip home that night.

The things that made me happy were not huge things, but concentrating my thoughts on those positive aspects of the evening, influenced my mood significantly.

After the game, as I prepared for the hug I knew I would need to deliver to a sad and disappointed daughter, I smiled and laughed at a funny story. I was still smiling when another hockey parent stopped me. He asked me how I could be so happy all the time. (I know he was referencing the hockey mom rule I like to break) I take his comment as probably one of the most extreme compliments I have ever been paid. I am increasingly happy because I have put a lot of energy into self-reflection and legitimate work into understanding and processing MY emotions around our kids’ sports.

It’s true. I have been working through and writing about emotion since I started my first Choosing to Grow project. A few highlights of the ways I have written about and exposed my wounds as they pertain to emotion in sport are:

I would say that the majority of people would rather avoid the “feelings” talk, and especially in sporting arenas. It is deeper and more painful than most people want to engage. My hope is to move the needle past that status quo. People will benefit from introspection, relationships with the children in our lives will improve, and if we are going to have any chance at positively impacting the youth sports landscape, we have to start paying serious attention to the emotions we carry.

Answer these questions honestly: How emotionally tied are you to the outcome of a game or to the performance of your child? When your kid makes a glaring mistake, how do you feel? Really think about it…which emotion do you feel most? Anger? Sadness? Frustration? Shame? What about when your child succeeds? Joy? Excitement? Happiness? Pride? How would you describe your level of emotion when you watch your children compete?

STEP ONE: Acknowledge the feelings you feel.  Feelings are never wrong and they are always trying to tell us something

STEP TWO: Identify the trigger for your emotions.

The second step is figuring out why you might be feeling the way you do. What is triggering your emotion? And don’t take the easy way out and say, “Well, obviously I’m pissed because my kid sucks.” I contend there is more to it than that. Why do you care so much if your kid makes a mistake? You’re not the one who failed. What else might be making you angry?

One of the women I interviewed for my book told me that watching her kid play is like watching her heart out there running around. Well, that sounds pretty vulnerable. Could being angry be a defense mechanism? Could something else in your life be an underlying reason for anger?

I will warn you, introspection will change the way you watch games. It is admittedly a bit of a buzz kill for those parent-fans who enjoy the emotional roller coaster. I chose to work through these things because I wanted to improve my relationships with our kids and I wanted to learn how to best parent them through youth sports. That may not be a priority of yours, but know that choosing the fan experience over the parenting one could make the navigation through youth sports more negative and difficult. Plus, it really doesn’t help your kid in the long run.

If you are able to identify the trigger for your emotions, STEP THREE: is to Do Something Positive.

Okay, so let’s say your kid swings and misses, spins and falls. You get pissed and are able to admit to yourself that you feel embarrassed. Maybe you figure it has to do with a similar experience you remember as a kid and you were made fun of. Whatever the case, knowing the emotion and the why doesn’t exactly make the feeling disappear. So, what then?

Now comes the harder work. Find something positive to do. Decide to set the feeling aside, on purpose, and do something positive. Seek out ways to help someone else. Go for a walk. Knit a scarf. Pick up your phone and try to take a picture that you know you’ll want to use for your kid’s graduation table. Or better yet, start lugging around a camera and literally change your focus at the games.

If your emotional experience at your kid’s games is impeding the experience for your kid, check your feelings and put in the good work to be intentionally and positively present. Please and thank you. (from a fellow sports parent and coach who happens to be…choosing to grow)

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2019                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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Fight? Flight? Neither. There is a better way.

I’ll get to the strategies for disarming disgruntled parents in a minute, but I want to first lay a backdrop for where pitchfork parents are born.

Do you know what age groups seem to have the craziest sports parents? Well, in my findings, there are two hot spots for emotional craze: when kids are about ten or eleven and then again when they are in high school. There are certainly other times in a child’s athletic journey that can be difficult, (8th grade for instance…probably because it is a transition year) but by and large, those two age groups seem to be the most emotional times for parents.

Why is that? I think it is because there are windows of development, advancement, and opportunity that are opening and closing, and parents know it. Whether they acknowledge it out loud or not, they know that those two chapters in an athlete’s story are pretty important. One is the first chapter and the other is usually the last.

When kids are about ten, they are at the age where they can actually start to look like competent athletes. They are generally really excited and passionate about what they are learning to do and the growth on the learning curve is significant. Parents start to see potential. Many parents do not have a good grasp on the big picture, or patience for the entire story to play out, but they do become involved heavily at these ages. Parents are generally as passionate and excited as their kids when they reach about fifth and sixth grade. Anything that seems as though it might be an obstacle to the trajectory of where kids are headed at that point, can rile up parents incredibly fast.

The high school sports parent craze is multi-faceted. The development of a kid between freshman and senior year is incredible. If you have ever taught or coached in a high school, or raised teenagers, you know the maturity, the confidence, and the growth of independence happens with leaps and bounds throughout the high school years. This can be incredibly emotional and difficult for parents.

If families struggle to have solid communication, if they are challenged to respect a child’s autonomy, or if they are unable to healthfully encourage the independence kids are pursuing, dysfunctional emotion can spill over in buckets around sporting endeavors. That and high school sports are riddled with drama, injury, higher level of competition and rows and rows of parents who are still as passionate and excited for their kids’ athletic pursuits as they were when the kids were little. Maybe more than anything, everyone loves a happy ending and not all sports stories end well.

It matters that coaches pay attention to the emotional phases of the athletes and families they coach. When faced with emotional conversations, it is best if coaches communicate well, because the fight and flight responses are ineffective.

The Fight Technique of Coaches

I, with a few other concerned moms, requested a parent-coach meeting when our oldest son was ten. He was on a Squirt A team for hockey in Minnesota and I had observed some rather disturbing coaching decisions. One incident included an assistant coach being ejected from a game which then led to screaming and ranting his entire trek to the locker room as well as when he was leaving the building. The other incident involved a physical punishment for the chronic tardiness of a player. As each player (who was on time to practice) took to the ice, the assistant coach instructed them to skate sprints until every skater was out of the locker room. The punishment stopped as soon as the late offender arrived.

Now, it should be noted that I was a parent of a kid in an “emotionally-charged stage” where emotions (including my own) were running higher. The coaches we approached for a meeting were parents of kids in that same age group. I was unprepared for the high level of emotion that landed in the room.

,The coach came in with gloves raised. It was made clear very quickly that the coaches were the authority in the room and they were confident in the decisions they were making. The head coach could hardly wrap his head around being accosted in such a way, disregarding most of what I, or anyone else had to say.

I do remember at one point there was an exchange that went something like this: Coach: “What makes you think you can effect any change with a meeting like this?” Me: “Because the boys are still little enough that the coordination of adults can have an effect.” I believed we could have had a group approach that would have been positive for those boys, but the coach fought parental involvement to the bitter end. He lost the respect of many parents that night.

The fight technique continued through the season, including monologue emails, contentious one-on-one conversations and eventually the coach’s was the only voice being heard by the kids. (except for the confused and frustrated conversations happening in everyone’s homes) It was a growing experience in our house, but it truly did not have to be as negative as it was.

Coaches who intimidate or run roughshod over parents can sometimes maintain that posture, but eventually it denigrates the culture of the team or program and causes more harm to kids than good.

The Flight Technique of Coaches

I attended another hockey-parent-called meeting last night, this time for our sixteen-year-old daughter who is a goalie on the high school team. I was more prepared for what I believed would be another emotionally-charged evening.

Initially, the meeting was announced (not by me, I might add) via email. My husband queried whether the coaches were invited. The parents said that they had tried to talk with the coach, but he did not want to talk to them and had directed them to the Athletic Director. The question was then posed about the Athletic Director’s attendance and when an open invitation was sent to the AD, he replied, cc’ing the coaches that he could not attend. Everyone was aware of the meeting.

Neither the AD nor the coaches attended. Several parents noted disappointment in that fact.

I was relieved when, right at the start, a few voices of more seasoned parents calmed the room so that emotions could be somewhat settled and reasonable discussion was possible.

One of the main complaints in the room had to do with communication from the coaches, both with the players and certainly when any of the parents approached for a conversation. I cannot say I completely blame the coach for being hesitant to engage in conversation with some of the parents because he has had heated, in-your-face screaming encounters with a couple of them. He is younger than probably everyone who gathered in the meeting and, at least from my perspective, he is not comfortable with conversations that might be emotionally charged.

However, when it comes to dealing with sports parents, the avoidance technique is as ineffective as the fighting technique. Flight may work for self-preservation, but it is a disastrous coaching technique. One of my friends put it best when she commented on a recent Instablog post: “I often think communication, or lack of…in fact, cutting the parents out of the equation exacerbates these issues.”

Positive Communication Disarms Pitchfork Parents

Ok, so here is the scoop, in brief, for how I address parent communication with my high school boys soccer team and my approach has been generally well received.

Open, honest and consistent communication is key.

  • The pre-season meeting is important. It lays out expectations and philosophy. I make sure I stay consistent with the information I present there.
  • Parents are invited to get involved with a number of in-season activities and then they are assigned tasks as requested. I thank them profusely.
  • I try to be transparent about efforts the staff and team are making throughout the season: explaining some of what we work on throughout a week, what we are facing in our opponents, and plans to address challenges.
  • Most of my communication is delivered in Sunday night emails. They take me about an hour to compose and will lay out the schedule for the week as well as any issues that might be bubbling.
  • I engage in conversation with athletes regularly. When there is a change in lineup, a plan for subbing or an expectation with opponents, I make an effort to talk one-one with the players most affected by those decisions. I explain my reasoning, field questions and seek input.
  • I actively listen to the feedback from players and especially from the captains. Where it is appropriate, I will allow the players to influence decisions that affect them as a team. (i.e. violation of team rules, etc.)
  • I have an open door policy. I do not shy away from conversations that have potential to be difficult. As long as we are not in the 24-hour window post-game, I invite parents to bring concerns to me. Except for rare circumstances, I request the presence of the player at any parent-requested meeting. Many times they want to vent frustrations and I work hard to engage well when they are emotional.

Now, even though I am trained in communication and have studied it extensively for the books I write, even my approach is not a perfect system. I am getting better with experience and practice. I don’t know whether what I do will work as well for other coaches, but what I do know, without a doubt, is disarming emotional sports parents starts with a coach’s willingness to become an effective communicator.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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Before taking the ice, the locker room was filled with tension. There were silent tears, migraines, upset stomachs, throwing up, pale faces, wringing hands, and chest palpitations.

You would think this was the scene I observed prior to the Olympic gold-medal game, right?

No. This was the state of the locker room just before a U10 girls’ hockey tryout. U10, meaning the girls were UNDER the age of ten. Eight and nine-year-old children (and some of their parents) were as stressed out as any military recruit arriving for the first day of boot camp.

It’s hard to believe this is something caring adults create for children… on purpose. It is disheartening to acknowledge that adults have devised this system. The only hope is that enough adults will get together to stop scenes like this from happening every tryout season in every sport where elementary-aged teams are decided.

No matter the sport, conducting tryouts and creating A, B and C-leveled teams for elementary-aged children is a practice that needs to be changed.

If we, as the collective adults who run youth sports, decide that sports for kids are educational (a forth-coming blogpost), then Developmental Psychology defends the idea to cut tryouts for kids under the age of 12.

I’ll refer to the philosophy of psychologist Erik Erikson. In an article describing his philosophies, Kendra Cherry describes his theory of psychosocial development, and the fourth stage refers to children from ages six through eleven.

Cherry writes, “they strive to master new skills. Children who are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers develop a feeling of competence and belief in their skills. Those who receive little or no encouragement from parents, teachers, or peers will doubt their ability to be successful.

According to Erikson, this stage is vital in the development of self-confidence. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.”

Telling children they are “less than”  or “more than” their peers because of an A, B, or C-leveled designation can be incredibly damaging to kids.

Reinforced in the book Your Family Compass: A Parenting Guide for the Journey, author Jenny Hanlon, M. Ed., says, “It’s imperative for teachers, parents, and coaches to eliminate comparisons of children based on their abilities. There is no need to point these things out, as many children are already aware of their abilities in comparison to others. Having an adult point them out creates feelings of inferiority.”

Through tryouts, adults evaluate and decide the placement of children based on ability. The adults may understand that the kids could grow out of this placement, but the kids often do not fully understand that. Too often they start aligning themselves in other social settings based on the designation. “I’m a C kid.” or “I’m awesome, I’m an A kid. You suck…you just made the C team.”

Children who believe they are inferior during this critical stage of development struggle to gain the confidence necessary to push through to a place of competence in the skills they are attempting to achieve. I have a hunch this feeling of inferiority plays heavily into the decision for some twelve and thirteen year olds who decide they will NEVER be good enough to compete and then quit sports altogether.

Once children reach middle school ages of eleven, twelve and thirteen, they are formulating their identity outside of just competence, and they can better process where they rank along a physical skill scale.

When Left to Their Own Devices What Do Kids Do Naturally?soccer player

Have you ever observed a group of kids organizing a pick-up game? I know those games are more and more infrequent, but the pick-up games I’ve observed come together about the same way each time. Kids naturally level teams to be even. They don’t stack one team when they play. Instead they do quick analysis of the participants and make the teams as fair as possible. Kids want to compete, but they instinctively recognize that it is simply NO FUN if the teams are uneven.

More often than not, the argument I hear for defending “leveling” teams is that the better players are held back by less talented players so it is better if all the “good” athletes are on the same team and competing with other associations who have leveled their teams too. They ask, “What does it teach talented kids who are thrust together with less talented athletes?”  Well, all indications are that it teaches them all good things.

Looking at successful educational situations, most American schools have moved away from a fixed-leveling model and more toward a sliding rule method designed along growth potential instead. The Finnish educational system has achieved great success with this and one of the things they have adopted is a mixed classroom full of all talent levels.

Putting different levels of talent on the same team is NOT detrimental to the development of a child, and I would argue it could actually be more beneficial for the overall development of both the talented and the untalented players.

For the more talented players, I would hope it could be used as a teaching ground for humility and sportsmanship, an opportunity for positive leadership and teamwork, and a place to have fun playing a game that all the kids are LEARNING. In an ideal world, the coaches would recognize what each athlete brings to the team and help the kids recognize those strengths in each other.

We have had the unique opportunity in our house to be a part of intense tryouts for teams in a couple of the biggest sports associations in Minnesota as well as to be part of a pair of associations in Wisconsin that are small enough that tryouts are rarely necessary. Last fall, at the start of their first season in the small town, all three of my kids were literally jumping for joy that tryouts would not be happening for them. At the end of the season I asked my oldest, who is almost 14, whether he wished he had been on a team of similarly-leveled talent after tryouts or on a team with varied talent that didn’t require a tryout. He said he would choose the team that didn’t require a tryout even if the talent of the players was not all at the same “level”.

Educators have learned a lot about educating the elementary-aged child and it needs to translate onto our fields, courts and ice rinks.

Imagine for a second that your third grader had to try out for math class. Depending on the results of two tests he would either be in the class or not in the class. That’s absurd, you might say. Every child has the right to learn math. My contention is that every child who signs up for a sport has the right to learn that sport too, and it shouldn’t come at the cost of positive psychosocial development. Not to mention the resource gap between the A teams and the C teams. (I’ll save that for a future post too)

The System Would Need to Change: So How Can We Do This? ID-100234295

I’ll start first with some of the counter-arguments I heard while doing my research.

Argument 1: “This would be too hard to implement. It’s just easier to keep doing what we’re doing.”

True, status quo is easier. Just because this is the way we’ve always done it doesn’t mean it is the best thing for kids or for the development of athletes overall. Honestly, if you have ever been a part of the headache of tryouts, you know that it is tough enough exactly the way it is. It is just a different kind of hard to navigate making evenly competitive teams from all the talent in the association.

Of course, every association has to abide by this huge philosophical change in order for it to work. If there is a group that wants to tip the playing hand in their favor, it dismantles everything. So let’s say in an idyllic world every association does the same thing. All players under the age of 12 are placed in levels by age and then within the association the teams are put together as evenly as possible.

How would teams be chosen?

There are a couple ways to choose even teams. One way would be to pool the kids together for a number of practices at the start of the season. A committee of coaches would then work together to create even teams from the talent in each age group.

Another way to do it would be to get an idea of talent-level and then ask the kids/families to indicate friends (or carpools) with whom they would like to play. The team-deciding committee would do what they could to put two or three of the friends together, according to this request, while still making the teams even (kids perform better when they play with their friends anyway…and the families will likely have a better experience).

Choosing by coaching lottery (like a draft) would also make the teams pretty even once they are set.

An added bonus: making the teams leveled within the association helps with the overall team identity of the association at the same time. This is especially true if teams are mixed up year to year as the kids grow.

Argument 2: “High school is cut-throat and kids need to be prepared for tryouts.”

I agree. You wouldn’t want to send a kid to high school without having some experience with the stress that goes with a tryout. With this approach, there will be tryouts… when the athletes are 12 and older, and for two years before they start high school. Plenty of time to prepare for the impending stress of high school evaluation.

Argument 3: “What about commitment level? There are the REALLY competitive families who want an intense youth sports experience.”

Offer heavy schedule, medium schedule, and light schedule teams. You can still put teams together according to the numbers who sign up for that “level” of commitment. The more kids who sign up for a heavy schedule, the more teams you make for that group.

A recent article in the Star Tribune highlights the frustration of folks who want to give their kids a chance just to try hockey but who feel it is an ALL or NOTHING endeavor. This is not unique to competitive hockey, and it really shouldn’t be this way. With different scheduling opportunities families could give their kids a chance to try a team sport.

I think more than anything, cutting tryouts will enhance a spirit of teamwork that is currently lacking in youth team sports. The current system rewards players for acquiring individual skill in the off-season so they can make a higher level team. It pits families against one another when teams are named and players have either found a way to be on the right list or have done the right things to be noticed. Working hard at being a team player, no matter the level of the teammates, is not something we are teaching kids to do.

There will be a time when the cream rises to the top and the best of the best can compete for the entertaining pleasure of the parent-fans. Twelve-year-olds are a good age to introduce this sort of competition. For the kids who are younger than that, we need to start thinking like educators and use a holistic approach to service ALL athletes better than we currently do.

 

Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached all levels of teams for both boys and girls ranging in age from 4-22. 

You can find Meagan:               fb           twitter-logo-1       www.meaganfrank.com

Copyright 2014 Choosing to Grow

The above information is part of an ongoing book project:

Choosing to Grow For the Sport of It:  Because All Kids Matter

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I was surprised to learn that the going rate for a header goal for a youth soccer player in Colorado is $100. Here in the Midwest, parents who admitted to me that they pay their children only pay $20 for header goals.

Not all of the parents I interviewed pay their kids for performance, or at least they didn’t admit it to me when I lost my objectivity as a researcher and gasped at the mention of a $100 sports bribe.

It seems as though the paying parents are greatly outnumbered by the non-paying parents, however, the use of a reward system for performance is widely accepted.  I was a little surprised to learn how often bribery and payment does happen in youth sports and how unaware of the consequences the “paying” parents (or grandparents) seem to be.

Paying players for goals and assists in a team game is one of the worst decisions you can make for the development of your athlete.

“It motivates him to play harder,” one woman told me when I asked her why she offers her son a trip to get ice cream if he scores a goal. “He really wants to get ice cream so he’ll play harder in the game if he knows there is ice cream waiting for him.”

Hmm. Okay. I can see why the child is motivated. He wants to achieve immediate gratification with his favorite ice cream cone. What I am not sure about is the motivation of the parent.

Let’s say this mom, we’ll call her Sadie, enrolled little Jimmy in soccer because she hopes he’ll get really good at it. The only thing I can think is that she really wants him to be good at it now without taking into consideration what this approach does for him later. Otherwise she might make a different decision about the ice cream. For her, it makes sense to get little Jimmy’s legs churning faster during today’s game because logically he will do better in the game. She must assume that his good performance today will translate into his performance next time on the field. What she has forgotten is that Jimmy is not moving his legs to get faster or better at soccer, he is moving his legs because she has promised him ice cream.  It is a difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and the best athletes in the world are rarely extrinsically motivated.

Extrinsic Motivation Puts Athletes on a Slippery Slope

He could quit working

Let’s assume that Sadie continues her bribery as Jimmy plays. He starts to get frustrated the days he is playing a stronger opponent and because he struggles to score any goals, he could simply stop working. The only thing that he was playing for was the reward and working hard was not something that he learned to do.

He could miss out on other learning experiences

Sadie’s first mistake was to make goals the deciding factor of Jimmy’s performance. Scoring goals are as much out of an athlete’s control as the weather. The coach could be asking Jimmy to play and learn defense. What then? If scoring is the only way he is going to get ice cream, what do you think he’ll do when he gets the ball in the defensive end of the field. You guessed it, he’ll dribble where he shouldn’t be dribbling, he’ll forgo passing to a teammate all because he really wants that ice cream. It is certain to break down the efforts of the coach and the other members of the team.

It could seem like it’s working when it’s not

There are occasions where the bribery seems to work. Let’s say Jimmy works hard when he’s little because he wants ice cream and thus score goals. The goals get him the ice cream and so he works hard again. He will end up gaining some skill this way, and sometimes the goals start to matter more than the ice cream so Sadie would be able to stop the bribe. The problem is, the goals themselves have become the motivator and they are still extrinsic. Athletes like this could end up playing at a pretty high level, but they will not be good teammates.

I have played with and coached athletes like this, and they can be destructive to teams. If an athlete is extrinsically motivated he will have a hard time being happy if other teammates score goals, get playing time or are awarded and he is not the one recognized. He will choose shooting over the better decision to pass and he has the potential to pull a team apart from the inside. He will count stats and measure himself by the achievements that can be recorded rather than the intangible work ethic of an intrinsically motivated athlete.

Sadie likely never even considered the ramifications of bribing for goals with ice cream.

It’s a parenting decision, right? People have the right to raise their kids the way they see fit, right?

Promote Intrinsic Motivation to Build Teams

The thing is, bribery systems should not be a part of youth teams where the goal is longterm development of athletes and team players.

  • Fun should be the reward.
  • Recognition for hard work is enough and it should be consistent. (and you should be really enthusiastic about it)
    • Point out the subtle ways hard work can be measured, “Hey Jimmy, do you remember that play when you lost the ball and you ran the whole way back to stop them from scoring? That was such hard work! I loved watching that.”
    • Jimmy says, “I scored a goal.” “Yes, I saw that. You worked so hard to get the ball and you were moving your feet so quickly. I am so proud of how hard you were working. Sometimes that turns into a goal like it did today. Keep up the hard work!”

Start early promoting the recognition of other players on their team. Kids need to be taught to notice.

  • “Shane scored all of our goals today,” player says.
  • You respond, “Isn’t that great. Did you tell him he did great work? You should tell him how much that helps your team.”

Cheesy, I know. But you get the point.

If you have signed your child up to learn a team sport then there should be intention to be part of how they learn what it is to be a hard worker and to be part of a team. Encourage them to be intrinsically motivated and teach them how to be a good teammate. Otherwise they will develop into someone you might not have intended for him to become.

Do you bribe your kids for performance? Does it work better for you than the scenarios I described?

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Copyright 2014 Meagan Frank                                        Choosing to Grow

© Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos © Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

When I asked Dr. Nicole Lavoi , Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports, what aspect of youth sports she would immediately address, she told me, “Mandate equal playing time up to age 14 for all levels of sports. Both at the recreational and competitive levels.”

I thought that was a curious response until I realized that too few youth sports teams implement this policy.

I am continually amazed that the directive to allow equal playing time for EVERY athlete up until age 14 is such a hotly contested idea. Abiding by this policy, and I mean REALLY ABIDING by this policy would solve a number of problems that plague youth sports teams.

“But everyone knows a coach can keep a team from winning by putting in a lesser athlete. Everyone wants to win. Why can’t a coach try to win an important game? The kids all want to win too.” This quote is from a woman who attended a sports class I taught, and at first blush, I agree with her. Coaches should have the right to try to win tough, important games. It is part of the aligning expectations that makes this conversation so difficult for some people.

Parents have expectations, athletes have expectations and coaches have expectations. Until we align the varied perspectives we will continue to see frustration, bitterness and anger associated with youth sports.Because the one common denominator for the three groups is winning, decisions to keep lesser athletes on the bench seems justified. After all, everyone who has gathered has come with the hope of winning the game.

Coaches deserve a chance to coach a team to a big victory, and that should be one of the things they want. It’s part of what the parents want too. They want their children to experience the high of winning, they want their children to have success, and they want their children to be treated fairly. Athletes want to win too. More than that though, and echoed over and over in conversations I had in living rooms across this country, kids want to play.

We need to seek wins, but we need to seek wins without sacrificing kids along the way.

During one of my research huddles, Tony said something that has stuck with me. “The best coaches get the most out of their worst players. Anyone can coach the best kids–only a good coach can improve the worst kid too.”

Why do we need to care about the lesser athletes? What do they have to offer the team in the final minutes of a game? They have their own lessons to learn right?: “Tough love is better.” “Life is tough.””Not everyone is a winner. They will learn the harsh realities of the world eventually, why not now?”

The harsh lessons learned are inevitable, but let the game be the teacher. Let them learn lessons because they made the bad play and lost the game. Let them learn the lesson that they need to pick up a teammate who has made a mistake and learn to encourage someone who is down. Those are the lessons we need to be teaching children. The last lesson we need to teach them is that they are not worthy.

The damage that is done to children under the age of 14 who find themselves sitting on the bench is not worth one more win on the stat sheet.

The cognitive development of children needs to be a part of coaching decisions. Period.

Before adolescence, children are primarily concrete thinkers. For children, the world is more black and white than grey and fuscia. They cannot conceptualize the world in abstract thinking, and they are working to develop a sense of self at the same time.

Without telling a child on the bench they are a less-than, they immediately know they are a less-than. They know it to their core, and it becomes a part of who they are. They don’t understand the abstract concepts of “sacrificing for the team” or “it’s the role you have to play right now.” Too many kids internalize this message and make a decision right then and there about who they are going to be. Or even more tragically, who they will never be. “I am not good enough.” “I am a bad athlete.” “I don’t measure up.”

This fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.    ****read that last sentence again**** A fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.

One could argue, “The non-athletes need to figure out early enough that they are non-athletes and move on to something that better suits them.”

WHAT?!? No one is a fixed athlete, and to do anything that might convince a child, ANY child, that he/she is a non-athlete before their bodies have even grown any real muscle is deplorable.

We need to decide that  youth sports is about teaching. Coaches can take control of how lessons are taught, but the best teachers are the ones who worry about whether every kid in their class learned something worth carrying with them.

What do you think? Should youth teams have bench players?

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Copyright 2013  Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow

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I cannot bring myself to watch the video of Kevin Ware’s injury. I too broke myself on a basketball court, and it would hit way too close to home to watch it from an audience viewpoint. My injury exposed more than weakened bones. Being physically broken showed me the weak spots in my emotional and mental game too.

It makes me concerned that we, as coaches and parents, are not doing enough to prepare athletes for the inevitability of injury.

The following is an excerpt from my book: Choosing to Grow for the Sport of It Because All Kids Matter and I offer it up as food for thought.

It could be the noises in the darkened hospital, or maybe it’s the overwhelming sense of helplessness, but either way, the throbbing pain partnered with my over-active brain renders me sleepless. The painkillers have numbed the dull aches in my leg and my arm, but there is no way to make my discomfort go away completely. Without an option of rolling onto my side, I stare out over the edge of the bed and past my elevated full-leg cast, while the full-arm cast rests awkwardly on the pile of pillows on my stomach.

I can see the glow of the nurse’s desk and I can hear the murmurings of patients and machines. It wouldn’t have mattered if it had been dead silent… the motion in my head is distracting enough.

“Why did this have to happen?” my sixteen-year-old brain wonders, “I have never been hurt like this. Who’s going to believe I broke my arm and my leg…playing basketball…at a practice? The orderly’s right…I need to make up a better story than that. I’ll tell people I was saving a small child from an approaching semi…my leg and arm just couldn’t get out of the way in time…that’s a better story for sure. It sounds like a reasonable explanation for why I’ll be doomed to these casts for the next six weeks.”

It is night two of my hospital stay, and I’m finally alone. My dad has come and gone on the breeze of his alcohol-filled breath. My sister has called crying to tell me our basketball team lost the playoff game, and my stupid boyfriend had even less to say on the phone than usual.  It is the first time since arriving I am lucid enough to recognize the fear, pain, and sadness have arrived. I wasn’t afraid when they talked about resetting my badly broken arm…I wasn’t afraid when the doctor explained I had fractured my tibia just below my knee cap… I wasn’t afraid as they wheeled me out of surgery and past the waiting room where my mom and soccer coach were visiting. I wasn’t afraid as the day-time conversations swirled around my mobility. “She’s going to need a specially-constructed pair of crutches. Oh, and to get around school? I guess you’re right, she’s probably going to need an electric wheelchair.”

Now, in the solitude of a crowded hospital… with only muted hallway light to cut through the darkness… the fear grows. I am afraid of the unknown.  I can’t picture what this new kind of movement will look like. I didn’t know quite what to make of this new version of myself.

Tears fill my eyes and as they start to pour down my cheeks, I have to let them fall.  I can’t move the casted arm, and the other one is painfully connected to my I.V.

“So this is what it’s going to be,” I think. Tear after tear lands on my hospital gown.

I try to compose myself, as the weight of the casts seeps past my bones and into the very center of my awareness.

“I can’t do this,” I sob to no one in particular.

 

This scene, in my sports story, is more important than any other I experienced. It was a stark wake-up call to how dysfunctional my relationship with sports had become. The moment I hit that basketball floor, the world I had built, and the only world I felt I understood, shattered. I had been functioning as a barely one-dimensional athlete, and I hadn’t realized it.

Successful athletes need to be physically coordinated and conditioned, but they also need to be mentally tough and emotionally stable. Who was I without the physical capacity to compete in sports? I hadn’t had a reason to contemplate that question, and I likely would never have asked it without being forced. So in the six weeks that followed my “accident” I took inventory of my worth. I had to look at my world without the physical language on which I had become so completely dependent. I was forced to gauge whether I had the internal toughness to fight through pain, ridicule, and recovery, and I had to address the gaping holes in my emotional armor.  When I emerged on the other side of that time of reflection, I was not the same person, and I dare argue, the “recovering” version was why I ever came close to attaining my full potential as an athlete.

Breaking myself was the best thing that could have happened to me. Only during the course of research for this book, did I begin to fully understand, and appreciate, why battling through that injury made me a better athlete…and a better person. Of course, I knew that the entire experience had been, as my mom put it, “character-building”, but I hadn’t taken the time to fully analyze why those weeks of immobility were so necessary. Before I got hurt, I truly believed physical work and achievement were all that mattered. Period. I had used both academic and athletic achievement as a way to distract me from the painful parts of my childhood. I hadn’t spent time thinking about the emotional fuel I had been using, nor had I considered whether my internal script was building a solid foundation for my beliefs about myself.  The only piece I had succeeded in achieving in athletics, up to that point, was my physical literacy.

 

The next blogpost will be about physical literacy and the ways parents and coaches can utilize the developmental tool to build physically stronger athletes.

 

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Copyright 2013     Meagan Frank                               Choosing to Grow

 

Picture%20for%20blog%20parentA friend of mine sent me an email last week with the subject header: “I Never Thought I’d Be That Crazy Hockey Parent”. I took a second glance at who wrote it, because I know a lot of hockey parents, and the running list I keep of people I consider “crazy” does not include her. In fact, the woman who wrote this message to me is one of the last people I would have expected to lose it at a hockey rink.

I won’t go into all the gory details, although that may be the reason you are reading this blogpost in the first place, but basically she got into a verbal altercation with another parent after she felt her son’s team had been put at safety risk during a poorly reffed game. It got very ugly in the lobby after the game and she said things she could hardly believe came out of her mouth.

This woman is relatively new to hockey, and a novice around team sports too. After reading her account of the entire incident, and talking with her at length, I am convinced of one thing. She is not any crazier than any other hockey parent, she just gave in to a crazy moment. She has not had nearly enough practice with the emotions that accompany youth sports, but there is hope.

I have been around youth sports for over 30 years. I hope I look completely calm, cool, collected, and unphased when I watch kids play.  I better…I’ve had a ridiculous amount of practice. Sports have definitely taught me to put my emotions in check. I could never compete well if my emotions got the best of me, and learning to be disciplined in the most charged situations was the only way I competed at the levels I did. That being said, although I handle most emotions around sports well, I too am still learning how to deal with the heightened emotions parents can feel while watching their own kids play.

Not too long ago, one of my son’s teammates was viciously elbowed to the head during a blind-sided, illegal check. I was immediately pissed. This boy has played with my son for three years, and he is a good friend of ours. He is as important to me as one of my own kids. A protective mamma-bear instinct took over in the seconds following the hit and it took me by surprise. I think I perceived it as a threat, and my heart started racing.  I was entering into the phase of “fight” or “flight” and unsure about what to do with what I was feeling, I turned to our friend’s father expressing how awful the hit was. I wanted someone to feel what I was feeling with me…I was looking for an ally. Unfortunately, I didn’t find what I was looking for, and the dad shook it off as if it wasn’t anything to worry about. WHAT?!?I was unsure what to do with the “fight” feelings I had.  So now I was doubly mad and I started fumbling with my words. Gone was that calm, cool, collected lady I try to be, and only after I walked it off and did some deep breathing exercises did I get my heart rate to come back to normal.

Nothing came of this “fight” response, but I have to acknowledge the potential. I know it most certainly could have turned into something ugly. If the mother of the boy who delivered the hit had been within earshot and said anything in his defense…I just might have lost it. I don’t know!! And this WASN’T EVEN MY KID!!

My point is this: WE ARE ALL CRAZY SPORTS PARENTS!!  We are all one incident or one emotional response away from a crazy parent moment.

So maybe instead of denying this innate part of humanity we should all enter into a 12-step rehabilitation program so we can work through the steps to the calmest sports parenting possible.

Step 1: Hello, my name is Meagan, and I am a crazy sports parent.  (phew, denial has been so exhausting)

Step 2: It is true. I know that I am human and flawed and only through God do I have strength to combat my weaknesses.

Duh…it’s what worked for me when I was an emotional athlete, and I am confident it will work for me as an emotional sports parent.

How about you? Are you ready to come out of denial? What steps do you use to keep your emotions in check?

You can learn more about Meagan at her website:  http://www.meaganfrank.com

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Copyright  Meagan Frank     2013                    Choosing to Grow

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My daughter and I leave tomorrow morning for a hockey trip to Duluth. The girls will be building friendships, learning about themselves as athletes and as teammates, and playing some good hockey. The parents will be partying.

I am willing to roll our kids from rink to rink, from town to town because I want them to experience the ups, the downs, the heartbreak, and the joy of competing in sports. I know it will build them.

I worry it is crushing me.

As a sports parent, I am continually tested at a greater degree than I ever was as an athlete. Every outing, every out-of-town trip, and with every athlete in our house, I feel it is my role to process and help kids process the drama that unfolds on the way to the rink, at the rink (where I am too aware of the secondary drama unfolding in the space around me in the stands), and then on the way home from the rink where I need to be a safe sounding board for our kids.
It is much more emotionally draining for me as the parent.

As an athlete, when I stepped onto a soccer field or a basketball court it was my refuge from the stifling drama of my life. Sometimes I think my mom wanted to protect us from said drama, and the safest place she could think to put us was on a team. I suppose it worked generally. It was only occasionally I noticed the frustrated body language of people on the periphery. Or sometimes, at a stoppage of play, I could hear yelling that never really seemed to concern me. That is, of course, unless the yelling was the frustrated and raging voice of my father. He was never raging at me, but that damned offsides rule in soccer, or every ridiculous foul called by a basketball ref, were enough to awake his inner demons. I heard him then.

It was always with my dad that the drama of my life collided with my sports’ world. I suppose I am more sensitive to my role as sports parent because of that. My dad and sports were an interesting combination. My dad and sports…and alcohol… were a catastrophic mix.

As a kid I needed to ignore the scary moments. I needed to pretend I didn’t see my dad’s hands shaking from withdrawal as he sketched out a basketball play for my team. I needed to brush off the way I felt when at a lunch stop on the way home from an out-of-town game he “disappeared” for twenty minutes and then when my teammates and I went to get in the car for the long trip home we found the remaining two bottles from the newly purchased six-pack. We held hands praying the entire way home. I had to continually remind myself it wasn’t my problem when my dad would be thrown out of games for yelling at refs. I had to quietly internalize the pain of his visit to my hospital bed after I was injured. That was the night I was literally pinned to the bed and forced to endure what felt like an hour of his alcohol-drenched breath.

As an adult, I want to be infinitely better than he was as an athlete-turned-sports’ parent, and I sometimes battle with all it is taking from me to do that.

I can’t enjoy the hotel drinking games. Unless I intimately know and trust the other parents with whom I travel, the entire weekend is an exercise in exhaustion. There are times I’ll drink with the team parents, but there have been other times I have holed myself up in my room, thankful I had a little one in tow for an excuse. I don’t have an excuse this weekend, and I fear I’m nearing a point where I don’t have the energy to drink socially either. Some teams are rostered with parents who have literally made drinking their new sport, and when it is a group I don’t know well, it is tiresome to find a comfortable place to hang.

Sometimes I wish there were a rule about the number of drinks a sports’ parent were allowed to consume.

In two weeks I am going on a three-day school trip with our middle daughter. At the chaperone meeting last night we were asked to sign a waiver promising we would not bring alcohol or drugs to the sleepover camp. “It is an educational trip with children present. It is, of course, our expectation there will be no alcohol consumed.”

Why are sports trips different? Are they not “educational trips with children present”?

Beer-filled coolers are as commonplace as player bags and sticks when traveling for an out-of-town trip. Drinking is as much a part of youth hockey as inconsistent reffing. I’m just not sure what all of that means for me, and what the best parenting decisions might be.

What do you think? Is it totally cool alcohol is as much a part of youth sports as it is? Should anything change about the culture of youth sports and drinking?

 

Learn more about Meagan and her current project, Choosing to Grow For the Sport of It:  Because All Kids Matter, at her website http://www.meaganfrank.com

 

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Copyright 2013           Meagan Frank                         Choosing to Grow