The spring and summer youth sports season is upon us, my friends. I love it. I really do.
In fact, you could say my family’s “all in.” My son plays soccer, baseball, and summer basketball; my daughter plays softball and my husband helps coach. Every weekend and several evenings during the week we find ourselves, bleacher seats and stocked coolers in hand, at some ballpark, grassy field, or court. And while some may think our sports-centric lifestyle is too one-sided this time of year, we wouldn’t change a thing.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
That’s because being “all in” means we’ve seen it all. I’m talking the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Sigh, why is there so much ugly?) If your kid plays youth sports, I’m guessing you’ve seen it all, too.
Now before you assume I’m scrambling atop my soapbox to slam those parents who’ve turned youth sports into the occasional shitshow, I want to let you in on a dirty little secret of mine: I’m a guilty party to the madness too. I’m not proud of the things I’ve said or the way I’ve acted on a handful of occasions. So trust me when I say I know how easy it is to lose yourself down that rabbit hole. Even the best intentions can sometimes get you thinking backwards.
So this Sports Parent’s Pledge—this no-drama promise that encourages us all to put first what really matters in youth sports (yep, our kids)—is as much for me as it may be for you. Are you with me? I sure hope so. Now hands over hearts and repeat after me …
1. I pledge to act like a grownup when triggered by a “bad” call on the field.
I won’t shout at the ump or throw a temper tantrum that will embarrass my player and make me look like an ass. Instead, I’ll take a deep breath and exhale some perspective. This isn’t the World Series or World Cup. The match isn’t rigged; the officials aren’t crooked. Mistakes will happen. When they do, I’ll hike up my big kid pants and move on … for everyone’s sake.
2. I pledge to not second-guess my player’s coach.
You know, the one who volunteers their free time to mold, mentor, and instruct my child when they could be golfing, hanging out with their own family, or blissfully enjoying the game from the sidelines themselves. I won’t forget the countless hours they’ve spent researching drills in the off-season, scheduling games in the preseason and personally working their hardest to make my kid the best they can be at every practice. And if there is a gripe that warrants discussion? I’ll address it with them directly instead of poisoning the well by talking behind their backs.
3. I pledge to not trash talk anyone’s young athlete if they miss a pop up, struggle to throw strikes, miss a basket, or look slow on the soccer field.
I’ll keep in mind that these are kids. They’re still trying to figure out how to move in those ever-changing bodies of theirs. Expecting them to perform perfectly and consistently every game is totally improbable. It just ain’t gonna happen, folks. And under no circumstances whatsoever will I verbalize to my player that a teammate played badly or was the reason they lost the game. They need to know only this: THEY WIN AND LOSE AS A TEAM.
4. I pledge to not yell instructions at my player from the sidelines.
This includes “Keep your head down,” “Keep your eye on the ball,” “You gotta get that,” “Be more aggressive” or any other unwelcome, unsolicited advice. I’ll keep in mind that while my intentions may be good, my off-the-cuff coaching session isn’t helping anyone. In fact, it’s probably stressing out my kid, pissing off the coach, and making everyone around me feel really, really awkward. And if I can’t keep my mouth shut? “You got this!” “Awesome effort!” and “Let’s go (insert your player’s number here)!” are way better, less douchebaggy alternatives.
5. I pledge to not beat myself up for going through the drive-thru for dinner (yep, again).
Did I get my player to the game on time? Check. Dressed in a relatively clean uniform and holding a full water bottle? Check check. Did I have time to squeeze in a healthy, hot, protein-packed dinner before we got to the park? That’s a negative. Hey, two out of three ain’t bad. I’ll remind myself that it’s impossible to do it all well when ordering that value meal from the teen manning the drive-thru window (who now knows me by name).
6. I pledge to not browbeat my kid on the car ride home with a list of the things I think they did wrong after a game.
No one was there incognito scouting future D1 college athletes; there are no full-ride scholarships on the line. I’ll simply say, “It was so fun watching you play” or “Great try at that goal, you’ll get it next time.” If I have any real and usable advice to give, I’ll masterfully weave it into another conversation for another time. But first, I’ll simply give my kiddo the time they need to emotionally and physically decompress after a game without me yammering in their ear.
7. I pledge to say “yes” to ice cream … even when they strike out or lose a game.
Because isn’t that when they need the soul-healing benefits of the creamy good stuff the most? And while on the topic of treats, I pledge not to bribe my player with sweets, swag, or money if they make a goal or show me more hustle. I want to teach them to want it for themselves and for their team, that the wins that come from hard work are reward enough. And I certainly don’t want a loss to sting even worse because they’ve now also let the prize I dangled in front of them slip through their fingers.
8. I pledge to not share each good play, team win, or my athlete’s every personal achievement ad nauseam with my friends on social media.
Don’t get me wrong, Facebook and Instagram are great places to share the highlights of our daily lives. But even the best of friends start looking for the eye-roll emoji after too much shameless self-propaganda. “I get it, Rachael … your kid shows amazing prowess on the field with the very real potential of going pro. Please tell me his stats again?” said no one, ever. So I’ll remember that it’s okay to steal a few of those moments for myself. It doesn’t mean they’re any less special if not witnessed by the whole world.
9. I pledge to remember to pack Band-aids in my purse and keep an ice pack in the car.
We all know that one parent who’s prepared when someone catches a soccer ball to the face or develops a bad case of infield road rash on a slide to third that didn’t go so well. I want to be them when I grow up … you know, instead of the harried mom fashioning a makeshift cold compress with a Slushie and some duct tape. #goals
10. I pledge to wash and dry my player’s uniform no later than 12 hours after their last game.
Why, you ask? I want to save myself from the full-blown panic attack that comes from frantically searching for a uniform an hour before the next game, only to find it wadded up and smelling of wet dog in the washer.
11. I pledge to stay out of the politicking that has become so common in today’s youth sports.
I won’t jockey for a position for my athlete. I won’t build self-serving relationships in the hopes I’ll be able to influence a certain outcome down the line. I won’t kiss up to the coach or team mom in hopes my kid gets more playing time. It’s called youth sports for reason — it’s about the kids. Let’s not let all that other B.S. overshadow the positivity that comes from this amazing experience. Leave your self-interests at the gate and allow your athlete to earn it for themselves.
12. I pledge to teach my player good sportsmanship by not engaging with that loud a-hole parent on the other team.
You know the one I’m talking about. The belligerent guy who insists a certain call be made (what game is he watching?) or the chick who tells her kid not to worry about the blatant personal foul that just earned him a warning from the ref. I will do my best not to elevate their toxic levels of trash talk, or be baited into some back-and-forth bleacher banter because they choose to act immature. I’ll trust in the cosmos that the field officials or karma will eventually dish out their just desserts.
13. I pledge to have fun.
To soak it all in. To cheer … for everyone. Especially for the kid whose mom couldn’t make it to the game because she works second shift. Or the one who’s been struggling all year to make contact with the ball. I pledge to relish the smell of hot dogs on the grill, the snap of a fastball hitting the back of a catcher’s mitt, and the three-whistle finish after a hard-played soccer game. This year, I pledge to take it all in — the warm sun on my skin as I sit on the bleachers, the dew on the outfield grass, the supportive and festive atmosphere, and my happy and healthy child enjoying what I know will be some of the very best days of their life.
NOW PLAY BALL!
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