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Opinion: Parents serve as positive, negative role models for children in athletics

Vance Carlson

A recent study by the National Alliance of Youth Sports showed that 70 percent of kids who went out for a sport quit that sport by the age of 13.

The reason? Their parents.

The study revealed that kids play sports because it's fun. Socializing with friends and learning new skills were also at the top of that list. Winning was rated No. 8.

Having parents who obsess over winning, compare their kids' performances to the performances of other kids, and blame other players, coaches and officials for losses have resulted in the high rate of young athletes dropping out of youth sports.

Parents may not realize it, but they are the biggest role models for their kids. Kids emulate the behavior of their parents. How parents act has a positive or negative impact on their kids.

Most parents behave appropriately at games. They help make the experience enjoyable. On the positive side, there are parents who collaborate on a chorus of cheers from the stands after a successful play, congratulate the opposing team after a well-played game and encourage every member on the team — not just their child.

On the negative side, there are parents who are thrown out of games after yelling at officials, irate parents who have to be separated from a coach after a close loss, and officials who have to be escorted to their cars as a mob of parents follow, verbally protesting the outcome of a contest. Then there are the more serious incidents where parents have been arrested for fighting with officials or other parents during or after flag football, Little League baseball, youth hockey and soccer games.

Parents are also the main reason many coaches are quitting the games they love to coach.

Brainerd head boys basketball coach Scott Stanfield told the Brainerd Dispatch he is resigning after the season because of the constant complaining by some parents over playing time for their kids.

"I go from being a cop to this, and it's one stressful job to another and it's time for a break," Stanfield, a retired police officer, told the Dispatch. "Coaching has been way worse. If you win, it doesn't matter. If you lose, it doesn't matter. If their kid doesn't get enough playing time — look out."

Brainerd activities director Charlie Campbell sent out a letter that Stanfield and his entire coaching staff will be resigning. Campbell said in the letter: "It is hard for any of our coaches to find joy in this vocation when met with a general dissatisfaction, anger and/or hostility from an increasing number of parents."

"It was time to re-evaluate what we're doing as a school, maybe as a staff, and maybe as a parental community," said Stanfield, who entered this season with a 96-66 career record in six seasons as the Warriors' head coach. "We're not on the same page as far as what we want our kids to get out of the experience. Unfortunately, one side wants things done one way and the other wants it the correct way, which is about educating our kids for life beyond a sport. That's what we've tried to do."

As a kid growing up playing sports and as a writer covering sports, I've seen both sides. The vast majority of parents provide positive support for their kids and the other members of the team. Then there are the parents who care only about how well their children are doing. There is no place in youth athletics for parents trying to relive their childhood through their kids.

Be a supportive parent. Encourage your child to try and play any sport they enjoy and support their decision not to play that sport after they try it. Children will make mistakes and experience failure. It's OK not to be successful all the time. Not being the best provides great learning opportunities. Enjoy and emphasize the positive skills your child possesses and help your child set realistic goals.

There are also negative responses parents should avoid. Don't try to live your athletic dreams through your child. Don't blame others or look for excuses after a loss. Don't embarrass your child by criticizing or yelling instructions during a game. Provide calm, encouraging comments. Don't focus on winning. Instead, focus on having fun.

Children are under enough pressure to excel, both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. Parents should be a positive influence on why their children enjoy and participate in athletics, not the negative influence on why they quit.

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