Sports Parenting: Janis Meredith Talks About Youth Sports Sympathy Groups Part II

Last Friday I highlighted Janis Meredith’s take on the negative parental gossip that is so common at youth sports events these days. However, Janis goes on to give some very perceptive alternatives to becoming part of that “sympathy group” phenomenon she discusses in What are sports parenting sympathy groups and why should you avoid them?.

Rather than becoming part of the problem she suggests parents “Try to understand the coach's reasoning for doing something the way he or she does it,” “Refuse to enter the sympathy conversations,” and “If you have to vent, keep it between you and your spouse or one good friend. Don't vent to your child.” All very good advice.

There is, however, something I would like to add if I might. A choice that is dependent on how comfortable a parent is in trying to become a part of the solution rather than simply a bystander.

You see, these dissenting groups (even a single individual) can become pretty troublesome, outwardly vocal, and very influential, if not handled appropriately. They have the ability to dismantle even a “well” coached team, if given a chance.

My suggestion would be to think as globally as you can when confronted with situations (coaching, refereeing, training, etc.) that might seem perplexing. This will help to bring the understanding that Janis discussed in her article.

Sometimes, what might look odd, unfair, and/or incorrect from an outsider’s point of view, and from the standpoint of the short term (as in winning now), might actually be in the best interest of the athlete and/or team in the long run.

Take coaching a team to reach its athletic potential, for example. A coach may be working from a position of where he or she sees the team or wants them to be at the end of the season.  In so doing, they may be focused on a training or game strategy that, in the short term, might not bring immediate success.

This could include playing individuals in positions that they don’t normally play, differences in playing time, training expectations, or even holding athletes accountable. (Keeping a star athlete out of a game for breaking a team rule may hurt today but help later.)

Another example might be taking issue with calls made by referees at games. A group of parents badgering a ref for what they see as a bad call does a lot more harm than good. It takes player focus away from the game and places it on the ref. It can also cause a change in focus of the ref, which may not be in the complaining parent’s (or team’s) favor, or shut down a younger ref who then calls nothing, making the game unsafe.  In addition, it is unsportsmanlike and sets a poor example for the players.

Now back to my suggestion of becoming a part of the solution rather than a bystander. Once you have a more global perspective, as tactfully as you can and when the opportunity arises, try to share this same understanding with the “sympathy group.”

Approach is everything here so not taking an adversarial position will be important, even though this can be difficult to avoid. In these instances, it is best to be more explanatory in nature, taking the perspective of simple clarification. Make it just conversational food for thought, so to speak.

This will certainly take some risk on your part, but it is a risk worth taking. And you might find others, maybe even those with vast knowledge and experience in athletics, chiming in to support a more global supportive approach.

In the end, the mere fact that you are taking the higher road, one respectful of the coach, and one representing positive aspects we would like observing athletes to adopt (they are watching), is a good thing.

Oh, and one more point. If you think that there aren’t very successful athletes and/or coaches who have not sat on the sidelines and watched their son or daughter play and/or train knowing, even after using the more global perspective explained above (all with the experience to back that perspective up), and still come away with thoughts that “there is a better way,” yet still support the coach and their program, that is simply untrue.

They just know, from experience, that there is more than one way to be successful as an athlete, that their “better way” may not be the only way, and that allowing their offspring to find their own path through adversity and athletic achievement can bring back great rewards. The lessons in that process are unparalleled.


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