Taking the Pressure out of Sports

Address Problems

If you're having doubts about your child's coach, speak up. Don't assume things will get better on their own. Whether the problem is that your child always bats ninth or the coach loses his temper during games, give it as much thought as you would a conflict with your child's teacher, suggests Ripken. At the proper time, and not in front of other parents, approach the coach and mention that you'd like to discuss a few issues. "But pick your battles. If you nitpick and complain every day, you're not going to have a happy relationship," says Ripken, who now has a children's baseball league named after him. In the league, which includes nearly 700,000 kids, he's planning to establish rules against parents speaking up or using intimidation during games. His overall goal: to bring the spirit of fun back to the game so that kids enjoy it rather than feel it's being forced upon them.

Dr. Seefeldt recommends asking the coach about his expectations for the children. Ask what skills the kids should possess and at what level they should be able to perform; the answers allow you to judge whether the coach knows the sport. Also, have a discussion about the coach's code of conduct for his players. Open with, "If discipline seems called for, how do you address the children?"

You may very well find that the coach is just as eager to work out these issues as you are. After all, you're on the same team.

The Pros Weigh In

  • "It's essential that parents conduct research and make sure that their child is in a good and healthy sports program. The best way to do that? Ask parents for feedback and spend time watching how coaches react to the other children -- what you observe can set the tone for the entire experience." -- Robin Wagner, Glen Cove, NY-based coach of 2002 Olympic figure skating gold medalist Sarah Hughes
  • "My wife and I made a real point of not encouraging our son to play football at all, even though I'd had a successful career as a player myself. Instead, we were very interested in having him try all kinds of other activities -- including soccer, baseball, and basketball -- until he found the one sport he truly enjoyed." -- Calvin Hill, former All-Pro NFL running back and father of NBA star Grant Hill
  • "Regard your child's sports participation as you would her participation in a school play. Sit down, keep quiet, and try to absorb the scene as a whole. Polite respect and encouragement are what's called for here. If you're not having any fun watching your child play sports, neither, probably, is your child." -- Ken Holtzman, youth sports supervisor in St. Louis and former All-Star Major League pitcher

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