Since first working in a middle school over 20 years ago, I have spent many hours on Middle School sidelines as a coach and in the stands as a spectator at sporting events. Over that time, I've noticed that my sideline demeanor and support is similar to that of many other staff members, which is to say much more subdued than many parents. For years I've watched games with colleagues, enjoying the opportunity to see students share a different side of themselves. As an educator, seeing students who may struggle in the classroom play in a state of flow on the sports field gives you a greater appreciation for them as people. So does watching a student who seems to navigate academics with ease lean heavily on their more skilled teammates for support on the court. As my children have gotten closer to middle school age, however, I have noticed something change in the way I watch their games.
No longer do I effortlessly watch a game, enjoying that my children are having fun and getting a chance to play with their peers. There are now times when I have to work hard to keep a steady demeanor and not give way to the anxiety and turmoil that more frequently gets the best of me while watching my kids play sports. Interestingly, this does not happen when watching anyone else's child. A mistake made by any other player is processed by my educator mind, an understandable and necessary part of getting better and gaining experience. So why do I struggle with my emotions when watching my own kids play?
This growing deviation between my professional and personal ability to be a spectator is why last month's Parent Like a Champion workshop sponsored by the ESD Athletic Department and presented by Kristin Sheehan, Program Director of the Play Like a Champion Today Education Series, couldn't have come at a better time. he goals of the workshop seemed to be just what I needed: to equip parents with the knowledge, tools, and strategies to navigate the high pressure and often confusing realm of youth sports in a way that best supports and nurtures children through the continuum of athletic opportunities available from childhood through adolescence. Understanding the changing landscape and scope of youth athletics in America and the rise of the youth sports industry over the last 40 years is one big component. Dissecting some common interactions between players, coaches, teammates, and parents to help to frame one's approach in a way that promotes the values and ideals we seek to instill in our children is another.
Throughout the presentation, I was skillfully guided between research, anecdotes, and observations, challenging some of my faulty assumptions and exposing some detrimental attitudes that occasionally camp out in my parenting brain. Of particular note, Sheehan cited an NCAA study on the estimated probability of competing in college athletics which shows that only 6% of kids playing sports in high school will continue to play in college (Division I, II, or III). Of those 6%, only 2% go on to play in a major professional league after their college careers. With fewer than 1 in 1,000 high school athletes making an appearance in a pro league, why do we continue to let the dream of professional sports stardom hijack the realistic benefits participation provides our children?
Perhaps more powerful was the discussion on how to appropriately and effectively orient your interactions with your child, your child's coach, and how to support your child's direct interactions with their own coaches. Like all great workshops, there was too much good information to effectively digest in that one hour, which is why I was especially grateful that instead of a couple of pages of handouts, attendees were given a 40-page Manual for Sport Parents, and a wallet-sized 10 Commandments for Sports parent card (extra Manuals are available in the Middle School office for anyone interested). Over the course of the past weeks, I've found myself referring back to the Manual, and just last Saturday, I tried one of the suggestions. While my son and I were en route to his third-grade basketball game, I encouraged him to set a sportsmanship-related goal (sports parent commandment #1). During the game, a situation arose that provided an opportunity for some good sportsmanship, which he seemed to engage in. I remember thinking it an interesting coincidence that a sportsmanship situation presented itself less than an hour after discussing it in the car. In reality, however, those moments are regularly present in sports, and whether or not our goal conversation was the impetus to his action, it was a reminder to me on the impact of the subtle messages I send regarding my values.
While the Parent Like a Champion workshop proved valuable to me personally, I am grateful both personally and professionally that this was just one of the many daily events and interactions on the ESD campus that highlights the supportive and nurturing values all students experience every day while at ESD. Last week during Middle School chapel, Coach Schneider challenged Vince Lombardi's, Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing mantra, arguing that teaching and coaching at ESD is all about character development, which,
takes a constant and deliberate effort by all of us. It takes sacrifice and discipline and the determination to be the best you can be. Sometimes it means sacrificing the win, helping the umpire make a call against you, or carrying the opposition around the bases.
This past Tuesday, I sat in on a spring sports preparation meeting led by Coach Gomez for Middle School coaches. Even though much of the meeting focused on logistics and reminders, how the ESD Athletics Department strives to support ESD's mission resonated throughout the agenda items, making it feel like an appropriate place to end.
Provide a variety of sports for all students of every ability to encourage students to discover their full potential emotionally, intellectually and physically. Develop programs that will teach positive lessons of sportsmanship, respect for one's opponent, respect for the rules, and the ability to win and lose with grace. Instill perseverance, responsibility, integrity, commitment, leadership, and respect in our student-athletes.
A heartfelt thanks to the Athletics staff: coaches, trainers, teachers, and administrators for their thoughtful development and careful delivery of their lessons.
Listen to a new episode of Above the Quarry with Kristin Sheehan from Play Like a Champion Today.